Overwhelm, curators, and the collaborative mind

Did you know that Instagram has links in story; WhatsApp added disappearing messages; Telegram has new weird scrambling messages; scientists successfully transplanted a pig’s heart into a human being; Kattar beat Giga 50-45 UD; Ireland beat West Indies 2-1 in a three match ODI series; Manchester United blew a 2-0 lead vs Aston Villa; Real Madrid won the Supercopa de Espana and all this happened last week. Notice that I did not mention anything about politics, technology, or the major pandemic which has caused some serious PR trouble for Djokovic and the government of Australia. These things are trivial at best but enough to overwhelm the mind.

The age of information is thus turning into the age of overwhelm. Gone are the days of the well-informed citizen who used to be on top of matters and formed informed opinions instead of some dogmatic cant recited by the disseminators of information. Due to the sheer amount of information, discounting its increasing complexity, it is impossible to process all of it. Everyone is already overwhelmed by either things to keep tabs on or people to contact and the small window of time afforded to a citizen to be well-informed is just big enough to fit a smorgasbord of headlines.

As a result, getting news from social media is becoming the new normal. This opens up a whole new set of possibilities for trolls –- who are strictly defined as people who try to mislead masses using clever misinformation for a hoot and not the hate-mongering ideologues the term is now used to refer to because of lazy journalism –- and ideologues. Trolls create chaos and mischief. Ideologues promise to make the world seem oh so simple and understandable and not overwhelming at all.

Powerful, as measured by social reach, ideologues then spawn a whole subspecies of ideologies because the matter at hand was never so simple as to be reduced to a single line of thought in the first place. This is a contributing factor in the curious phenomenon of the internet being a breeding ground for niche subcultures. The formation of subcultures leads to more alienation, more dogmatism, and further fragmentation of thought into simple rationalisations.

Fragmentation of ideologies often has disastrous consequences. Some branches of ideologies take a moderate idea to its logical extreme, which is a phenomenon observed in religions around the world. And ideologues can have a religious fervour to them, their actions, and the certainty in their speech is mesmerizing for people struggling to make any sense of the world. These are the larger questions, at least a subset of the larger questions, with implications on the larger society and not the individual, but individuals do not exist in a vacuum and are affected by what exists around them.

The amount of information present calls for curators: Google curates millions of websites according to your specific query, YouTube’s feed, Instagram’s explore page, and so on and so forth. They were always there: newspaper editors, radio/TV news correspondents, book publishers, etc. But the internet promised decentralization and freedom of information which, when you really look into it, is just an illusion. Even community websites like Wikipedia have curators, moderators, editors, basically, people who have authority over the information you can see. So curators may exist as long as information does, they can be human or AI-based algorithms, but they’re there and their presence is morally, mostly, neither good nor bad as an idea. What matters is how ethical the individual curators are.

All this means is that we are, at any point in time, part of a large community of curators whom we trust. Our mental makeup is then a collaborative effort which means we are essentially the CEOs of a hypothetical company that produces the product that is our mental model used to produce opinions and judgements. It is then crucial to not fool ourselves about our sources of information and to choose wildly.

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