The headliner of the first night of CSICon was Adam Conover of Adam Ruins Everything, who used the idea of parasites in nature as a metaphor for some of the ways our critical brains are overcome without us ever knowing it.
Without going too deeply into Conover’s standup act and ruining the jokes, I’ll just say that he proved that the algorithms of platforms such as Facebook and YouTube are not too dissimilar from invasive fungi that control ant brains and make them either climb up blades of grass so they can be eaten by cows or clamp onto a tree before exploding.
Facebook and Twitter make us mad; YouTube keeps pushing crazier stuff on us, and corporate brands have made it so that we literally can’t think of anything without associating it with a product for purchase. We are the explosive zombie ants, unknowingly acting against our own interests.
Encapsulating what he sees as the foundation of his work, Conover said, “We as people are intelligent, have free will, and once we know the truth we can control our behavior for the better.” But the power of algorithms and advertising are designed to affect us subconsciously, so that “knowing the truth” becomes much hazier. “Understanding we don’t have all that control,” he said, “that gives us some power.” In times such as these, we’ll take it. We can work with that.