It’s Gone!

That morning my hands were so swollen from a weekend of diabetes abuse that I couldn’t get my wedding ring on. So I put it on my little finger.

For many years, I’ve kept my life in reasonable order by ensuring that everything has a home. I know that when things aren’t put where they belong, they might as well be lost. Anyone who has an ad hoc computer filing system knows that once a file or folder is put somewhere “just for now” is likely never to find it again.

After I left my hotel room, I realised with rising panic that I didn’t have my wedding ring on. This wasn’t like the panic when I can’t find my phone charger, my phone, or even my insulin. This is the “miss your flight, but don’t go home until you’ve found it” panic.

So I started freaking out as I retraced my steps and headed back to my hotel room.

I’ve lost things before. My programming brain is really great at finding lost things. It’s like debugging. Once you get good at debugging, there are so many things you become good at. Debugging is what they call a “transferable skill”. You develop a belief that no matter how badly something is not working, or how deeply something is lost, by following a method, by being systematic, rational, diligent and relentless, what is broken can be fixed and what was lost can be found. But I recently lost some Altoids tins and couldn’t find them. It was the first time I’d lost something in decades that I couldn’t find. And this was my wedding ring. And a wedding ring is a lot smaller than an Altoids tin. Any cost I’d sink into finding this was going to be worth it.

Then moments after I had lost it, I had found it. I reasoned that because I was wearing it on an unusual finger, that it would have been more likely to slip off where my hand could catch on something and that would have been when I was packing my case. So I unpacked my case and there it was. I squeezed it with difficulty onto my correct finger and packed fast.

I learned two things.

1. Even when you think freaking out is justified, there is absolutely no sense in freaking out. Solutions present themselves as soon as you start to become rational. So even though my freak out only lasted a minute, it was only when I shifted to reason that a solution popped into view. I acted on it immediately and I was unusually, successful immediately.

2. I can pack a lot faster than I thought I could.

You Might Not Like This

If it wasn’t for Jared, I’d never have listened to Sneaker Pimps or Ingrid Schroeder. I’d be stuck in a much smaller musical bubble and my life would have been the poorer. He knew what I liked, but suggested music that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Once I was out, there was a whole new world of music he could recommend and my life was richer for it.

The most valuable algorithm to Netflix, Amazon and just about every retailer on the planet is the recommendation engine. What they’re after is your money, but also, your attention.

Amazon’s recommendation engine is staggeringly profitable. Netflix offered a huge prize recently to anyone who could improve their recommendation engine’s performance by just 10%. Despite thousands of entries, only one entry managed to hit the required target.

The subscription model is becoming pervasive, and to keep you as a subscriber, you, the customer, must be fed with satisfying content.

Social media is not exempt. Your attention is the valuable resource and it is commonly sold to advertisers. The downside is that you get trapped in social bubbles and your taste doesn’t evolve except as part of the loosely affiliated tribe you become part of.

The flood of user-generated content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, amongst others is now so unmanageable that Facebook doesn’t even show you every post from your friends. Your feed is filtered, the objective of which is to keep you Facebook for longer, so that you see more ads.

I propose that somebody creates a “You might not like” algorithm that occasionally interrupts your cosy bubble with something provocative, but of high quality. Initially, the recommendations would be curated, but would require a powerful sales pitch as to why you should give your attention to the suggested item. An algorithm like this, with the initial support of human curators might broaden your tastes, help you to see with greater perspective and enrich your life. Growth comes when you push against your comfort zone. It’s high time we had algorithms that did more than just trap you in ever decreasing circles of self-gratification. I think Jared would be happy.

Remaster #25

Federico and I review some of the events of the year, including VR, Nintendo and updates to console hardware. I talk a little about my VR project and we also get a little philosophical.

Grab episode 25 of Remaster here.