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The movie this week got me thinking about a lot of issues both during the screening and immediately after. I was simultaneously concerned with the fact that my phone was on in my pocket and occupied with the urge to leave the US (later realizing that the being elsewhere was perhaps worse). But another thing I couldn’t get over during the film was how little we talk today about the issues Snowden brought to light. I suppose this is the role of any documentary–to examine and bring attention to a particular issue–but because of our recent study of EdgeRank and what “stories” get surfaced to us, I was particularly attuned to this issue.
In addition to affinity (closeness to the user) and weight (overall importance of the content), Bucher characterizes a third component of EdgeRank, the algorithm employed by Facebook to choose which news stories to show:

(3) Time decay. Probably the most intuitive component relates to the recency or freshness of the Edge. Older Edges are thus considered less important than new ones. (1167)

This is indeed “probably the most intuitive component” described here. While it is oft-cited that the millenial generation has a “short attention span”, this characterization might characterize the internet (or at least our notions of what “the internet” is) as a whole. We can think of other phenomena similar to Snowden’s coming forward in this light. Just like Snowden’s revelations, SOPA and PIPA captured the attention of the hivemind but attention fell shortly after that. Indeed, it took a large amount of effort to capture “the internet’s” attention in the more recent Net Neutrality debates, perhaps because it is an issue that had been seen before. We were bored of it, unable to generate hype. Instead of focusing on the ruling the day the news broke that the FCC would regulate internet traffic as it does telephone calls, “the internet” was preoccupied with an optical illusion of a dress worn to a wedding, a more compressed version of the hype cycle.

This brings about a larger question that calls into question many of the topics we have studied so far. Are we naturally inclined towards rapid adoption and relinquishment of particular items or is it that our media are causing us to act this way? The notion of time decay is explicitly programmed into digital media, but is it really any different than how we treat issues in general? There is a feedback loop here between what storied Facebook shows us and what we think to be important, because in our current age, we have explicit signs (likes, etc.) being displayed to us to signal us to those salient issues.

It is hard to disentangle this; we don’t have an alternate universe without Facebook and other hype-creating media to compare to. But the idea that these cycles are at least somewhat real and perhaps accelerating–exemplified by the recent dress color incident–should make us question where these hypes come from and what gives them validity.