So Many Technology Wonders, and So Much of It Ruined by Ads

I get that companies exist to make money. Like, that’s a pretty well-known fact. But the more I’m around tech developments, the harder it gets for me to be truly excited about them. Yes, the wonders of generative AI are pretty stunning, and it will no doubt do some incredible things . . .

Before the suits figure out the best way to make as much money out of it as possible. At that point, even though it could do wonders, it won’t do them, or it will do as little of them as possible in return for as much of your money as possible, in an equation worked out through some algorithms and calculators in a dark back room somewhere.

Want proof? Let’s just run down some of the great things that have been ruined by the Quest for More Money:

  • Social Media: The promise was terrific, and for the first few years, it fully delivered. I got connected with people I’d lost touch with. It felt like I had such a broader array of friends. Then the companies started selling ads, and they started selling demographic information, and at this point, I don’t feel like a user so much as like a living battery plugged into the Matrix to keep the dollars flowing. I just headed over to Facebook and did a quick count. Of the first 27 posts fed to me, 9 of them were from friends (2 posts from the same friend), 5 were from companies that I at least knew and liked, and 13 were flat out ads. At this point, the friend posts are just peppered in there enough to keep me scrolling through the ads. I would willingly pay for an ad-free social media platform that everyone used. I don’t think we’ll ever get it, because they can make more money selling ads.
  • Streaming services: Netflix, Amazon, Paramount, Disney. It doesn’t matter which of those or any others you choose, if you use them much, they have a pretty darn good idea exactly what you like to watch. Guess what they list in their “recommended” queues? Stuff they want you to watch, not stuff you want to watch. In fact, trying to find things you want to watch is actively difficult. The search functions on those platforms are terrible. Tons of content, but good luck finding it. And once you have found it? You have to sit through ads to watch it. I pay the extra $$$ to not be shown ads on anything that gives me that option. I’m still shown ads at the beginning of most things. It’s just they’re ads for things that streaming company wants me to watch.
  • Search engines: Google used to be this place you could reliably go to to find answers to just about anything you wanted. It used its algorithms to select the things that were most likely to be the thing you were looking for. Now? Ads. Sure, it says it’s found millions of results, but it knows you’re only going to look at the first few, and so do advertisers. So you’re shown what people pay to show you, not what you actually were looking for.
  • Online shopping: Amazon is held up as a prime example of a big corporation doing awful things to society, whether it’s by treating workers like scum or cutting costs to put out brick and mortar stores. Set aside all of those objections, and assume the offerings of Amazon (the ability to buy anything you want, easily) are the prime attraction. When you do a search for a product on Amazon, does it show you the top rated results? Yes and no. It shows a bunch of ads, and then it shows the top results that have been rated highly . . . by a bunch of unreliable bots. My faith in Amazon reviews is pretty low, just because I know how easy they are to game. I also know that people buy more of the things they see, and so Amazon can tweak what’s most popular, simply by choosing to show something to everyone as the first choice.
  • Recipe sites: All the great recipes of the world! At your fingertips! As long as you’re willing to play Where’s Waldo in your search through the sea of ads on each page as you try to find the actual recipe.

I could go on, but I’m out of time. Suffice it to say, I don’t see this trend changing anytime soon, and why would it? As long as companies keep things just tolerable enough to ensure no one leaves their service, then they can milk all those eyeballs for every last drop. Will AI be any different? I doubt it. It’ll be promising for the first few years, and then one or two companies will completely dominate the landscape, and they’ll turn it all into the Quest for More Money.

And that’s all the cynicism I’ve got in me today.

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