I Refuse to Outsource My Agency to an Algorithm

I don’t have a Facebook account and never have. When this comes up, people demand to know why—as though not signing up for a user account on any given website were a preposterous decision—I tell them, “I refuse to outsource my agency to an algorithm”, which has always garnered eye-rolling.
This is certainly a contrarian position, but abstention from algorithmic dominance is the only way to be free in a world dominated by algorithms.
Anyone who takes such a position must prepare for that inevitable eye-rolling, even in light of the revelation that Facebook unethically manipulated feeds to influence users’ emotional states.
Surely the preposterous decision is to maintain and make use of an account with a company that desires to secretly manipulate your emotional state to unknown ends, is it not?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

You can’t learn business by reading The Wall Street Journal, it turns out.

The brilliant Horace Dediu in his podcast The Critical Path, episode 100: The Profit Algorithm.

We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive.

Aldo Leopold in A Survey of Conservation, 1938

The River Cottage where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes a Fawlty Towers reference (starting at 10:20).

Our present skill in the care of mechanical engines did not arise from fear lest they fail to do their work. Rather it was born of curiosity and pride of understanding. Prudence never kindled a fire in the human mind; I have no hope for conservation born of fear.

Aldo Leopold in The Farmer as a Conservationist, 1939

All I am saying is that there is also a drama in every bush, if you can see it. When enough men know this, we will need fear no indifference to the welfare of bushes, or birds, or soil, or trees. We shall then have no need of the word conservation, for we shall have the thing itself.

Aldo Leopold in The Farmer as a Conservationist, 1939

What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.

Wendell Berry in Thoughts in the Presence of Fear for Orion Magazine.

The one great difference is that by now the revolution has deprived the mass of consumers of any independent access to the staples of life: clothing, shelter, food, even water. Air remains the only necessity that the average user can still get for himself, and the revolution has imposed a heavy tax on that by way of pollution. Commercial conquest is far more thorough and final than military defeat.

Wendell Berry in the essay The Unsettling of America.

See related: Dollar Diplomacy, Banana Republics, and Making the World Safe for Democracy.