User Experience or ‘Used Experience’

Yellow stencil of computer on blue painted wood

Do you know who you are? 

Do you know why you behave in particular ways in different situations?

Do you know what you are worth?

Do you know where you fit in society?

Do you see other people’s points of view easily?

Do you understand the structure of society?

Do you recognise the way you react to situations?

Do you understand why you feel certain emotions?

Do you know why you fear what you fear?

Do you know why you have wronged someone when you do?

Do you even know you have wronged someone when you do?

Do you know why you are motivated and ambitious?

Do you know why you feel depressed?

Do you take yourself too seriously?

Do you know when you are insecure and why?

Do you feel you need to please people?

It’s important for each one of us to have an understanding of who we are, to recognise why we behave the way we do, essentially to be in tune with ourselves. By gaining a greater perspicacious insight into our behaviours and emotions we are able to live better lives. We can read situations better and act accordingly. Rather than reacting, we can have choice. We can add to society in a healthy manner. 

The reason I ask these questions is because there are a few new bars in every town, all closely located near one another and as of late they have been rammed. People literally cannot leave; it is like they are addicted. Some inhabit the bars almost every hour of the day and can’t stop talking whereas others, although fewer, are able to come and go as they please, but they tend to be a bit older. It’s the new hot spot for people to socialise and get together… Or is it?

There is a difference in these bars compared to the older antiquated social arenas. In these new bars your friends can only know about you what the bars recommend you reveal through a questionnaire: name, work and education, places lived, family and relationships, favourite films, books, religious and political views. To get into the bar you need to fill in at least your name. Your answers are free for anyone around the table to look at and learn about you. 

You can also choose any image to represent you, the idea you have of yourself, how you want to be portrayed, what you want your identity in this bar to be. This image will appear facing the other customers on the front of the box that you will sit in organized around each table as that is how the new bar seating is laid out. Other customers will never see the real you if you don’t want them to. There is generally only ever 5-6 people around a table unless what you say really resonates and touches the zeitgeist, then others are invited to join. But communication only truly exists between those who are ‘friends’ which is performed through a request. No longer do you just bump into someone and chat, now you can just send a request, and then you are ‘friends’.

The way you communicate with one another is to type into the keyboard in your box and your message will appear on a screen on the table for everyone to see. Others can comment or show their approval or disapproval through the simple use of a thumb symbol or an angry face, there are also other symbols to show that you care, are sad, are shocked or that you love what your ‘friends’ say. Attention span is short, so reducing emotion or comment to a mere symbol has been a game changer. But you can also leave comments in written form too.

After the 2nd time someone has typed in a message a different message will appear based on everything you answered in the questionnaire and everything you have typed, how quickly you reacted, what you reacted to, how other people in your age group reacted, what symbols you pressed previously as reactions to other people’s messages, how long you looked at an image and more. Every possible variation of what you said or looked at will be cross referenced with anything else that could be connected to you, others in your demographic and will be taken into account and then used to produce the different messages that appear in-between your tables conversations, and also from the conversations you had in the other bars in this street. Everything is interconnected. 

Because of the symbol reward system, you may find yourself holding back from speaking the truth or even falling into behaving in a conforming manner to win friends, feel love, be accepted and not be attacked, for with the ability to be hidden and no one to really know who anyone actually is, gives certain people, generally cowards, the anonymity and cover to behave in certain ways they normally wouldn’t if they were in the older antiquated social system. 

Although the bars are incredibly packed due to the addiction to the reward system, people can be found to be inhabiting them to the early hours of the morning, they literally can’t leave. This can have serious deleterious effects on people. Comparison is a huge emotional force and driver in the bars as some people choose to constantly parade their supposed riches and produce the illusion of an ostentatious lifestyle while through the use of filters try to resemble an inhuman persona, an unattainable realism. Some attack others and try hard to contest everything that is being said and all of this is constantly being noted and used to place certain chosen people at your table and is also reflected in the messages you see interrupting your conversations. ‘He’ or ‘she’ or ‘they’ that shout the loudest are generally heard.

The messages that break up your conversations are generally adverts based on everything you have said, looked at, commented on, all your personal details and your behaviour that has been tracked at this and the other bars. When you look at it, it will talk perfectly to you, it will be perfectly scripted to meet your every need, to reflect every nuance of your life and to play with your emotions, trigger you and essentially hypnotise you to remain engaged and not leave the bar. Advertising in bars is nothing new, but these bars can now offer businesses a huge amount of information to use to ensure they connect, engage, and manipulate you. The bars sell businesses this service, but it’s not just for businesses who sell products, it’s also used by political groups, think tanks, anyone who wants to manipulate the way in which you see the world to meet their ends.

