INTRODUCTION WITH CATS
Cats cooperate with you as it suits them but are never quite trainable. So why can’t we be more like them?
ARGUMENT ONE: YOU ARE LOSING YOUR FREE WILL
You are in a cage that follows you around and spies on you for fun, profit and control. Behaviorism is a tool technocrats have used for years to try to manipulate you. Your cellphone and how it controls you takes it to a new level. Google, Facebook and Twitter between them all use this to control you and profit from this but FB is singled out as especially bad because their business model has always been mainly to manipulate your emotions for fun and profit. They do this by understanding neurological pathways to addiction and deliberately exploiting them. Social networks are especially bad because they tend to reinforce what’s worst in us through negative feedback loops. Addiction and free will are opposites. If you want the latter you must break out of the former and all who would use it against you.
ARGUMENT TWO: QUITTING SOCIAL MEDIA IS THE MOST FINELY TARGETED WAY TO RESIST THE INSANITY OF OUR TIMES
The rest of the content is summarized here. BUMMER is introduced as a name for the statistical “machine” which is being used to manipulate you. A mnemonic for remembering its components –
A for Attention Acquisition — people get attention online by being nasty, initially a big surprise in online behavior that is now scientifically exploited.
B for Butting into everyone’s lives – your connected, always on and always with you device is always spying and reporting on you and selling that information to deepest pockets wanting it.
C for Cramming content down people’s throats – algorithms used in real time to give each person customized experiences. Personalization isn’t always BUMMER but may be. The author thinks it’s not BUMMER for Netflix to use what they know about you as a user to recommend content on their site. It becomes BUMMER based on how third party and first party data are integrated and used apart from the business you do with a given site (i.e. legitimate purpose).
D for Directing behavior sneakily – Let’s say you are reading something on your phone and your reading behavior is correlated with that of many others to prod you in a direction of action or inaction (e.g. voter suppression through algorithmic reinforcement of cynicism).
E for Earning money from letting the worst people secretly screw with everyone else – not only does BUMMER make people nasty online for attention, using it becomes table stakes for any business or political entity, making ethics degenerate across the board while also messing up the economy because fakeness replaces value exchange (Note: my words for what I think he means). Caution about fiddling with nobs of incentives not being an answer, i.e. prohibitions just further incentive to crime, etc.
F for Fake mobs and Faker society – There are lots of fake people out there creating all sorts of issues. Bots, AI, false accounts etc. BUMMER incents more of this and degrades society and trust. But good news is BUMMER is ultimately a self-defeating business strategy. Understand that what’s so bad about BUMMER is that it concentrates power in a few hands in a way that can’t be good and could actually be really destructive for civilization. But it is important to pull the plug, not just fool around.
ARGUMENT THREE: SOCIAL MEDIA IS MAKING YOU INTO AN ASSHOLE
You may not be an asshole yet but there is a statistical probability that continued exposure will move you in that direction. Please take this seriously. BUMMER makes you more addictive, meaning more aggressive, impatient and likely to pick up other bad habits. The technology is about asshole amplification. It wasn’t designed that way at first but that is what evolved because it produces results that work in BUMMER economics (for now). A way it does this is to switch between solitary/pack settings in your personal makeup with solitary corresponding to inner directed (good) and pack to other directed (problematic) for the sake of gratification. A tip: go where you are kind and stay away from where you behave more poorly.
ARGUMENT FOUR: SOCIAL MEDIA IS UNDERMINING TRUTH
Truth is dead now is a familiar trope. Social media is cited as the cause and this book explores why that is and how it came about. Each of the BUMMER attributes destroys truth in its own way:
A Assoholes turn discourse in to discharge.
B Butting in deprives victims of authenticity in every exchange.
C Cramming perception as reality means loss of truth is the product.
D Directing lives means we are the Borg and that’s the point (my Star Trek allusion for what I think he means).
E Earning money is an incentive for bad actors to direct behavior, which undermines truth.
F Fake people have no incentive to be truthful and truth is suicide for them. When people are fake everything becomes fake.
