Algorithms and customizable features – they’re supposed to help us make life easier and “better” to cut down on info/images/options and just get straight to what we already know we like and want. But what if these tools are really just limiting and putting us in even more of a bubble?
Take the infamous Instagram algorithm that has been discussed and dissected ad nauseam. Back in the day (really, only like 5 years ago) your Instagram feed presented the accounts you followed in a chronological order- when an account you followed posted- whether it was fashion, food, travel, inappropriate memes, or your aunt from California- you saw it. As Instagram grew, more and more people used the app, and people started following wayyy more accounts than they could keep up with- hence where the algorithm stepped in. Based on what accounts you “interacted” (liked, commented on at the time of the algorithm’s onset) with, those were the accounts that you see now, and those types of accounts also dominate your “explore” page. The problem is, even though I’m a fashion blogger, and most of the accounts I follow are fashion related, I NEVER see the posts from the “cute koalas” account I follow- or Ina Garten’s latest recipe, or the sick NatGeo landscapes I love, or surf photos, or funny memes or my random relatives or old friends. And my “explore” page thinks I only want to see things that I already know that I like – fashion being the dominant category. Doesn’t that kind of negate the whole point of “exploring”? I’m not a one dimensional person in the non-digital world; so why am I being pigeonholed in the Insta-world?
The same phenomenon can be seen in other areas as well. I’ve been thinking about how almost everything we do/see/buy/use is customizable now. From our coffee orders (wouldn’t our great great grandparents be horrified at the amount of “milk” options there are now?! Dairy free- nut milk- 1.5% lolol), to our Netflix playlists (“recommended for you” based on what you’ve watched) – everything is personalized, pre-sorted and made exactly how we like and want it.
How can this be problematic? Don’t these “services” and algorithms make life easier?
Maybe. But is easier always better?
You know how before the age of GPS and turn by turn directions, people would take the long way to get somewhere and maybe find a cool new place to have a bite and drink? Or see a neighborhood that they otherwise wouldn’t have gone through? Or how back in the day, you had to just watch TV – maybe see a movie that you didn’t think you’d like but ended up loving? Or, god forbid, listened to the radio, hoping your fave Gwen Stefani song would come on, and be “forced” to listen to 8 other songs you may not have heard before? Or even dating- now I’m no expert, being that I married my high school sweetheart that I met at 12- but I’ve seen plenty of single friends struggle with dating in 2018- even though there are more apps/services/ sites to “help you find your MATCH” than ever before. Maybe finding your “match” isn’t the goal- maybe your soulmate isn’t a person that checks off all of the same boxes (almond-milk-loving, gluten free, vegan Libertarian, must love rescue dogs ?!) but someone completely random and different than you! I feel like these hidden limitations and parameters are being built around our options – and we’re strangely VOLUNTARILY participating!
As an efficiency-obsessed person with very little patience for wasted time, I totally get and appreciate time saving services- I mean do I really WANT to waste gas and time driving around not knowing where I’m going? Def not. But it’s also not lost on me that because the fastest way from point A to B is mapped out for me; because my movies and shows are preselected on Netflix, and I only have to hit “reorder” on a takeout app, that maybe I, WE, are missing out on randomly fun, unexpected experiences. Watching/ visiting/ eating / listening to something or somewhere or someone you didn’t know about or think you liked (or hasn’t been logged in an algorithm as a frequent interest!) – don’t those make for the BEST memories?!
So where do we go from here? Not sure. I think it’s about trying to take some control over our already super-controlled environment. Force yourself to do things the hard way, long way, or the different way- I know, I know, way easier said than done! Isn’t the first step always awareness though? I believe the pendulum will eventually swing the other way- that humanity will crave exploration and randomness once again- in the meanwhile, I’ll continue to (try) to do things the ‘old fashioned way’ as much as I can❤️