The Boss's Dog

Socrates saw it coming

By The General

“Bad manners are the beginning of chaos, General,” The Boss said, with that disapproving tone of voice – a tone quite well known to me.

I had just leapt in to hoover up my breakfast without sitting first, which he likes me to do but which I regard as a pointless ritual.

It’s one of his favourite quotes – from Socrates, he tells me – and he mostly uses it these days when he’s talking about Donald Trump…or Toby Green (although I notice he doesn't mind it when the Tigers are creating chaos.)

Anyway, Socrates was an old Greek bloke who drank some poison, and it killed him. The Boss says Socrates did that in preference to making a run for it, after the powers-that-be started picking on him.

That’s a bit like me eating some Ratsak just to make The Boss feel guilty. Not going to happen. I would head straight for the back fence and never come back.

Anyway, he’s been on about chaos again, after he and The Missus watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix the other night.

It’s only just come out and it's all about the algorithms the Google and Facebook use to get us addicted - to keep us using them, more and more.

The Boss says the platforms know so much about us from what we search and post online that the algorithm can tell if we’re happy, miserable, anxious, restless or bored – and they use clever psychology to teach the algorithm to trigger emotional responses in us so we come to rely on something new and exciting popping up on our phone, even if it’s not really very new or exciting.

This is all in the name of making money, he says – the platforms keep serving up ads that might satisfy us – but to keep our attention they have to deliver up more and more of what we like. Or, at least, what seems to trigger us, even if we feel like we’re wasting time.

So, whatever we’ve searched for or showed any interest in before, they give us more of it. This is what produces “the echo chamber,” The Boss says, where we mostly see things we like and agree with.

So, we start to get the impression that everybody else in the world sees pretty much what we’re seeing and agree with us – except that everyone is seeing something different.

“What you get on a Google search is different from what I see, General, even if we put the same words in. Your answers are governed by your previous online activity – which in your case are obsessions about food and chasing balls.”

He thinks this is a bad thing, whereas I think it sounds more or less perfect.

I mean, take cats, for instance. I don’t like them, as you probably know. If I could see stuff all day from other dogs that hate cats, pretty soon we’d figure that the whole world hates cats and we’d conclude we might as well get rid of them all.

Or I could be surrounded by dogs that just eat all day, which is not a bad idea either. Then, if I only see fat dogs, that tells me I might as well join them. It’s probably the proper way for a dog to be.

The Boss, who seems to know what I’m thinking, shakes his head.

“The trouble is, General, you start believing that everything you see is true, when you’re only really seeing a part of it, or some very small slice. They tell us that un-truths are spread four or five times faster on social media than truths are.”

He reckons this is why some groups of people are getting angry about wearing masks, or thinking vaccines are dangerous, or believing weird theories about government plots to steal the children. Facebook’s algorithm recognises that people are fascinated by this stuff and hunt around for more and more of the same to keep them glued to it.

“When you add to that a bad mannered President who doesn’t seem to care about – or actively encourages – conspiracy theories and violence, it starts to look like chaos,” he says.

At the end of The Social Dilemma, according to The Boss, the interviewer asked Tim Kendall, the founder of Pinterest, what worried him most as a consequence of all this. He thought for a moment. “Civil war,” he said.

Now, I like a bit of chaos myself – but that could be taking it too far. Maybe that grumpy old Greek was right after all. Woof!