The Algorithm Tweaks Won’t Save Us – by Charlie Warzel – Galaxy Brain:

Going through this history, I’m struck by how Facebook creates shitty outcomes for its users no matter how you tweak the algorithms. Pre-2018, the platform’s architecture incentivized the creation of some a lot of medium and low quality news and entertainment content, which performed like crazy on the platform. It sucked users in and kept them engaged in a passive way that made them feel worse after a Facebook session. Then, the company tried to incentivize an opposite platform experience in order to get people to engage with each other. It turned out that this was potentially worse and definitely more (politically) destabilizing. At the end of the day, Facebook found that two people screaming at each other and accusing the other of being part of a pedophilic cult or stealing an election is, well, a Meaningful Social Interaction.

What seems rather indisputable is that as currently designed (to optimize scale, engagement, profit) there is no way to tweak the platform in a way that doesn’t ultimately make people miserable or that destabilizes big areas of culture and society. The platform is simply too big. Leave it alone and it turns into a dangerous cesspool; play around with the knobs and risk inadvertently censoring or heaping world historic amounts of attention onto people or movements you never anticipated, creating yet more unanticipated outcomes. If there’s any shred of sympathy I have for the company, it’s that there don’t seem to be any great options.

I agree with nearly everything Warzel says, except the but at the end about his shred of sympathy for Facebook because “there don’t seem to be any great options.”

All of these options are fine for Facebook, because they all allow Facebook to keep making billions of dollars. I have zero sympathy for them; it’s all the rest of us I’m worried about.

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Reading Stories Out Loud, S1E3: The Great God Pan (Chapter 3) by Arthur Machen

This is season 1, episode 3. Today we are reading Chapter 3 of The Great God Pan, an 1894 novella by Arthur Machen.

In this chapter, we meet a London gentleman named Villiers, who has an unexpected encounter on the way home from his club with his old university friend Herbert, now reduced to begging on the street. Herbert tells Villiers the tale of his descent, and Villiers gets the terrible backstory from his gossipy acquaintance Austin.

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Advice on the Internet is usually people trying to sell things.

My friend Anthony has started a podcast with his business partner in which they critique stupid marketing tweets. I’m not a marketer, but it’s pretty entertaining.

In the most recent episode, one of the tweets they call out for ridicule is by guy with a bunch of bland and generic advice about how to achieve success as an online marketer. My take is that they are entirely too generous, taking the tweet at face value and engaging with the points the guy seems to be making.

A few years ago, I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It’s not the sort of book I typically read, but it showed up in the “Available right now!” widget of my library’s Overdrive service, so I decided to check it out. I found it entertaining and somewhat helpful, and I appreciated Rubin’s kind of crazy approach to understanding happiness, even if it was not the one that I would take.

Had the story ended there, everything would be fine.

The story did not end there. When I finished the book, I went to check out Rubin’s website to see if she blogged. Of course she blogged. And tweeted. And made YouTubes. And a podcast. And there were happiness journals for sale, along with lots of other merch. What had been a decent book with an entertaining premise and some interesting insights was clearly turning into a cottage industry to keep the income coming in long after the book dropped off the bestseller lists.

I get it, and who am I to begrudge a writer trying to make a living? Still, it felt kind of disappointing, and it made me feel a bit suspicious of everything else she had to say.

It is through this lens that I view stuff like the tweet Anthony is rightfully calling out in his podcast. There is no use trying to actually figure out what the tweet’s author is saying, or whether there is any value in it, because that’s not the point. It’s a way to draw attention, build a brand, get people reading the rest of his stuff and probably sign up for some course or buy some merch.

Pretty much every business, pastime, hobby, and craft is being gradually ensnared by the insidious tendrils of hustle culture. As that happens, the purpose of any piece of online advice—whether it comes in form of tweets, YouTube videos, or blog posts—is increasingly likely not to be communicating information about the ostensible subject. Rather, more and more of this stuff is primarily about promoting the brand or business of the person who created it.

Does that mean it’s all wrong? Not necessarily, and the situation is less terrible for something like technical walk-throughs; even if a tutorial on setting up WordPress Multisite is actually an attempt to get me to buy your plugin, I still end up learning how to set up WordPress multisite (assuming the technical details are correct).

When the subject is something less technical—marketing skills like the tweet Anthony cites, or creative writing prompts and practices, or the bottomless pit of journaling techniques on YouTube—it is an entirely different story. These are the posts of which I am most suspicious. The guy who writes books about how to “unleash your creativity” may publish a bunch of blog posts with tips, but he is mainly interested in getting you to buy his books.

This stuff is advertising, and we should approach it as such, with a healthy dose of skepticism.

S1E2: The Great God Pan (Chapter 2) by Arthur Machen

This is season 1, episode 2. Today we are reading Chapter 2 of The Great God Pan, an 1894 novella by Arthur Machen.

In the last episode, Dr. Raymond lectures his friend Clark about his journey to the outer edges of science, and then, to Clark’s apparent horror, performs surgery on the brain of his young ward Mary. Following the surgery, Mary’s face glows with wonder, and then abject terror, her mind seemingly destroyed by the cosmic visions that Dr. Raymond’s surgery has brought her.

Now that we’re all caught up, let’s dive in to Chapter 2 of the Great God Pan by Arthur Machen.

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S1E1: The Great God Pan (Chapter 1) by Arthur Machen

This is season 1, episode 1, and we are starting a novella by Arthur Machen titled “The Great God Pan.”

Machen was the pen name of Arthur Llewellyn Jones, a Welsh writer from the late 19th and early 20th century. He published The Great God Pan in 1894, and it is considered be a fairly influential work of supernatural horror.

Just a heads-up, this story starts off with a scientist who is kind of a creep conducting an experimental surgery on his young female ward. While there are no graphic details, his attitude toward her is gross and dismissive. If that’s not your bag, I totally get it—you might want to sit this one out.

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