Living with the Algorithm

This is how we work. This is how we play. This is how we connect with each other.

It is insidious in all senses of the word.

  1. Having a gradual and cumulative effect.
  2. Developing so gradually as to be well established before it is apparent.
  3. Awaiting a chance to entrap.
  4. Harmful, but enticing.

I feel very lucky to have been born in an analog age, to have written letters on paper and mailed them, to have listened to vinyl records crackling and popping, to have had to wait for things, to have been bored.

Now things are faster, cheaper, brighter, more convenient. Are they better? Did we lose something when we sped up? Texture? Nuance? Civility?

I don’t recall when my life shifted from analog to digital, some time in the ’90s. It was exciting to get an email address. I learned HTML and made my mark on the wall that wasn’t a wall at all. The whole world turned toward the glowing screen, the measure of your worth gauged by what you could type into the interface.

What began with faster ways to communicate and easier ways to share things, metastasized into an all-consuming attention vacuum, the refusal of boredom, the need to interact with something, anything.


Every convenience demands a compromise.

Every entertainment threatens a distraction.

Instagram desperately wants to sell me some pants. Facebook wants me to know that your children are prospering. Twitter reminds me that no matter what I think, someone hates me. Amazon will sell me anything I can think of and deliver it tomorrow, cutting out the middlemen, cutting them down at the knees.

I am Don Quixote and this is my windmill, the sad irony that you are reading this impotent screed on the very thing it would destroy. The medium is possibly not the message.

The message is probably that we have to find a better way to live with the algorithm, alongside it, not in its persistent glow. We have to be more disciplined in the face of apps purpose-built to break our discipline. We are in a battle for our own minds.

I could tell you that the antidote is outdoors, but that’s too easy. The antidote is not only outdoors, but engagement with what’s out there, making it a part of our lives, meeting each other out there, and daring to think, when no one is watching.