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Inputs and Outputs, or How to Shape Your Worldview Before Someone Does It for You

Recently I was talking with Andrey Sitnik about media consumption and IndieWeb paraphernalia, and I stumbled upon a realisation.

A lot of people struggle with Read-it-later services, like Pocket, where the links just pile up, and they never get around to reading it, and then they feel bad.

As it goes, I spoke first and thought second, I said: if you stop and think for five minutes about it, you'll understand why this happens. Then I had to back it up and went on with a blissful feeling of puzzle pieces clicking together: one does not treat 'Pocket' as an input to a system of consuming information, only as an output, thus it is bound to overflow.

Now let me expand on these matters a little bit more.

Inputs are the ways by which information gets to you. If you check Twitter every morning, then your feed is an Input. If you do read email newsletters and not just archive it, that's an Input. Ditto for podcasts, books, Hacker News, Instagram, RSS, and plain old conversations.

The necessary condition of being an Input is that you do consume from it, preferably at regular intervals. Otherwise it may as well not exist for you. To read books you actually have to sit down and read a book.

On the other hand, Outputs are where you put information. If you post photos on Instagram, that's an Output. If you file links to "Read-it-later", that's an Output. Outputs are less complex, and I will discuss them in more detail in another article.

Now, if Pocket is not an Input in your system, then you won't have the chance to read the articles you put there: in the moment when your brain is thirsty for more information, you'll drink from the usual Inputs, not the Pocket. To "read it later" you actually have to sit down and read it at some point, otherwise it just won't happen.

Going further, a thing can be both an Input and an Output at the same time. Sometimes this configuration creates a feedback loop: you read on Twitter about current events, post some hot takes there, get sweet sweet likes, and repeat.

I suppose that a combination of Inputs/Outputs for a particular person is mostly stable over time, while the persona you present online is more flexible. Over time you converge on the set of websites you check regularly and themes that interest you, and if the perceived consensus in the community shifts, you either have to remove yourself from this community, or go with the flow.

Now, the trouble is that "persona you present online" influences the real you as well in subtle, almost imperceptible ways. As Vonnegut wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Going for lighthearted example, if you think that all of your twitter feed is hating on Kubernetes, and you do not have a strong opinion on whether it is good or bad yourself, then you will probably adopt a milder "K8s is at least somewhat bad" attitude, shifting the balance further.

You can also apply this in reverse: other people too can only read what's being made available and are influenced by this no less than you are, so if you want your perspective to be heard and may be even adhered to, then you have to publish it.

Algorithmic sorting, the kind that is used on Twitter, FB, Instagram, is not a perennial evil per se, it just rearranges the contents of a particular Input by predicting what will solicit a visceral reaction from you, forcing you to react (engage) even more. This is a quirk of these Inputs, so you should adjust your expectations and seek alternatives as well.

You can only read on Twitter what is twitable. You can't react to or learn from something that you don't know to exist.

Creating an information bubble is in a sense inevitable, because no one can read everything without some sort of filtering beforehand, so the question is which filters are being used and who set them up.

Shape your inputs consciously, for they in turn shape you.

Tim Marinin опубликовал