Algorithms Act Like Conveyor Belts – 7 Takeaways No. 152

A photorealistic scene depicting a conveyor belt delivering smartphones, each displaying a different selfie image. The smartphones are various models, modern and sleek, with clear, vibrant screens showing a range of selfie photos. Each selfie portrays different people, with various expressions and backgrounds, emphasizing diversity. The conveyor belt moves through a high-tech, modern environment, possibly a futuristic factory or a tech store, with soft, ambient lighting. The young girl from the previous scene is present, observing the smartphones with excitement and curiosity. She has brown hair, a medium complexion, and is wearing casual, contemporary clothes. The image has a 16:9 aspect ratio, capturing the dynamism and technological advancement of the scene.
Social Media Conveyor Belt (Image: DALL-E 3)

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1. “Something happened to Gen Z.”

Do you know where your kids go every day? – Rikki Schlott And Jon Haidt – (After Babel newsletter)

There’s been a lot said about Gen Z, social media, depression, and the interrelation between them all. But most of it has been said by researchers, not members of Gen Z. This is a guest article by someone who’s living the experience.

The day-to-day life of a typical teen or tween today would be unrecognizable to someone who came of age before the smartphone arrived.

She includes suggested steps of what to do about the malaise (and worse) currently affecting her generation, and how to prevent it. It’s a difficult, but necessary step. I won’t spoil it, since the essay’s well worth a read to reach the conclusion.

Do this: Be aware of what’s happening.

2. “Flood social media feeds with anger, political tribalism, and general negativity”

What’s Our Problem? – Tim Urban – (ebook)

I finished this book this week. It’s challenging. Not as a book to read — I generally avoid politics, for example, but devoured this book — but because it challenges us to question some fundamental beliefs. And to be clear, both sides have issues; deep issues.

Unfortunately, a sizable body of research suggests that the best way to win the social media game is to post things that trigger people’s emotions, especially strong emotions like anger, and especially tribal anger at the out-group. These incentives have come to flood social media feeds with anger, political tribalism, and general negativity.

Once again, both sides are equally guilty of exploiting those incentives, to everyone’s detriment.

When a movement continually cries wolf, it weakens our defenses against actual wolves.

I recommend reading the book, but only if you’re open to having some of your beliefs questioned.

Do this: Be open.

3. “Margin as ethical imperative”

No Margin, No Mission – Casey Rosengren – (

While it might focus on the non-profit space, the problem is common: in order for an endeavor to remain viable, it needs to have cash flow. Even monks, as one of the article’s examples describes. It’s a common problem with businesses from large to small (including my own). They have a mission they want to accomplish, but don’t want financial issues — theirs or their customers — to get in the way of reaching their audiences.

To do meaningful work in the world, you have to care about margin as much as you care about mission.

It’s a hard reality that both businesses and customers need to understand and accept. Without revenue, your favorite <whatever> simply can’t exist.

Do this: Support your local endeavors as you can.

4. “A self-licking ice-cream cone of misery”

Sleep More and Be Happier – Arthur C. Brooks – (The Atlantic)

The “self-licking cone” refers specifically to

the stress robbing us of sleep might, ironically, be stress about sleep itself

We’ve all been there. For me, if it happens, it’s typically around 4AM.

Brooks lists the common rules for sleep hygiene that we all should, but rarely, follow. More importantly, however, is simply acknowledging that sleep is likely much more important than we might think, and we want to act accordingly.

Do this: Take a nap. (I will.)

5. “Algorithms act like conveyor belts.”

Algorithms Hijacked My Generation. I Fear For Gen Alpha. – Freya India and Jon Haidt – (After Babel newsletter)

The primary author, India, is a Gen-Z writer who’s been speaking a lot about what social media, in particular, has been doing to her generation, girls, specifically, and her concerns for the generation to follow.

a 12-year-old’s mind is no match for a giant corporation using the most advanced AI to manipulate her behavior

It’s a complex problem for which there are no simple answers. This essay is another well worth the read to gain a perspective from someone who’s in the middle of it.

Do this: At a minimum, be aware.

6. “The best story wins.”

Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes – Morgan Housel – (ebook)

So far, this has been a very insightful book. It brought me to a stop by the takeaway above because it’s so applicable to what’s going on today.

The best story wins. Not the best idea, or the right idea, or the most rational idea. Just whoever tells a story that catches people’s attention and gets them to nod their heads is the one who tends to be rewarded.

Unfortunately, some of our worst politicians understand this all too well, and use it to their advantage. And some of the best seem to miss the opportunity completely. The result is that it’s the best story, not the best candidate, that often wins.

Do this: Look beyond the story.

7. “Questioning Major Assumptions Expands Your Perspective”

7 Major Assumptions We Never Question: A Journey of Self-Discovery and Freedom – Srini Rao – (Unmistakable Creative)

The seven assumptions are pretty major and include things like owning a car, or a house, or going to college, when to retire, and even positive thinking. The one that caught my eye was questioning traditional employment.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that securing a job to earn money is the norm — money that we then use to buy things made by others. But there’s an alternative — creating things that others wish to purchase, hence earning money.

In a sense, it boils down to “be an entrepreneur”. I know it’s not for everyone, but like all seven of the assumptions, it’s worth thinking about and questioning your assumptions.

Do this: Question

More random links & thoughts


Full list on the sources page.

What I’m Reading

In progress:


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