Tom Critchlow
menu

Junkfeeds

Lost in the algorithms

Rem Koolhaas provided context for modern space - for modern living - in his 2002 essay Junkspace. In the essay Rem provides a glimpse of the flattening, commercializing and colonizing of space:

“Junkspace is post-existential; it makes you uncertain where you are, obscures where you go, undoes where you were.”

The essay uses the airport as the first spaces to become Junkspace. Out of time and out of place, the airport becomes everywhere and nowhere. But our experience of space has been transformed once again - because every space now is a dual-space. Wherever we are, we are also in digital space. Our physical space - junkspace - is now just a backdrop for an equivalent junk-digital-space. The airport, once bastion of large bright shared screens is now just a row of seats with faces slumped into our personal screens.

Every physical space is now secondary - there is no physical space left that is the primary place we are. We are always primarily in digital space and secondarily in physical space.

We are never more than 60cm away from our phones, check them 20 times a minute, spend 5 hours a day using them and they’re larger in our field of vision than a movie screen. Yes, physical space has been conquered.

Perhaps the shower is the only place left to us that is out of reach of screens.

How do we understand where we are in digital space? It’s feeds. Every commercialized, flattened, colonized part of digital space is now a feed - junk-feeds. Junkfeeds.

In this way - junkspace has been digitized and replaced by the screens in our hands. From Junkspace to Junkfeeds.

Quote from here? https://medium.com/dark-matter-and-trojan-horses/the-city-is-my-homescreen-317673e0f57a

Junkfeeds are post-human, radical, tech-utopias that pollute our knowledge and police our information.

Once recognized as the great frontier of architecture and modernism, junkspace is now just space. It has been fed into the machine and overrun by junkfeeds.

As we shift into the 22nd century we will pretend “things are getting better”. The architecture and space of Junkspace will get better - fewer screens, tastefully designed. Because junkspace is no longer junkspace it’s just space. Background space. The star of the show is Junkfeeds.

Orienting in digital space via the feed

The problem started because digital space has no edges. Craigmod writes:

Edges are about feeling as much as seeing. With edges comes a sense of weight. And with that comes the ability to feel — physically and psychically. And with that, a better understanding of what we’ve built and where we’ve been. https://craigmod.com/journal/digital_physical/

This can be re-framed as the lack of edges: Edgelessness is about lack of feeling and not seeing. Without edges is a sense of weightlessness - the loss of ability to feel physically and emotionally.

Digital edge-less spaces creates a lack of feeling and a disorientation.

The answer to this is the feed: a way for us to reorient ourselves around something. Not around an edge of “space” (because digital space is infinite) but around the edge of “time”. By orienting everything around the feed of objects sorted by time we regain some logic - some sense of an “edge”. The edge of time.

The reverse-chronological-feed created a logic in infinite space to orient by. An edge-like structure.

Feeds drained of humans

The reverse-chronological-feed began on blogs. Websites that required effort to update, posted via RSS that created slow-moving chunks of information.

Technology and platforms upended it. As technology becomes quicker (remember when you had to boot up a computer?) boot-less, always-on, always-with-us screens became the norm at the same time that platforms began coopting the feeds as their own.

Facebook was the first - add your entire phone book! We began to stuff our feeds with junk - the sources which used to be the selected, slow-moving websites became the mass-selected faces of everyone we’ve ever met.

The feed is crammed with more sources, that are able to post ever smaller chunks, to devices that we check increasingly often.

It quickly becomes apparent to the platforms that these reverse-chronological feeds are no longer working.

Facebook is the first to blink - they move to the “news feed” that is algorithmically ranked and ordered.

The feed - once oriented around time - becomes disorienting. Where once there was a logic there is quicksand - no way to know or be sure of anything or anyone. Why this piece of content? Why now? What am I not seeing?

This is the moment that feeds began to become junkfeeds. With the logic removed the platforms are free to accelerate the disorientation.

But even algorithmically curated feeds are not fast enough. Platforms need to remove humans entirely from the process to keep up with our insatiable appetite.

Google was the first major platform to completely break this - the Google Feed (which shows up on the homescreen of Android phone, on the start page on Chrome) is now entirely divorced from humans. No longer is content presented to you because you asked for it, or because someone you know shared it, or because someone you know interacted with it, but just… because Google said so.

“Junkspace is often described as a space of flows, but that is a misnomer; flows depend on disciplined movement, bodies that cohere. Junkspace is a web without spider; although it is an architecture of the masses, each trajectory is strictly unique.”

