I’m Possessed by Artificially Intelligent Demons

A painting of angels falling from heaven by Gustave Doré
The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Gustave Doré

From the clairvoyant algorithms of YouTube to the scrolling party of Instagram’s dopamine feeds, to the ‘just one more video’ while my whole life around me rusts — I’m being haunted by social media specters. They have collectively worked their way into my brain, into my heart, into my very peace. But I think I may have found a way to take back some control. I think I’ve found a way to exorcise the negative while holding onto the positive.

Let me tell you how and maybe, just maybe, it might help you too.

A painting on the side of a wall of an Instagram heart.
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

But first, an abridged history of my social media spiral so you get the picture:

My journey started from small beginnings until it bloomed into a full-blown addiction. Back in 2009, I’d check Facebook every thirty minutes, nothing major. But as the years went on and the algorithms got better. When they could find new rabbit holes for me to dive headlong hours into, I became lost in a digital garden. A perfectly manicured renaissance made just for me. And it wasn’t until my mid 20’s when I found out that one inconsolable truth: That if my life on the web was fulfilled and had purpose…

My real life had become the wasteland.

There is shadow under this red rock,

Come in under the shadow of this red rock,

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust. — T.S. Eliot

Pushed and pulled and tugged every which way; these recommender systems are many — they are Legion. But with a little help from a comforting friend, they can be cast out. And what’s left in their place can be an accompaniment to a healthy social media life rather than a drain.

And that friend that made all the difference wasn’t a cold-turkey break or a reconnection with nature. It wasn’t even another person. It was within me.

I know what you’re thinking, that’s some clichéd metaphysical triteness you got there, but hey, you wouldn’t be here unless you were thinking about kicking some heavy forces of social media to the proverbial curb.

So let’s cast them into the abyss of the twenty-first century, shall we?

The secret is:

W I L L P O W E R.

But not the willpower you’re used to. The one with the pass/fail condition. No, I’m talking about a fundamental change to the relationship you have with your own willpower.

Turn willpower into a friend. An imaginary friend if you will. Reconceptualize it away from something hard and resolute and unforgiving. I think we tend to have a relationship with our willpower that resembles something like a disappointed parent if we screw up, BUT it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be more like an understanding friend.

When you find yourself about to open TikTok or Twitter for the hundredth time that day, remember your BFF, that it has your best interest at heart. Admittedly you will fail, but it’s easier to get through life when you feel like somebody is there for you. And next time, you might just go a second longer before tapping.

Some others liken it to working willpower out like a muscle and accept that as they put it through the paces it will fail sometimes. But as they keep trying, it’ll get stronger and stronger and incremental results will follow.

A little statue of Yoda hidden in a potted plant.
Photo by Nadir sYzYgY on Unsplash

“Do or do not, there is no try.” Wrong Yoda, wrong! Every time you try, you do get stronger.

We all know that it’s harder to make money than it is to spend it. Harder to go uphill than it is to go down. Don’t beat yourself up for doing something incredibly difficult. Something like going against your biology.

A maze in the shape of DNA.
Image by Gordon Johnson

But — and I don’t want to scare you — strengthening or redefining your willpower is imperative in the years to come. These Machine Learning algorithms, these collaborative filtering wonders of our age are getting better and better. They are the ultimate body-hackers.

“The power of collaborative filtering compels you!”

And I argue that the recommender algorithms have taken on a life of their own now. Beyond the scope or control of the engineers that created them. Like a work of art that has left the personality and vision of the artist and now affects thousands or millions. They are simultaneously released into humanity while still changing us at the same time. In this, they are already self-aware. They are self-aware because we are.

Like the scene in INCEPTION where Leonardo’s Dom explains to Ariadne that the dream stealers operate in the middle way. The path between conscious reality and our perception of that reality — that is where the power of this AI lives.

A mirrored image of a city folding in on itself.

So even if all the Silicon Valley companies and their engineers really really wanted to — they could never corral these creations now. They are like smoke in the wind.

They have already fundamentally altered who I am as a person and who I will always be. Changing the psychological makeup of myself better than any drug or even, dare I say, a loved one.

The only fix now is shoring up your willpower internally because:

Have you ever tried to catch wind?

The web might resemble Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, but the algorithms know me better than my own mother does. They might not have consciousness exactly like us biological creatures do, but they have something beyond cognition — the ability to shape all humankind without humankind’s input. They are forces outside of us.

Me being the imaginative kind, liken them more to supernatural entities. Because I just vibe on that. But whatever higher power you want to ascribe to them, it doesn’t matter.

They.

Can.

Run. Your. Life.

So give them the one-two punch of buddy-buddy willpower and watch them be driven into Gadarene swine. Batten down your hatches and become a fortress of peace.

Be an advocate for yourself. Because no software ever will.

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Science lover 🧬 poet ✍️ podcaster 🎧 and eternal dreamer.

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James Anthony

James Anthony

Science lover 🧬 poet ✍️ podcaster 🎧 and eternal dreamer.

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