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.

My Indecision is Final

Why Choice is Painful

If everybody stopped making things now, we would still have access to more art than existed in all previous generations of humanity combined. When we want to read, watch, listen or play, we face choice that was unimaginable to our predecessors. Far too often, we find the choice stifling and so don’t choose at all.

The pain of choice is not in deciding what we want. It is knowing that in choosing, we reject the cornucopia which within it might contain the jewel we always wanted, or needed.

Our search for the best is impossible. We have to learn to live with the idea that we will never be able to take in all the world has to offer, but that the beauty we do take in will still enrich us more than any previous generation could dare dream. In doing so, we have to tolerate a sense of loss, a fear of missing out, to a degree that nobody ever prepared us for, because how could they?

Just two centuries ago, nobody had photos, never mind videos. Today, in every moment, thousands of hours of video are being created and shared, never mind the tens of thousands of photos. Most people had few, if any books, but today, we waste our time talking about fake news, when the entire library of humanity is available to us at the tap of a screen. Movies were beyond even the wildest science fiction and as for virtual reality games, the mind boggles at how shocked our ancestors would have been; that we can take this in our stride is almost perplexing.

Choice is hard because of the idea of “opportunity cost”. What is the cost of saying “yes” to this thing? It’s not just the cost of purchase or investment, it’s the cost of loss of all other opportunities that we might have pursued, some of which might take us down a “better” or more enriching path. That’s why decision is painful, but it’s also why, given the infinity of “opportunity” before us today, it’s also more painful than ever.

If we can only switch our attention away from the knowledge that we will never enjoy everything, to the knowledge that we will still enjoy more than anyone dared to dream, we will be rich beyond measure. We are rich beyond measure, but we find it so hard to see that.