ARGUMENT FIVE: SOCIAL MEDIA IS MAKING WHAT YOU SAY MEANINGLESS
What you say derives meaning from context and BUMMER overwrites your context with one chosen for you. You are a number, not a free person. Fake news replaces real news and independent journalism is on the ropes because invisible without being designed for BUMMER packaging. This includes electronically faking videos from noted people to smear them (not yet a thing when the book was written)
ARGUMENT SIX: SOCIAL MEDIA IS DESTROYING YOUR CAPACITY FOR EMPATHY
When you curate everything other people see about you on social media you are complicit in turning yourself into a fake person. In ordinary social interaction IRL we use other people’s reactions to gauge our own perceptions. This uses and re-enforces empathy. In the world of social media this is gamed and desensitized to the point of actually destroying human empathy. BUMMER drowns out and numbs your ability to be human. This is a reification of the trend towards not making AI human but making humans into robots. We are the Borg (again, my Star Trek reference, not Lanier’s but apt).
ARGUMENT SEVEN: SOCIAL MEDIA IS MAKING YOU UNHAPPY
BUMMER makes you unhappy by algorithmically triggering sadness in you. Content in your feed can be tailored to create a mood in you. FB and Google have proven this works in big social engineering experiments using human guinea pigs that never consented. What else are they doing?
ARGUMENT EIGHT: SOCIAL MEDIA DOESN’T WANT YOU TO HAVE ECONOMIC DIGNITY
The Gig economy was celebrated for about six seconds until it became understood that Uber drivers and other gig workers are being deprived of economic dignity on purpose. They take on financial and other risk that will never go down while their costs go up. They are guaranteed to be unable to build financial security and well-being for themselves and their dependents.
BUMMER propagates the idea of its own inevitability. Digital only works as long as you, the product, are subservient to the machine. The prevalence of this message is one of the best reasons to quit social media now.
BUMMER now penalizes creativity by channeling it into something that will deprive the creator of any kind of control or financial security to be derived from their efforts. BUMMER takes platforms that could have democratized talent and makes sure they only support stars who are themselves controlled.
ARGUMENT NINE: SOCIAL MEDIA IS MAKING POLITICS IMPOSSIBLE
BUMMER is neither liberal nor conservative; it is just pro-paranoia, pro-irritability and pro assholness. You now can’t tell what is organic and what is engineered which makes all messages suspect. BUMMER generally emphasizes extremes and ignores the middle ground completely. BUMMER takes organic, grass roots movements and concerns and makes them ripe for manipulation by bad actors.
ARGUMENT TEN: SOCIAL MEDIA HATES YOUR SOUL
Each of the previous 9 arguments are really about deep aspects of what it means to be human. A direct quote is in order: “If you use BUMMER, you have probably, to some degree, statistically speaking, effectively renounced what you might think is your religion, even if that religion is atheism. you have been inducted into a new spiritual framework.” He means this – not hyperbole.
Absolutely critical to BUMMER doing this is the efforts by its architects and users to remove free will from the stage, to deprive you of agency. Your “free will” is now a currency being used by others to mechanically control you and use you as a means to their ends. You read or watch what you are told to and interpret it as directed.
When this took off, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins was in vogue among techies. Dawkins invented the concept of meme as short-hand for a pseudo-Darwinian process applied to cultural artifacts. Memes replace conversation for people who already believe we are meat machines without souls and their creations amplify their nihilism (my paraphrasing again, but seems to be what Lanier means).
Google director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, promotes the idea that Google will soon be able to upload your consciousness to the cloud. He is the most often cited “transhumanist” who is trying to engineer his own immortality. Google is spending big bucks on this. This is, Lanier says, not just metaphysics but metaphysical imperialism. Whatever belief system you have you should realize they are replacing it as long as you stay connected, whether you like it or not.
Lanier says AI is a story computer scientists made up to get funding once upon a time. It was, he says, pragmatic theater. “AI has become a fiction that has overtaken its authors…It is also a cover story for sloppy engineering.”
BUMMER is a threat to what it means to be human. “Whatever a person might be, if you want to be one, delete your accounts.”