Rant of the Month: Recommendation Algorithms — You’re Doing it Wrong!

We scroll for hours through the (literally!) bottomless feeds on our phones. We are looking for the two-second smile, zoom in on that face, that cleavage, that wreckage, that fail, that cat for six seconds. We heart the post when we think others might find it smart that we hearted the post. We might even try to think up a witty comment that would faint engagement with our co-scrollers and co-haters and co-witty commenters.

Will you follow me back? Could you leave a nice comment as well to show that my posts are meaningful as well? After hours wasted we feel the pang of regret, “did really that much time pass?!” but we quickly stop ourselves — no time to worry or ponder, there are posts of cats we might be missing.

But oh the dread when they changed the feed on us! When important and relevant content was shown first! When people we follow, whose content we always — always! – heart, show up first! The cry of agony! Why?! Why are you showing me this?! I scrolled 20 seconds through these recommendations and nothing really meaningful came up! Sure, the articles about Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie, I hearted that. And the HDR-filtered ocean beach on a lonely island with some fucking inspirational quote, I hearted that. And another Kiki-challenge-cum-car-wreckage, I hearted that. I know I just spent two hours scrolling and searching while pretending to go to the bathroom — but now I had to spend 20 seconds with your curated news feed! What did I miss that happened in that time?!

Or is it, maybe, that these algorithms show us the pettiness of our life, that they reflect on our meaningless hearts and likes and not-at-all-so-witty comments? That we only like the bigger-eyes-remove-blemishes-and-soft-filtered selfies rather than our selves / ourselves?

I think these data scientists and their algorithms and machines are getting it all wrong.

We are hunters and gatherers. We pan for gold. We search the thrift stores for that one vintage jeans jacket. We wait in line for the limited editing of sneakers. We want the BRAND sneakers that everyone else has — they absolutely have to be the same! — but they have to be the limited edition, totally different from anyone else’s! We hunt for the shirt with the bro-logo that everyone else wears, but it has to be unique.

No, these algorithms got it all wrong. They should show us all the meaningless content, all the worthless things we can smirk and scuff about — how would anyone post that?! Idiot!. And only every once in a while show us something mildly — mildly! — interesting, something that makes a smile rush across our face, just for two seconds, before we move on. Don’t give us the golden nugget, the diamonds, the long-searched-for vintage jeans jacket!

We are hunters and gathers. We need to keep hunting to gather. That is our nature.

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