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What I learnt about the internet from hedgehogs

On Saturday morning I managed to waste 90 minutes online reading about, wait for it…pumpkins! I have no interest in pumpkins. I know it is Halloween, but my children are of an age where, beyond sweets, they have no interest in this holiday. I am ashamed to say I fell down a deep, virtual rabbit hole. Did you know that you must not dispose of pumpkins innards outside? Apparently whilst a treat for foxes they are not so for hedgehogs, as their digestive systems react in such a way it reduces their body mass – not the best for a creature trying to bulk up in preparation for hibernation!

What was I doing?

I am all up for learning new information and keeping up to date on relevant issues, but this got me thinking, how many more people waste time consuming such low-quality content?

Netflix’s docudrama, The Social Dilemma, paints a dystopian picture of social media. They put forward an argument that blames the algorithm for manipulating you into virtual rabbit holes. The docudrama makes it clear that Tech companies have designed environments with the single purpose of keeping people engaged for as long as possible. Disconcerting, at the very least.

So, can I blame the algorithm for my pumpkin shame? Did my pointless online scrolling and inane clicking behaviour lead me to this and how can I stop being distracted by clickbait?

I certainly do not have the answer. I know that great content should be relevant and resonate with your values and goals. It should be creative and inspired by a great idea. We should learn with purpose. But how do I guarantee that an article will be worth reading when I start it?

If you look at the statistics, over 500 new videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute. We are constantly being bombarded by new and recycled content. It is easy to get lost in the noise and lose valuable time, all the more important given that so many of us complain so frequently about being time poor.

The Social Dilemma advice is to use various Chrome extensions that can be installed to stop the algorithm pushing you down that rabbit hole, enabling you to find and manage great content. I find personal recommendations from peers, following influencers who are aligned with my values, and visiting curated content sites most useful. Obviously, the pumpkin content did not fall into any of these categories!

There are also specifically designed sites, some of which allow you to filter keywords and topics by date range and even how many times an article was shared across the 5 big social media platforms. Surely if it was shared a lot, it must be worth reading?

However, how many of us are guilty of liking or sharing an article without reading it properly?

This is a question the Social Dilemma goes on to explore; it wants us to start a conversation: are you using technology or is it using you? They have produced an interesting bingo game card where participants mark how they’ve been played by platforms that manipulate our behaviour and hijack our attention. It is certainly worth taking a look at The Social Dilemma.

So, where does all this lead us?

As we all know, knowledge is power, and being able to identify when technology is using us could be the first step in changing our online behaviours. I for one will now be looking out for this tech manipulation to stop me falling deep into pumpkin rabbit holes and stuffing my brain with low quality content!

Clare Delaney – NextGen Planners

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