This quote about junkspace sums up junkfeeds - feeds are just flows of information! But they depend on coherent information, checks and balances. Junkfeeds are flows without discipline - flows without thinking.

And junkfeeds are personal. Everyone gets their own personal junkfeed - in fact every user gets their own set of junkfeeds. One on Google, one on Facebook, and on and on.

This suggested content feed is the true, purest Junkfeed. Not because it’s the worst - but architecturally it’s the most pure. No pretension of humans. There never were humans here. Based entirely on the premise that Google knows you.

Junkfeeds are radical

We consume junkfeeds in every moment. Shitting. Fucking even. Twitter, Facebook, Google Assist, But YOutube too. Instagram.

Junkfeeds are radical. Extreme. They are forcing functions to push us to the edges.

We check our feeds when we’re anxious. And junkfeeds make us anxious, radicalized, paranoid, scared, angry.

The algorithm does not recommend - it reflects. It’s a machine for turning our own biases against us. Literally programmed it is a recipe for turning depravation into clicks.

“Junkspace pretends to unite, but it actually splinters. It creates communities not of shared interest or free association, but of identical statistics and unavoidable demographics, an oportunistic weave of vested interests. Each man, woman and child is individually targeted, tracked, split off from the rest.. Fragments come together at ‘security’ only, where a grid of video screens disappointingly reassembles individual frames into a banalized, utilitarian cubism that reveals junkspace’s overall coherence to the dispassionate glare of barely trained guards: videoethnography in its brute form.”

Two-clicks away from paranoia.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/opinion/sunday/youtube-politics-radical.html

Facebook is a space for communication. For groups. For friends. Except it actually tears us apart. Junkfeeds feed us neither things we need or want. Things that are designed to divide us and agitate us.

The Junkfeed as a tech utopia

The discussion of the junkfeed as being able to influence and radicalize us is the pinnacle of technology accomplishment

Like the scientist creating Frankenstein the monster “it’s alive!” the scientist doesn’t care about it’s current use but rather that it exists and functions.

The junkfeed is not immoral it is a-moral. Without morals.

Junkfeeds pollute our information

Search for brocolli online and you’ll get not information, but entertainment. Infinite news.

Because every information source that is evergreen or static eventually succumbs to a feed, and then to a junkfeed.

Junkfeeds police our information

Just becasue they are junkfeeds doesn’t mean they don’t care for them. Quite the opposite - vast machinery and infrastructure

Verge article on content moderators.

Invisible infrastructure to ensure minimum viable sanitation.

Try posting this article to Facebook - nothing will happen. No warning notice, no one will see it. The algorithms won’t like it. This site is filtered automatically in their algorithms.

Workspace is now junkspace (sorry, junkfeeds)

Most information-work is feed based now. Slack has ushered in a post-email feed-based environment. But Slack’s collection of feeds are mostly pre-junked. They’re not yet algorithmic (it’s only a matter of time).

But actually the real terror is in feeds of work scrolling through the gig economy. An upworker’s dashboard of jobs is a junkfeed in a different way - controlled by algorithms in a differnet way. The algorithm dictates which upworker appears in which searches.

Quantified labor

From Bifo:

From the standpoint of capitalist valorisation, this flow is uninterrupted and finds its unity in the object produced; however, from the standpoint of cognitive workers the supply of labor is fragmented: fractals of time and pulsating cells of labor are switched on and off in the large control room of global production. Therefore the supply of labor time can be disconnected from the physical and juridical person of the worker. Social labor time becomes an ocean of valorising cells that can be summoned and recombined in accordance with the needs of capital.

The organization of labor has been fragmented by the new technology, and workers’ solidarity has been broken at its roots. The labor market has been globalized, but the political organization of the workers has not. The info-sphere has dramatically changed and accelerated, and this is jeopardizing the very possibility of communication, empathy and solidarity.

Users to Junkusers?

Users turn themselves into junkusers. Grown up drinking from the poisoned well they understand that

http://mylesudland.tumblr.com/post/182195239090/aaron-sorkin-is-bored

After the future of junkfeeds

Where to from here? Will time continue to get subdivided. Junkfeeds become hyper-junkfeeds? On our wrists - in our ears - inside our eyeballs?

