Back when America Online CD-ROMs, Netscape Navigator, and the tumultuous buzzing noises of a modem connecting over dial-up were synonymous with the World Wide Web, we were told the promise of the internet would be a great free exchange of information at our fingertips. Coming from a world dominated by television, radio, and print, it was quite an abstract concept to grasp. What more could it result in than real-time sports scores, and only if you happened to be sitting in front of an internet-connected computer?
Early on, chat rooms and forums were quite the novelty. Later, the first social media platforms were quaint if not a bit awkward. Now the flow of information has matured into a 24-hour news cycle, very public airings of grievances, feverish ecommerce, and an ecosystem of devices and apps that seek our attention every waking moment of the day. So this is what they meant. We no longer sip information from a cup; we’re being dropped from a helicopter into the middle of the Pacific with arm floaties. Hey, knowledge is power, after all. We appreciate living in a more informed society, despite legions of armchair specialists at the ready eager to project authority after watching two or three TikToks.
What this unmanned, whipping fire hose of social information needs is optimization. And optimization isn’t just in the technology itself, but in how we use it.
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