Algorithms My Ass

recommendation algorithms

I was going to write a super-positive, inspirational kind of post about how the man cave is dead and tech & entertainment have become gender-blind and all about the whole family, and we’ve all evolved to a point where the ultimate communal space has morphed from the kitchen to the media room, etc. etc. etc.—and then I took a quick break to check in on YouTube. And I realized YouTube doesn’t know shit about me. And Amazon doesn’t know shit about me. And Netflix doesn’t know shit about me.


Etc. Etc. Etc.


You read all this crap about how algorithms have figured us out, how they have us nailed, offering up all these dead-on recommendations so we don’t have to think about what we want to experience anymore. Really? Maybe that’s happened to you, but not to me. The odds of YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, or any other service (gotta love that word) recommending anything I actually care about are about as good as that infamous roomful of monkeys ever coughing up any Shakespeare.

recommendation algorithms

This isn’t some neo-Luddite rant. There’s good tech and there’s bad tech. But this love affair with having some anonymous digital Other anticipate our every whim strikes me as not just weird but deeply masochistic. I mean, shit, the next step after knowing what we want is actually becoming us, and who wants that? (Actually, I’m kind of sorry I said that because the answer is just about everybody. But do I really want to go there . . . )


Like I said, if you’ve found that any of this AI-for-the-masses stuff actually can read your mind and present you with an unerring stream of things you find satisfying, terrific. Enjoy. Then try to reclaim that missing part of your soul. But it’s just never happened for me. I can instead sense myself being pigeonholed, told who I’m supposed to be instead of who I am. I’m not talking about tilting at windmills—I’m talking about finding anything worth tilting at.

recommendation algorithms

I am not the person the services think I am. Which brings up a more fundamental issue. There’s no doubt people become addicted to tech. (Remember Crackberry?) But there’s absolutely nothing that says we have to become addicted to it. For the moment at least, tech is our tools, and we should treat it as tools and nothing more. The second it goes beyond that to becoming something imbued, something that knows us better than we know ourselves, the ultimate Good Mother, I really have to wonder what’s going on here. But, more importantly, I have to wonder if anybody, once swept up into the light, really cares.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

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