I wonder if the solution is not slow-tech, and slow-feeds and RSS but in fact the opposite - we have a better chance of resisting by creating hyperfeeds. Sub-second-notifications that create a literal unbroken stream of junk. By twisting these feeds into a post-human form only then might we rediscover what it means to be human. Surrounded by high-frequency-feeds like high-frequency-trading we can let the feeds manage the feeds and perhaps gain some control again.

Production of content is still mostly human today - but there is a smell in the air. Change is coming. And junkfeeds, fed by junkcontent will accelerate the problem. Further pushing underground junkusers who seek to protect their identity and personal space in the seas of change.

Publish at junkfeeds.world

Outline:

Pop-up instagram-space is trying so hard but that too will fade away. Physical space is done. It’s been colonized and replaced by Junkfeeds. An infinite colorful horror-scape that’s always changing, new, personalized and in your hand, bag, pocket. Never more than 60cm from your eyes at any time of day or night.

The FANGs are sunk deep in us now. Facebook is the posterchild of destruction.

This digital space spread like a virus - every space became Facebook’s. Every waking minute is spent doing something or doing Facebook. The toilet? Facebook’s. The airport? Definitely Facebook’s. The underneath, between the legs of the conference room? Facebook’s.

Unfolding content. Origami-spam. Unasked for. Irrelevant. Inpersonal.

Of flesh and glass The darkness of brightly lit screens.

The human neck has been slumped by junkfeeds. In every space. At every point in time.

Junkfeeds started as an authentic human space of sharing - here are things to be interested in, excited about, important things, small things. This notion was quickly gutted. Facebook removed organic audiences from you unless you pay, Facebook and Twitter revealed the algorithmic timeline.

Junkfeeds are slot machines without prizes.

Junkfeeds are slot machines. Gambling with our attention and emotional response. We used to “play” the slots by dragging to refresh, but the feeds now infinite and real time no longer require refreshing. Now, we “play” by interacting with the feed. Hearting, thumbsing, commenting, (and not very often) clicking. But every click in the junkfeed spawns more feed. A fractal reward for playing the junkfeed.

The subtle soothing reassuring voice of Instagram saying “you’re all caught up” sits in stark contrast to the reality of a 4-dimensional infinity of infinite feeds within the app. The “feed”, stories, activity feed, “search”. Search function is the unregulated feed of our basest emotions sidestepping any notion of people you know and mmoving straight to third base with sex, abs, comedy, guns, politics, travel. It’s a funhouse mirror of our own desires reflected back to us in an infinite feed.

I’m optimistic for the future though - teens, raised as junkfeed-native, not web-native but algorithm-native are increasingly creating protection for themselves. They do not see identity:user as 1:1 rather many:many. They create throw-away accounts and trash existing accounts with abandon. They have learned to turn themselves into junkusers to shield themselves from the junkfeeds.

Americans spend quiet time in their car. Staring at their phone. At their junkfeeds.

– An excellent version of the essay Junkspace appears here rendered in a beautiful digtial version by Caavia here: https://www.cavvia.net/junkspace/ and is a perfect digital companion to this essay.

Thesis: industrialized and algorithmic feeds have sucked the “feed” dry. But there is value in subscribing to flows if we can learn to put the junkfeeds in their place and build smaller personal flows. We’ll do that via

Everywhere is junkspace now. Everytime is junkfeeds. Junktime.

Junkfeeds - click a link and it spawns a fractal of new variations for you. For YOU.

“Junkspace is often described as a space of flows, but that is a misnomer; flows depend on disciplined movement, bodies that cohere. Junkspace is a web without spider; although it is an architecture of the masses, each trajectory is strictly unique.”

“search” function within FB/Twitter has become an infinite feed of pre-searches. Pre-crimes. Filled with the basest desires.

Same for youtube.

“The 21st century will bring ‘intelligent’ Junkspace: on a big digital ‘dashboard’: sales, CNNNYSENASDAQC-SPAN, anything that goes up or down, from good to bad, presented in real time like the automotive theory course that complements driving lessons…”

“Conceptually, each monitor, each TV screen is a substitute for a window; real life is inside, cyberspace has become the great outdoors…”

Outbrain, Rankbrain, Meanwhile Facebook is working on a computer-brain interface. Of course they are. The brain - once the provenance of has been iced, analyzed and improved by the computer. Junkbrains.

Log into the wifi? Junkfeed. Open your banking app. Junkfeed. Google homepage? Junkfeed.


This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in disqus or sign up for my Tinyletter.
DRAFT