My futile attempts to train Instagram to know me

I’ll open here stating this has nothing to do with all the recent “fallout” over FaceBook trust and privacy. The topic of machine learning and how humans and machines will interact has long brewed in my mind while it refuses to go to sleep. The timing I suppose is appropriate though, that I stopped being too lazy to tap buttons on a laptop. Privacy was never the issue for me, nor trust. If you think you get services like Google and FaceBook for free then you are a fool who may as well also blame the bleach you drank (now a washing detergent pod perhaps) for burning your throat because you ignored the label, and your own damn nose. We all pay for the things we use, it is up to you to stop using them if you take issue with the method of payment, it is not for you to demand they change to accommodate your ignorance.

With that said..

Instagram had for a while been my last bastion of social media, and it was not that I felt I ever especially needed to use social media to begin with, having grown up on the internet in the days before, of dial-up modems and IRC, Usenet and such. And I have no problem with social media on the whole; some of it I find stunningly impressive, technically and psychologically. It’s just I find it does little of value for me. I tried many of them over the years and in the last few I slowly dismantled my accounts just leaving Instagram because.. Well, because photos and art. Yeah and cosplay girls sure but that might count as one of the other two.

But not any more. Now I have to go back to the web, the DeviantArt and the Google Image search, the webpages dedicated to such things. And again it was not any kind of mid-life hipster bullshit faux-revolution protest but coming to terms with the fact that the mechanics I admire so much, the algorithms, are my fucking enemy because I am not a very easy person to please. I mean seriously if I do not know what I like at 37 years of earth age then what chance does Twitter have? First guess should be right, absolutely fucking none. One hundred percent wrong one hundred percent of the time.

And Instagram is a very visual representation of this impasse. On Twitter or FaceBook or Wiebo or Ookla or VK or Geemo or I dunno I might have made some of those up, there is a lot of text content even amongst your vanity obsessed contacts who think their baby and their lunch are worth anyone elses time. But Instagram is fully in your eyeballs imagery and no matter how many people piss into the wind about the media telling you what to like (fuck you people, I know what I don’t like) you will often have a very immediate and visceral reaction to images as you scroll through what is supposed to be a personal inventory of pictures on the most personal device you own.

I was curious for a while why although I almost universally only opened (or even paused on) images of graffiti, unusual places and Brutalist architecture, girls with tattoos across their tits, cartoons and friends photos I was constantly presented with people at the gym (good for you, don’t give a fuck), babies (just don’t give a fuck), and MAKE-UP TUTORIALS (which, ok, can look cool but it’s not like I’m looking for that).

I did something rare, and it might be a sign of faliure in my reasoning ability as I get grouchy and older, I asked a younger friend who commands a respectable following on Instagram (and her website what was going on. Because I spent a lot of damn time, eventually, specifically telling instagram I want to see less of this shite. And she told me “well some of that will be because of me, I like those images and we are friends”. Well shit. The robot thinks that if we are friends we like the same things? I’m damned sure she does not like to see half naked women dressed up as demons. And I do not like the shaved gorillas (male or female) taking photos of mirrors. But this is something the robots are foisting upon me, indeed us, all.

And I have found that when a highly tuned, in some cases self learning system, is focused on showing you what YOU MIGHT LIKE so that you continue to keep that application open there is literally no amount of rolled-up newspaper smacking on the snout that will dissuade it from thinking if your FRIEND likes this and you like THEM then you must LIKE THAT TOO. Fucking bullshit! Seriously! I am fortunate enough to have a wide circle of friends and damn do I love those people, those musicians, artists, bar staff, office workers, engineers and all others, and although we get on well we do NOT usually share the majority of our interests. We share a common humanity and curiosity and other ties, music and such as a secondary. I have friends who deal drugs and friends who are health obsessed gym goers. Friends who paint and those who play at festivals. But it should be easily understood that although we get on as friends, many of our specific activities, goals and life choices are not shared.

And I see nothing wrong with appreciating those systems, I do not intend to suggest that. I am deeply impressed by the advancements and some people thrive happily in those playgrounds. As a British expatriate in Europe I use my smartphone heavily and appreciate it’s power to perform multilingual OCR as I scan and sort my incomprehensible physical mail, to do live translation while also playing my music and keeping me in touch with people. Losing the bit where I rub a groove down the right side of the glass with my thumb, scrolling endless posts, is no loss to me. And the reason I say that I would hope all are also aware of.

Even if you genuinely enjoy social media - and I am absolutely fine with sharing my data, I really do not care - the hook is still the same; entertain you to keep your valuable eyes on their service. Obvious yes I know but what I came to feel strongly as I broke off from each service was a pang of loss. Of missing something. But I signed out because it was annoying me and that means I was wasting my time right? Yes. But FaceBook is not as huge as it is without some fucking devil-magic level of psychology going on in there. These things will, if they cannot provide you what you enjoy, train you to enjoy what it can provide. And it works. It works so, so well.

And the feeling of loss soon dissipates and honestly within a few days for every system I no longer even wondered what was happening on them. Especially because good friends will not forget you exist just because you take more clicks to reach.

Ideally in the background of our normal lives very dedicated and intelligent people are building and making use of machine learning algorithms and growing artificial intelligences for tasks that help us all, medical advancement study, solutions to vehicle congestion and pollution, even just improving navigation and refining processes during manufacture. And that’s great, I’m so into that. But I think there has been a tectonic scale shift that eludes many people, and I mean just because no one should really have to waste their life stressing over these topics (like I do). That shift is that in the past the majority of advancements were products of military and government spending; and no matter what can be said of those groups the ultimate truth is they are supposed to be working the favour of the majority. I am not up for that discussion. However there is now vast capital available from commercial entities such as Alphabet (Google) and Facebook to name the most obvious. Even if they have lofty goals and ambitions to better the world they are far from the regulations and scrutiny necessary for actions that impact enormous amounts of people at each turn.

I am unhappy with the way such incredible advancements are being wasted. We are supposed to train these machines to provide us with the content we wish to see, but this can be problematic as the human element of editorialising the vast wealth of information and media content available to us. If you are always only seeing what you want you miss a lot of the world. I know, that sounds perfect right? Well, disagreement and discourse are vital to the functions of our society and to do that properly we all need information that encompasses all sides, even a small amount helps inform opinion, if all we see is what we tell machines we like then we risk being misinformed. But in the simple terms of entertainment I am more unhappy that those advanced mechanics that cannot learn to please my stupidly erratic mind instead fall back to trying to train ME in paying attention even if it is just content that I do not like. None of us need that.

I’m bored now. Welcome to the latest iteration of TRATI.


Dead Weezel is back

And he is sorry about that.