Written for crtlcreep’s Invisible Networks 2022 challenge: “invent a social network each day”, today’s prompt: “Psyche-Sort”.

Starting from day #2 since I forgot to participate yesterday. 

Content note: Cycles of abuse, both personal and institutionalized. A world locked into AI-mediated dystopia.


“Tune your ear to the frequency of despair, and cross-reference by the longitude and latitude of a heart in agony.” (Amazing Spider-Man #544)

There are tendrils of pain running across society, fault lines on which our social infrastructure is built. You can imagine them as huge beating arteries full of thick flowing trauma, their contents seeping everywhere around them.

When you have lived your whole life in pain, it won’t occur to you that it would be possible to end the pain. You just enact and pass on the behaviors you’ve learned for dealing with it. And then you weaponize them, so as to prevent anyone else from hurting you more than you can hurt them.

Yet you cannot entirely eradicate the need for connection and companionship. You can suppress it, you can make it into something people are terrified of, you can turn it into a twisted mockery of itself. But people still long to band together, for mutual protection if nothing else.

So you require people whose needs have been twisted in a way that is compatible with yours. Maybe you believe that everyone is just out to hurt everyone else, and need your friends to treat you like trash so you can treat them like that in return. Maybe you are horrified at the thought of not being dependent on someone, so you need someone to tell you how you will always need them. Maybe you are utterly consumed by self-doubt, so need to follow a strong authoritarian leader. Maybe you feel unsafe by people around you exhibiting agency, so you need to become the strong authoritarian leader.

Either way, you need to be surrounded by people who tell you what you want to hear, treat you the way you want to be treated, and let you treat themselves the way you want to treat them.

Nobody intentionally created Psyche-Sort. It’s just an agglomeration of machine learning systems, each learning what kinds of people to connect with each other. Developed to match people on their revealed rather than stated preferences – the economists claiming that this is a far more reliable way of discovering what people really want, not to mention more profitable – it found abusive and dysfunctional relationships and organizations to be more durable than healthy ones, thus ranking higher on its optimization criteria.

As people got systematically connected to people and institutions predicted to create increasingly intense spirals of misery, waves of trauma spread out like an infectious disease, mutating into new forms as more and more people turned into carriers and brought the pain to new environments. Each such occasion gave the algorithms more variety to choose from in matching people – finding people whose psyches were amazingly compatible in the sense of creating exquisitely dysfunctional circumstances.

You can rest assured that no matter who you are or what your desires, the machines will connect you with a social group that’s just the right for you. One where you’ll be staying together and hurting each other forever.

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4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:28 PM
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Reasonable premise as far as it goes, but as a fictional short story, this suffers from being all "tell" and no "show".

That's a fair criticism.

Sounds like most of Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.

But how is it different from real life?

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