Automated curation sucks; let’s replace it with RSS feeds.
Yeah, I’m saying we should bring back a protocol so outdated and underused that Google shut down its own service for it back in 2013. I’m saying that we desperately need to switch to a less elegant, less convenient system, because social media is poisoning our lives. (Yeah, that’s an over-simplification of a big degree, but it’s not like people are really disagreeing here…)
Algorithms aren’t any help, as I’ve rambled about before with Netflix. Alarmingly, people have seen the algorithms on sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter act in bizarre and toxic ways. They want you to keep clicking and keep getting ads, and thus continually push the most polarizing content right in your face, daring you to keep your mouse still and click away. The entire U.S. election process was upended thanks to social media algorithms completely taking over our national discourse. Remember that? Yeah, it was horrible.
That stuff has been extremely well documented over the 2010s, and it bears repeating here: The world has become a more divisive, angrier place than it was one decade ago. The events of January 6th, 2021 could never have happened without the radicalization of an entire portion of America’s population, and that radicalization was fueled in large part by social networks irresponsibly feeding us all exactly the content we craved for our echo chambers of fury.
So much anger, so much divisiveness, so much idiot fake news.
I say, screw all that stuff; let’s just abandon the whole thing.
The RSS Feeds Path
First off, hide your social media feeds. I use the extension Undistracted, and you should too. Hide the Facebook news feed. Hide the Twitter feed. Hide the Youtube comments.
Done? Good; now you can visit social media without being consumed by the algorithms. Next, it’s time to visit that old classic: RSS Feeds.
It’s an elegant solution for an inelegant time. RSS Feeds are clunky and old, but almost every site uses them. You plug that RSS feed URL into your reader website/application and bam. Now you get every article from that feed put into your account. But only what YOU decide to include, and only chronologically.
There’s lots of RSS feed readers out there. I use Feedly, myself.
You can look at the headlines to see what you want to read and what you want to ignore; you can save articles for later and sort them into different categories; you can finally get daily comic strips back into your life. There’s no algorithm deciding what you “want” to see the most. No data collection mining your activity to build advertising profiles. It’s just a list of all the articles from the sites you add yourself.
One argument is that you can create an echo chamber too easily with RSS feeds. Especially with news, relying on just a select number of sites will only give you a certain view of events. That can be remedied by just sort of getting a wider array of sites in your feed. But more importantly… Do you think the social media algorithms AREN’T creating an echo chamber? Honestly, I think it’s probably even worse!
On social media, your aunt’s unsourced memes about 5G causing cancer get just as much of a voice as that in-depth dive on an experimental urban gardening program in Atlanta that you scrolled past once and never saw again. One of these two things gets clicks, and one of these two things generates a lot of revenue for social media. The urban farming ain’t it. But with RSS readers, you could have added that article to your “read later” list, come back to it when you have time, and bam, you didn’t have to even see your aunt’s memes in the first place.
Let’s ditch the algorithm. Let’s get back in control of our own internet lives. RSS feeds may have been retro in the 2010s, but they’re the bright future for the 2020s.
5 thoughts on “RSS Feeds: Let’s Defeat the Algorithm [2010s]”
Whenever I think of algorithms now, I think of a line from Until You Continue to Behave, which has to have one of the most awful dystopian futures I’ve seen (please read it). The main character half-heartedly goes online to watch uninspiring videos. “Thumbnails ripple down my screen. Any one of these could be what I want to watch.”