What Is The Algorithm Teaching Your Kids About Life?

October 30, 2017

It’s funny what can end up in your Facebook feed simply because you click onto one random thing that a friend of a friend liked and, voila, you find yourself with all this information about how to do something. In my case the wonderful algorithm at Facebook decided I needed to be educated in the world of makeup contouring. Which is very odd considering I rarely wear any makeup.  

But it’s opened up a world for me, watching these duck-faced, pouting young women with lots of brushes and sponges, which they show lovingly to the camera, wiggling them a bit, before they demonstrate how to apply layer upon layer of stuff to your dial.

They start with this bare face (how terrible?) for the purpose of showing the end result. Then they systematically colour themselves in, showcasing brands of makeup in the hope it may crack them a financial deal with the manufacturer (and often it does bring in the cash) and providing their own take on techniques which will make your lips seem bigger or your nose seem smaller or your eyebrows look less like caterpillars on your face.

You learn how to pucker your lips to make sure your lippy is on correctly, evenly spread. There are seven million hacks showing you how to create an eyeliner wing better than Audrey Hepburn. And the advice about putting tarantula-like fake eyelashes on is da bomb.

When I look at this stuff I think of many things.

Firstly, I realise that all that makeup is a lot to put on the biggest organ of the body, the skin. Secondly, that stuff costs a lot of money and time and you could end up spending just as much buying products to take it all off at the end of the day and then spend more to fix up all your potentially clogged pores.

But mostly, I remember that this type of video, or tutorial, or whatever it is, is not aimed at me, the 48-year-old, non-makeup wearing mother of two with good skin.  No one gives a rats if my eyelashes can be seen from 50 metres away nor do they care if my cheekbones are emphasised enough so that my ever-increasing sagging jowl is offset.  

And from that I think about the audience this is aimed at and it is my 12-year-old daughter and anyone else up to say 40, or more, depending on your penchant for makeup. And this is where my problem starts.

Because I don’t want this type of stuff to be at the centre of my daughter’s life nor her Facebook feed (if and when she eventually gets one.)  I don’t want some algorithm set up by a multibillion dollar company thinking that this is the most important thing my daughter needs to know.

It’s the same with google and all the other technology which helps my 10-year-old son into the world of naked women and sex and pornography when he types the word ‘Fox’ into his browser because we heard one yipping outside our country home last night and up pops ‘Wanna have a good time’.

And here, my friends, is the human condition captured now in our technology. It tells us what it thinks we need to know because we are simply browsing and looking at a whole lot of things. Yes, they will argue that the algorithm will learn more about your preferences as you continue to confess to it through multiple clicks about the same thing, over and over, as it listens to you about your concerns about dieting, recipes, health, holidays or sewing. Whatever you’re into. It will become your best friend and curate your content for you so that your feed eventually looks like every dream AND nightmare you’ve ever had.

But as the algorithm grinds away each day the content which is made to supplement the sweet spots, where people can cash in and get paid to make the videos and funny memes which sells the products, we see aspects of damp celebrity, sterilised sexuality and quashed self-esteem.

I’m a big user of technology but I try to remain awake to the fake, confected life it dishes up to us each day. With this in mind, I am talking to my kids about all the usual things regarding cyberbullying, porn and paedophiles online. But I am beginning more and more to speak about that little hidden shadow called the algorithm which silently influences them with me literally in the room. Yes, take your kids outside, away from the screens, into the sunshine and have conversations as you sit as a family at the dinner table. All of that. In spades, do it all. But speak with them about the important things we need to know about what is happening in the world.

Teach them the importance of caring for others, tolerance, patience, gratitude and how to have fun. Then, at the end of it, if they want to make their nose look a little narrower, then let them.  

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Libby Fordham
Writer, thinker, creator – Libby is interested in the things that make the world turn. She loves to explore modern life, its ironies, complexities and culture. She is currently writing her first book while also juggling a business, her art and her family.