People who smoke usually know that smoking might prematurely kill them. Or if not kill, then give them cancer, stroke, heart disease, lung disease and etc. People who drink alcohol are aware that they will have liver problems and might prematurely die. Eating processed food leads to obesity which in turns might lead to cardiovascular disease. Its all known, its hard to argue with it, the data is there (look at sources in NHS, WHO, CDC). But very few people know that internet damages your brain.
Internet is the vegetable diet among fast food
If someone would ask me, what was the best invention in the past 100 years, I’d say - the Internet. I’ve experience life with a PC and no internet. I’ve experiences dial up internet when picture took minutes to load and going on the internet required approval from family members - because they wont be able to use the phone. I’ve experienced ADSL speeds. And now experiencing fiber optic speeds as well as being connected 24/7 thanks to my smartphone.
Without internet, devices like Kindle and Smartphones would be useless, services like Spotify, Audible, YouTube and this blog - would not exist. Internet gave us instant access to shopping. Internet gave us unlimited access to knowledge. Internet gave us ability to stay connected with our loved ones, especially now during pandemic. Internet gave us international collaboration. But every coin has 2 sides.
Internet is also the cocaine among drugs
Internet addiction is not a new term. Our society is discovering new anxiety disorders like Fear Of Missing Out. We’ve created terms like Internet Bullying to describe online bullying. People are being shamed. Deceived. Raped and killed. All via, or with the help of, the internet. And while undoubtedly those issues must be addressed, there is another issue that no body is talking about - and its the pandemic of our times. The pandemic of the false information, the pandemic of fear spreading.
With access to entire human competence and knowledge, we also got access to entire human stupidity, opinions and beliefs. And if in pre internet times, the weirdo who thinks that the government spies on him, would put a tin foil cap and move to live in the woods - today he expresses his opinion on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
All the cars in the world are red
Imagine a situation where all you see are red cars. You walk on the street and all the cars are red. Those that are parked. Those that are being driven. Taxis. Buses. All red. Would you believe me if I told you that I’ve seen a blue one? You’d probably be skeptical.
We tend to form our opinions based on the world we see around us. We see green apples and we think that apples can only be green. But then we travel, we discover new kinds of apples. We discover new people, new traditions and new religions. And suddenly we understood more about the world. We’ve seen that there are cars other than red.
The internet works in a similar way. You watch YouTube video after YouTube video until you find yourself sitting in front of your computer at 3 AM looking at cats or worse - conspiracy theories how aliens manipulate humans.
Your engagement time with different services (almost) always have direct conversion to revenue. Then more videos you watch, the more ads you see, the more revenue the service makes. And in order to maintain this cause and effect, online services have a recommendation mechanism in place. The way it works is pretty simple. You watch a video about cats, the algorithm assumes you like cats, so it recommends you another cat video. If you watch it, its assumption becomes stronger and you will see more cat videos.
Show me your YouTube homepage and I’ll tell you who you are
There is a saying by an Unknown that goes like this: Show me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are. The idea behind it, and I believe in it, is that people tend to be attracted to similar minds. Successful people rarely hang out with bums. Athletic people rarely hang out with with physically inactive people. They might, but its temporary and eventually they will drop them as friends or drag them to their level (it work both ways - a shy nice kid in a company of schools hooligans will either become bored and looks for other shy nice kids to befriend or be dragged down and become a school hooligan).
The same can be said about your social feeds. What you see there is an exact reflection of who are you and what you believe in. Now there is a very big question that I do not know the answer for yet - which came first? Your beliefs that guided you towards specific YouTube videos or those videos that shaped your beliefs? I tend to speculate that its a bit of each.
Deep down the rabbit hole
The problem is that if you are not very, very, very careful - you might end up deep in a rabbit hole. Video after video, post after post it will drag you down, narrowing your world view, slowly shaping your beliefs. And exiting this rabbit hole is hard. It requires having open mind, it requires being active, way beyond the level of activity needed to click on the next video or scroll to the next post. You actively need to challenge your world views. Challenge your beliefs. Expose your self to different sources of information. Because if you keep staying in the city of red cars, you will never discover that cars can be made in different colors.
I always like to end up with a personal touch. An advice from myself. I don’t believe I’m qualified to discuss a topic I don’t have experience in.
But honestly, giving an advice here is very hard. Because the best advice I can give you is that you need to train your mind. Train it to challenge information. Remember than news never speak about good things, they only talks about death and murder, war and disease. It doesn’t mean that those are the only things outside the window. Its just that news are not a good source of positive and educational information. Look elsewhere. The same with social networks. If you allow the algorithm to decide what you like - you might end up in a rabbit hole. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t click on controversial videos, or share controversial posts. It means that by doing so, you also need to take control of what information you want to be exposed to. And you need to take control and verify your information.
YouTube (and probably other social networks) have a way to control how the algorithm works. Each recommended video you see can be tagged as “Not Interested” or “Don’t recommend channel”. By doing so, you can control how the algorithm works without dragging you deep into the rabbit hole.
My YouTube homepage looks the same. Exactly same 10-20 videos are being offered to me with each refresh. No matter what kind of videos I watch, even when I watch controversial, fake, provoking videos or click on videos out of boredom or when procrastinating - once I start getting recommendations to them, I flag them as either “Not interested” or “Don’t recommend channel”. This way I control what information I see. Not the algorithm (whose purpose is to offer you more cat videos if you likes cats - which by itself is not a bad thing, but remember every coin, two sides..)
Take control. If you start to feel that your feed is taking control of you, you feel anxiety, stress, panic - STOP. Evaluate whether the information you see is relevant and doing good to you. If not, quit or block. I’ve had a nervous breakdown recently from reading too much news. I’ve blocked them. Didn’t miss anything. Its still pandemic outside.
When I’ve noticed that YouTube is taking me down the rabbit hole I’ve stopped. Reevaluated what videos I’m being offered, removed the one that are bad for me. Found a hobby (like reviving this blog).
You also need to consider how you are getting your information. There are 2 mains methods: Push method and Pull method.
In a push method you are being offered information. You see YouTube home page with video recommendations, Facebook news feed with post recommendations. In push method you rarely have control. Push method is the way to the rabbit hole. You are bored or have a minute to spare, so you open your feed, see some information, click on it which makes the algorithm think you are interested in it so you are being offered more of it. At some point you end up in the rabbit hole I’ve told you about. Sure, some of the best YouTube videos I’ve watched were offered to me by the recommendation algorithm, but at that point I’ve already had control over what information I want to be exposed to. I knew how the push method worked and could control it. If you lack this control, skip the push method and start with pull.
Pull method is different. In pull method you search for information. You want to discover something new so you go and search for it. You watch videos, you read posts. You form an opinion. Its different from push in one specific aspect - control. In pull method you have control, in push method - you usually don’t (unless you already have enough self control to stop, criticize, challenge and evaluate). Pull method is active, while push is passive. You are less likely to engage in pull method when you are bored or procrastinating hence your ability to criticize and challenge information is higher at those moments. Your mindset is different. In pull method you are set to learn or find the truth. In push method you are set to relax or kill the boredom. You lack control.
Remember this the next time you scroll through your feed.