You find a video on YouTube showing a horrific accident or crime. You watch because you can't look away. Because you see yourself in it somehow, or someone you care about. You close the window after the video ends and you shake your head and you move on.
The next time you log on, YouTube presents you with rows and rows of such videos. It figures that your watching the previous video indicated you want more of it. You watch a few more and that night you eat dinner silently and go to bed with a knot in your stomach. The world is a terrifying place, you think, as you drift off to sleep.
Your son is online and he watches a video of a political rally. A week later, he has watched more than a hundred videos by people who support that political ideology and is talking animatedly about how Taj Mahal used to be a Hindu temple before Shah Jahan turned it into what it is now. You ask him to eat silently but he says he has "evidence" (it's a video).
He shares a few of these videos on Facebook and Facebook pulls him deeper and deeper into the area that it thinks he wants to go in. There are entire groups full of conspiracy theories and it doesn't take more than a week for him to openly start spewing hatred against certain communities and declaring himself a true patriot because he shared certain memes on Twitter with all-caps hashtags. You watch quietly because by this point, arguing with him is the equivalent of a full-time job.
Meanwhile at work, your coworker has been scrolling through pages and pages of pictures of happy couples holidaying at scenic beaches and is convinced that everybody apart from her is living the absolute best life. Her status updates become increasingly frustrated and she uses sad, angry, and frustrated emoji more and more. You tell her she is a smart and talented professional, but the gaping hole in her psyche is too wide by this point.
Rise of the machines? Nope. We are doing this to each other. Keeping us on a single topic for extended periods of time maximises a platform's chances of showing us targeted ads. So to sell ads, we have created a dystopia where we are literally altering each other's neural pathways in very damaging ways. We are making each other more obsessive. We are stripping context and nuance away. We are making things simpler than they should be.