The bars are hugely successful, sometimes they have live entertainment. These generally happen to be bands or comedians or entertainers who have managed to get a huge amount of symbols from the other customers. If you get lots of ‘thumb’ symbols then you are considered to be extremely good, though ‘good’ is of course subjective. It has been noted that it is definitely a case of popularity before morality as everyone just wants the thumb symbol at any cost, in fact it’s generally the sole reason for people to enter the bar, it’s the driving force, if each customer is honest.

These bars have had a huge effect on society, they are a game changer, they have managed to isolate people into their own little box under the illusion of socialising and community.  Millions of people are now living within the rules the bars set, some buying the information the bars have of each customer to sell their products or sell themselves and the one thing that is evidently clear is that the bars are making all the money, have all the power and own everything. Much like a casino, the house, in this the case the bars, always win.

The rest of the streets in the towns are full of closed down or struggling shops, such is the addiction to these new bars, and so increasingly the bars just get stronger, bigger and more powerful as more people become increasingly addicted, particularly as their behaviour is constantly modified by the bars. Businesses use the information of the customers collected by the bars to manipulate the very same customers in the bars. 

If it’s not obvious, and I’m sure it is, I’m referring to the digital world of social networks in which a huge amount of us ‘live’, particularly Facebook, but the above could easily be Instagram, Twitter or even LinkedIn to a degree. I want to take this moment to say I don’t essentially blame Facebook et al though I don’t agree with their algorithmic manipulation techniques, for we as people must take responsibility for our actions, what we do and we can easily just delete the app and our accounts, or can we? This brings me to the questions I started with. If we can learn more about ourselves and understand our motives, reasons and drives then when entering a social situation be it real or digital, we can gain a better understanding of what is actually happening. The problem with say Facebook for instance is, we don’t always actually understand what is happening for algorithms are invisible and constantly working for/against us. The effects can result in us being put into different emotional states and if that happens, as in certain cases, we can be controlled as was clearly displayed with the Cambridge Analytica scandal who used the personal data of 87 million Facebook users without their consent and applied psychographic analytics to its dataset. They claimed to be able to determine people’s personality types and then would individually micro target each one of them to influence their behaviour resulting in fixing elections in countries across the world including Australia, Kenya and India, while working in the UK on the Brexit/Leave campaign and Trump’s presidential campaign. That’s a lot of manipulation. We would be short-sighted to think Cambridge Analytica were the only ones doing this. It would be better to think Cambridge Analytica were the only ones ‘caught’ doing this.

Let us put together a scenario where we have a street with 100 houses, and in each house, we have 4 residents each with a smartphone all hypnotised by the algorithms, all bringing their emotional states to their devices on autopilot, all addicted to Facebook. Next, a company like Cambridge Analytica enters the picture and collects data about every single online action of each person and starts to create adverts/posts about an upcoming election, and each one of those posts are personalised to each user based on all their data, playing to their emotions, insecurities, needs and desires. And if each person is sitting alone in their houses staring into the screen on autopilot, completely atomized in an echo chamber, and hypnotized under the illusion that everyone else is seeing the same thing, then you have a very controlled street and a very efficient way to sway public thought. And now multiply that street by how many in your country, that is a scary situation to be in. 

Whilst the constant monitoring and manipulation by the algorithms of social networks should be called into question and laws be brought in to protect the users, it is also important for ourselves to think about what we are doing rather than just simply always be on autopilot, hence the questions at the start of this article as to who we are. We as individuals, as users, bring to social networks are own emotions, our own needs, our own desires, as we do in social situations and in relationships, so the minute, we enter into this world of manipulation this can have all types of effects on us. It can make us feel upset, alone, depressed, jealous, insecure as has been hugely documented. 

So, let’sperform a thought experiment. Let’s try to remove our filters, our emotions, our egos and open up Facebook. First of all, we are staring at a screen with colours on it: black, white and blue with images breaking up the text. There are words laid out in lists and in boxes. On tops of images are other images which we can assume are the people who uploaded these images. There are different styles of buttons on the screen to entice us to click. If I scroll through the timeline, I can see an endless amount of input by other users. It’s interesting to note that we are feeding this machine with content, with data that highlights our emotional states. Now as I sit here looking at Facebook I ask myself what do I want to achieve here, what am I here for? How am I feeling at the moment? What is my drive to be here? What do I want out of this? For the minute I begin to interact with this interface, this social network, depending on my emotional state, I can be manipulated, I can be made to feel a certain way, it can have a huge effect on me. It’s almost like a mirror, but amplified. If we can start to understand the computer/human relationship here, we can begin to take back control of our lives in this ever-evolving world of algorithmic manipulation and stop living a ‘used’ experience.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

Motta’s novels Celebrity Rape and VIR(US) are available from Amazon.

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