This is Out To Get Them

When we were kids, it was easy to have a passing interest. We had phases. We fell for fads. We were exposed to new things—art, music, ideas, people—and we could explore them and abandon them if we learned they weren’t for us. Many of those things now seem like the distant past to us, because it is. We’ve grown up. We’ve matured. We shed that old skin. We moved on.

But sadly, that process itself is sort of a thing of the past. As we said recently, although there are so many wonderful, life-improving facets of being a kid in this safer, brighter modern world, there are also many downsides. One of which is that our kids live in a world of algorithms that are largely designed to amplify and even compel, to take a person down a rabbit hole.

Your teenager watches one clip on YouTube and now they’re being served hours and hours and hours of podcasts by increasingly strident voices on that topic. They follow a couple accounts on social media and now they’re a target for advertisers and influencers who want to capture that exact confluence of demographics and interests. Of course, Spotify or Apple Music can expose a person to all sorts of new music, but the algorithms can also lock you in to more and more of the same stuff.

The point is: Algorithms are not our friends. They are working on us, working for the interests of the platforms that created them. They decide they know us and then they use us. Their interest is not our interest or in our kids’ interests—it’s to drive engagement, not to create well-rounded people. This is why social media so often radicalizes people—it’s easier and more profitable to show someone increasingly extreme content than it is to expose them to a wide, diverse sampling, especially if they might dislike some of it.

We want our kids to be able to experiment and learn, not to have chance encounters compounded until it permanently forms their personality. We want them to avoid potentially disorienting and manipulative influences. We don’t want them locked into ideas they were exposed to as kids or the moment of time they were in. Which means we have to monitor and protect, we have to be a countervailing influence of our own.

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