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Read the change… Part 3: What Humans Want

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Humans seek out bad news. We are hardwired to do so. Here is an example of why.

You live in a small village, under the Dunbar number, just one hundred people. You have started your day, going about your hunting and gathering, and all seems well. Sarah is having a baby soon, your cousin Joe is getting together with his dream girl. Your parents are still with you, happy and healthy. The harvest is good. Everyone you pass today waves hello and tells you how good your new tanned leather jacket looks. All good news in prehistoric village A.

You head out to fish at the stream, and while you sit there a lion comes and eats you. You are pretty happy up until you are very dead. Meanwhile nobody mentioned to Joe not to eat those red berries, he has kidney failure now, he will be dead in a few days. Mom and dad didn’t get warned about the snake problem that has been happening, so they aren’t careful about leaving their shoes on around town, and get bitten, they died too…

Or… In an alternate version of this world, Joe is being warned by Sarah about the berries. Mom and dad live in constant fear and worry about snakes, and your best friend warned you about the mountain lions and you don’t get eaten. Everyone is a bit less happy but also a lot less dead.

We are hardwired to pay attention to bad news, because it is an important part of what made the human race get this far.

The hardwiring goes so far as to take place before the signal even reaches your self-aware brain. We are able to process snakes, spiders and similar such insects in chains of pictures faster than things like fruits, vegetables, loves ones faces, and cake. We are wired for survival. Bad news meant preparedness for the news, thus survival.

What does this mean for our algorithm we previously discussed? It means in part that we seek out bad news. We drive the algorithm, by feeding our time to things which are negative, or scary to us. The algorithm, seeing that negativity and fear is what brings in cash, because that is what brings site traffic will further reinforce the loop, and deliver us more bad news. People who are relying on the algorithms will gear news segments to keep you in suspense with fear, saying things like “What is in your water? Stay tuned for more after this…” That’s right. They have been banking on the fear and negativity reaction LONG before the internet reinforced it. They kept you hooked with fear.

We want bad news.

We want it so much we disregard good news. For example, over the past 40 years, the number of people in China with incomes below $1.90 per day – the International Poverty Line as defined by the World Bank to track global extreme poverty– has fallen by close to 800 million. China has done a lot wrong, no doubt, but that is still a positive achievement. Why don’t we hear about it?

Naysayers will yell from the sidelines, “…but barely 2$ in a day is still insanely poor.” Yes. I agree, but not as poor as less than that. Starting somewhere is still progress. When you look at the number of people who enter the middle class worldwide, we see similar proportional statistics. The world is in fact getting better in many ways.

“It’s getting worse too,” naysayers will scream.

Yes, in some ways, but not most. Any serious study of history will show that you really don’t want to have been born any time but now. Sections of the world will lead and follow, rise and fall, but as a species, we have improved. So why do we amplify the naysayers?

Because that is what humans want to know about. It is hardwired into us, to focus on the bad, because that is what made us get to here. Right wing American politicians are afraid of the left, because they fear their policies will bring about the end of the world. Left wing American politicians are afraid of the right because they are afraid their policies will bring about the end of the world. They both read and focus on news articles which are doom and gloom because the other side is an object of fear. They ellicit our fear response.

This means news feeds will send your way items about how the left and right are insane. (The side shown as crazy will depend on what you clearly lean, remember the algorithm knows if you are blue, red or in between.) It fans your fear. This is very different from choosing to listen to a serious calm, rationale debate between sides. (And they do happen.) Listening to bit-pieces and twenty second video clips about how the world is coming to an end from climate crises doesn’t move the world any closer to being helped, it just fuels our need for knowing about the harmful things which are coming for you. Spending time on thoughtful articles about what we can do, and how our actions impact the world is harder, and takes time, and does NOT trigger our fear response. The brain isn’t hardwired for that.

BUT… If we spend time deliberately seeking out positive, complex messaging, we can teach our brain, and the algorithm, to behave differently. Much like meditation can teach our brain and body to relax, what we chose to feed it can do the same. While I am not saying every article needs to be a joyous piece and we don’t have to avoid knowledge of the coming difficulties, after all, we don’t want to be eaten by the lion, not everything has to be doom and gloom. We don’t live in a world as harsh as it once was.

What we read matters for us, and our health, as much as it matters for other people’s health. We can create an internet and reading environment that fosters good, by choosing to not constantly engage with negative or fearful items. Certainly, as content creators, we should not generate them


Remember what you read can change you and the world.

Next up… The doom loop…

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