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Old interface, say hello to the new interface

“Can we really build bots to detect bullshit when our own bullshit detectors are subpar?”

Goodbye apps, platforms, news feeds, clickbait, listicles, and other vestiges of the attention economy. It’s over. I know it may not seem like it when you look around your own personal infoscape. I realize that the prevailing mentality of news storytelling still emphasizes getting attention through the prominent news values of drama, instantaneity, personification, closeness to home, and a tabloid mentality that has led to the proliferation of fake news. I understand that when you tune into news via your preferred device, that’s still mostly what you get.

But here’s what is different: You hate it. Not that you ever liked it much to begin with, but you now dislike it more than ever, and you’re (dare I say?) ready to turn it off and focus your attention elsewhere.

Citizens have always been skeptical about such modalities of news content. And research has long shown that this type of coverage only propagates further cynicism directed at the media. Sooner or later, everything that you hate about the news infoscape will drift into oblivion. It will become bland, tasteless wallpaper to your everyday news experience. Not because it will not be generated. But because you are in the process of stopping to pay attention to it.

And given the context, could we take the opportunity to encourage each other to pay less attention to that which has been blatantly designed to attract it? Citizens, play hard to get if that means getting the news coverage you want. Why squander your attention to every clickbait headline or fake news story that comes your way? Don’t be cheap dates. Focus your attention to the things that really matter. In an attention economy, your attention is a powerful commodity. It’s your path to agency. Choose how you focus your attention — your attention is your power.

That said, hello bots, robots, intelligent agents, ambient storytelling textures, augmented and virtual reality environments, and other things that will look nothing like your tablets, laptops, and mobiles. A new interface revolution is underway. But we’re unfortunately still caught up in the process of preventing things that have already happened. A lot of research around journalism today focuses on detecting deepfakes and bot-generated content. Godspeed to those of you doing that work. A question: How can we expect to train bots to detect fake content when we haven’t been able to train ourselves to identify and reject fakes first?

Can we really build bots to detect bullshit when our own bullshit detectors are subpar?

So let’s really embrace the new interface. Let’s not get caught in the trap of finding ways to prevent things that have already happened. Let’s instead imagine how these things will recur, in a different form, in the future. Everything we use today will be irrelevant in a year or a few. Things will be different yet feel completely natural. Social robots are in the process of replacing and absorbing platforms and apps. Ambient media textures, supported by a variety of intelligent agents, augmented, and virtual environments invite us to turn our attention to personal and group communication. Not one-to-many, and not many-to-many — deeply personal yet mediated communication. There’s a new interface revolution in the making. We can learn from the past, but let’s prevent it from trapping us.

Zizi Papacharissi is a professor of communication and political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

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