Mike Shinoda: You need opposition to have a position
When The Big Issue asked me to write as their American correspondent on this year’s US presidential election, I knew it was a terrible idea. Writing a column would be an easy way to get myself in trouble, because a) there are plenty of people who devote a lot more time to politics and b) as a member of Linkin Park, I have a lot to lose by diving into a commentary on political events.
Since I am drawn to terrible ideas and obvious risk, I jumped at the opportunity. Here’s the deal: for many, the US presidential election is a virtual ‘spring-cleaning’ time for social media. For as much as I get out of Facebook or Twitter, my timelines can occasionally seem like a minefield of social regret. It’s the middle of a working day, and I casually pop online to see what my friends are up to… then BANG: that person pops up to offend, aggravate or sadden me with some kind of insane outburst about guns, gays, money or religion, and how they all tie in to the great tragedy the world has or will become. Ugh.
For pretty much all of us, this social media sermonising nags at us regularly throughout the year – but election season is the most tantalising time for our social media sage to get his preach on. With each firebomb of socio-political garbage, he draws a line in the sand, declaring: ‘I will unabashedly post links to half-read election campaign hyperbole until the end of my days, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!’ Unfollow!
But then again, for as much as I hate this pest, he’s obviously not going to stop me from using social media. I don’t even think of all the good things sites like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are good for, because those sites are so tightly woven into the fibre of everyday life, I’m not even aware I’m using them any more.
I always know exactly how my friends and family are doing, I get my news in up-to-the-second bursts and I’m expertly aware which movies and music are worth checking out – and which ones I should avoid.
Years ago it was different. In music, we heard an amazing new single and bought the album only to be crushed by how bad it sucked. Movie houses blew up expensive campaigns with slick ads and it would be a week or more before word got out that a film was a turd – meanwhile, I and everyone I knew had already seen it.
Today, people haven’t even stood up to leave the theatre before they’re typing a message that tells everyone exactly what they think of a movie (‘S/O 2 whoever made The Possession, SMH for wasting $13 on the worst movie EVAAAR. #wheresmyrefund’).
But as it evolves and helps me make smarter decisions, the web itself is getting smarter. Behavioural targeting and smart advertising – like Google’s Adsense – are surrounding me with what it knows I’m looking for: more of what I like. But could that mean it’s surrounding me with more of what is already like me?
About six months ago, I was browsing the mainstream pools of the internet when I noticed an ad on the right side of the screen, which advertised a piece of music gear that I owned. It caught my eye because a) the site is one of the more popular sites in the English-speaking world and b) the music gear being advertised was a niche product, definitely not something most people are interested in or would potentially ever care about.
For a moment I thought: ‘How bizarre – why would that company spend the money it would take to get its ad on the front page of this site?’ But then I realised: they didn’t. The ad was placed there based on my behaviour: since I often visit sites for music gear, I got the ad. My friend Mark, a huge sports fan, might have clicked on the same page and gotten an ad for baseball tickets or new sneakers.
On one hand, I like the idea of ads being ‘curated’ for my taste – I would rather look at things I like than things I do not. On the other hand, what happens when ads that surround me are limited to a version of what I’ve already seen or ‘liked’?
If everything is geared towards matching my interests, won’t that mean I’m missing out on a lot of stuff outside the boundaries of my ‘like-system’?
I snapped back to the election. In the ‘smarter’ version of reality, maybe I read something – such as ‘MITT ROMNEY’S SCANDALOUS BACKGROUND WITH BAIN CAPITAL” or “BARACK OBAMA’S PLANS FOR A SOCIALIST HEALTHCARE SYSTEM’. On that page and most places I go after, I’m surrounded by links to more of the same.
As the internet gets to know me better, am I in danger of losing the perspective gained by opposing opinions or beliefs? If everything I read only shows one version of the world, will I start to believe that no other version really exists? And scariest of all: is this already happening?
Maybe that’s how the annoying, preachy idiots on our social networks can help us. They may drive us crazy at times, but they can also provide something we might otherwise miss: perspective. In other words: it’s better to know what the idiots are thinking than to know no idiots at all.
Mike Shinoda is songwriter and founding member of rock giants Linkin Park. Follow @mikeshinoda. Read more at mikeshinoda.com. Mike will return in a few weeks