The collector is the only one who decides how to arrange her possessions, ordering books by author, title, theme, or even (unfortunately) color of the cover — and they stay in the same places they’re put. That’s not true of our digital cultural interfaces, which follow the whims and priorities of the technology companies that own them. They shift constantly and are far from neutral: If Spotify suddenly gives the category of podcasts a prominent new placement, for example, it’s because the company has decided that podcasts are going to make up more of its revenue in the future. The interfaces follow the company’s incentives, pushing its own products first and foremost, or changing familiar patterns to manipulate users into trying a new feature.
The more automated a feed is, the less we users feel the need to gather a collection, to preserve what’s important to us
The law of entropy describes how energy systems degrade from concentrated to dispersed over time. Petrol is burnt. Ice melts. Young people get old. Arguers get bored. Eventually, all potential is exhausted. To stimulate polarization, these platforms have to constantly inject new energy. They have to manage unreactive users into conditions of engagement. This might mean helping isolated individuals with common interests unite (producing subcultures), but can just as easily involve provoking disunity (integrating trolls).