An important part of our behaviors takes place on the internet. We buy, we work, we play, we inform ourselves, we discuss, we pay our bills on the internet. It has become one of our main contexts of action.
This context is special because of its organization. In the world outside the Internet, multiple actors shape the contexts in which we evolve, namely, all those who evolve there, as well as ourselves. Each living being modifies a part of the world, which means that the contexts in which our behaviors appear experience a significant amount of variation. Consequently, our behaviors frequently vary, which allow us to preserve some flexibility necessary to adapt to the changes.
In the contexts of the Internet, things are different. Only the algorithms that govern tools like Facebook, Google, Snapchat, etc. shape these worlds we interact with.
The objective of these platforms is to deliver the most reinforcing information for us, essentially with the goal of increasing our use of their services. This means that the answers Google gives to our queries, or the posts that our social networks prioritize, correspond to what the algorithm knows about us, based on the content we have previously viewed, liked, commented on or shared.
Little by little, because the algorithm knows you increasingly better, it only shows you contents that interest you, that correspond to what you like. It’s very practical and very pleasant. The problem is that you will quickly find yourself consuming only one type of information, only one type of knowledge, exchanging with people who resemble you, and never again being challenged in your beliefs. You then risk losing the behavioral variety that allows you to adapt when the environment changes. Indeed, outside of the Internet, the world is much less predictable, it is even constantly changing and never repeats. Precisely, life is not governed by an algorithm, and just as it is risky to always behave in the same way towards one’s emotions and thoughts -what we call in ACT psychological inflexibility-, it is risky to get too used to a controlled environment such as the Internet.
The second problem is that you feel comfortable in these contexts, since they are filled with stimuli that you enjoy. You risk getting stuck in a bubble, reassuring, but limited, always reading the same texts, seeing the same types of videos, talking to people who look alike, etc. This is a problem because you will never be able to get in touch with content that is even more interesting to you and that you don’t suspect exists. It’s a problem because you’ll have a hard time getting out of what evolutionists call an adaptation peak: in order to hope to discover new things that interest you or to meet new and exciting people, you have to get out of this comfortable bubble and get in touch with something new, much of which will be uninteresting to you, even irritating, but in the middle of which there are treasures that could be even more relevant to your deepest aspirations. In other words, by trapping us in worlds that satisfy us in the short term, the algorithms of social networks and search engines deprive us of the chance to discover areas in which our values could vibrate even more strongly.
It is possible to leave this adaptation peak while continuing to use these platforms.
On Google, deactivate the recording of the history and delete cookies regularly. Or use a search engine that does not save your history (such as Qwant). You’ll see that it’s quite annoying: the results you get are much less relevant to you. However, that’s when you’ll have the opportunity to discover exciting things that you didn’t even know you could find fulfilling.
On social networks, take up this challenge: type a random sequence of letters in the search box, and ask the first person whose name appears to become your friend.
Who knows, maybe you’ll meet some exciting people who are the opposite of the ones you usually interact with! At the very least, you will increase your flexibility.
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photo: Andrea Piacquadio