The power of the internet in the era of confinement

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It was to be expected. As the COVID-19 advances and the streets are deshabitan, the traffic on the Internet increases exponentially. In Argentina alone, according to data from the Cámara Argentina de Internet, their use is escalated by 35% during social isolation. Up to now, among the applications used, the vedettes of the quarantine are the streaming platforms and systems video with Zoom to the head. The poster is complete with the social networks and apps of telework such as Google Drive or Microsoft Teams.

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The confinement showed that Argentina is prepared to face this peak of consumption data. But, will the content platforms quarantine? The long hours of interaction with Netflix, YouTube, or Spotify, do not wake us up the dark suspicion that their algorithms of recommendation propose always the same? How does the curatorial algorithmic platforms? And what is our disposition in front of this? To examine our practices together, after a month of isolation, provide a glimpse into some interesting details.

The pre-trial detention increased the interaction with the platforms streaming to the point that Netflix, in a scenario of a global downturn, was one of the few winners in the Wall Street Stock exchange with an increase of 0.8% of its shares. Only on the first weekend of the quarantine, in our country, its consumption increased by about 70%. However, its leadership is not new. In the past 10 years, he crowned his domain thanks to the design of algorithms able to adapt their recommendations to the preferences of each user. Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, once said that “the technology will be so good that people will find it very difficult to see or eat anything that does not fit them”. In quarantine, those words seem a conviction destined to repeat variations of the same content. How many times are you going to film the same story? Or do you listen to the same bands on Spotify? It is, perhaps, what Netflix can only recommend police nordic? How similar Series, season after season? In the last days, platforms of contents affirmed the judgment of the journalist and English critic, Mark Fisher about the persistence of certain recognizable forms that print to our time “a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”

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The curatorial digital it works thanks to a set of techniques that show our profile with millions of users, analyze the words associated with the search, the contents, and also that we see. The result of this operation is the recommendations that feed into the cover on Netflix and discoveries are weekly Spotify. A type of cognitive action that does not require a unity of consciousness that articulates recommendations under an objective view of the world. Its singularity lies in the rules and procedures destined to read habits, desires, and attitudes of each profile.

We can say that the platforms meet to perfection the commandment of Schmidt and give us just what we want. But it is also true that, after this space of curatorship, overlooking a potential narrowing of the world. The alarm signal is triggered when the recommendations become repetitive and lose patterns of recognition of the cultural landscape of the contemporary. Who is the trapera, Nickie Nicole? How come you never hear the hit Karol G. & Nicki Minaj “Tusa” in Spotify? To the extent that the recommendations conform to our desires, the algorithms reach a capacity of exchange of information similar to that of a natural system. But when the interaction becomes boring and predictable –mix daily Spotify is transformed into a trap of retro rock, or Netflix recommends only tedious variations of the series Stranger Things– are still to be discovered mediation algorithmic between users and the cultural environment. This time, which is perceived as the greatest imposition of content by the streaming platforms, it is key to investigate the type of social relationship that we have with the recommender systems.

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Now we can get back to the questions in the beginning, what is our disposition in front of the recommendation systems? What happens when the personalization statistics, become predictable? Far from being triggered a process of emancipation –which in our time would be enough with the opt– starts an instance of negotiation with the recommendation systems. When the “discovery weekly” Spotify drowns us in a sea of homogeneity, our disposition is to make counter-searches, follow new artists, find information on the web, or checking social networks to know that they listen to our friends. These interactions are far from the acceptance linear recommendations algorithmic.

The streaming platforms do not seek to internalize a particular content, but to work efficiently you need a certain multiplicity in our habits. If Netflix or Spotify are effective is because we have with their systems of recommendation an instance of co-creation. Through these practices of negotiation and exploration, we try to train the algorithms to establish a dialogue with them. The communication of our wishes, the interaction, and correction of the recommender systems algorithmic ensure that the multiplicity is never complete and the device to work. In this sense, to paraphrase Paul Rodriguez, author of The words in the things (Cactus, 2019), the platforms are “mechanisms of subjectivation which, it is hoped, not only a definition of ourselves but also and above all a kind of evolution of the joint that allows you to feed and be fed by the Big Data”. The absence of the new, the boredom that comes from the filter bubble, motivates us to continue the interaction with the system. The profile of the user, which is always in evolution, allows the algorithm recommendation to resume its operations.

This is not to deny the bubbles from the filter. Neither scorning options of innovation of the state as BBC Soundsthe platform for the streaming of music developed an “algorithm of public service designed to surprise”. But to point out that, in times of macro data, the relationship we have with the algorithms of recommendation is far from the passive reception of content.

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The quarantine is a technique of government in pre-modern coexists with the most innovative contemporary technologies, not only is an opportunity to understand that the story does not work as a logical sequence –the replacement of a society of sovereignty by a society of discipline and then of a society of control algorithmic but rather to scrutinize the type of relationship that we have with digital platforms. They did not impose a pre-standard but used the statistical approach to model and forecast social behaviors. To introduce a space of governmentality that validates the freedom of the users, who do not rule their behavior, but encourages the active participation to learn about their patterns of consumption. This business model no longer is the exclusive property of Netflix or Spotify. The development of Disney+, together with the advance of Amazon Prime and beta versions as Apple TV Plus, foreshadows a chapter bloody war for the streaming, that ultimately it is a battle to know our tastes and preferences.