[42.0] when the algorithm doesn’t get you
baseball and the butterfly effect
Accompanying or remedying my lexical flop era (read up!) have been changes to my daily behaviors. Most notably, this summer, I started watching baseball games and attending them IRL when I could. The Seattle Mariners have it all, barring a World Series title! A catcher whose nickname is “Big Dumper” because of his big booty, cheap, cheap, cheap stadium tickets, solid dim sum at the games, and so on. All around great time, highly recommend.
While my friends were like “ok classic Adam having a new interest,” my YouTube algorithm went into full meltdown mode. Felt a little like the death of Bing Bong in Inside Out. The feed recommendation tool unsure what to make of me; the demise of an old guard and the ascent of a sportier personality? Can Adam contain multitudes?
The ads YouTube fed me went completely haywire, too. I’ve been subjected to a barrage of Amazon warehouse employment promos, ads for “natural diamonds,” oodles of IBS treatment commercials, and more. While I enjoy throwing Big Tech off guard, I also wonder what it means when something as simple as watching a Mariners highlights reel here and there can throw advertisement equations completely off kilter. No, I didn’t lose my job and develop a natural-diamond addiction, I just developed an interest in baseball.
How much do we want to really be seen and heard by machines? Returning to Replika, the deceased-loved-one-imitation-AI platform, suggests at least some people are facing an existential need-soothing through simulacra. On the other hand are Luddites, privacy activists, flip phone girlies (text me), and other constituencies.
Technophiles and naysayers alike have to contend with the ways algorithms often do appear to understand human subjects better than other people do—at least symptomatically or uncannily in the form of content delivered to users’ screens. Like yes, TikTok, I think this video is SO funny—you GET me!
The obverse is maybe more noteworthy: We’re less likely to care or notice when the technology fucks up. If a person sent me a video and I didn’t think it was funny, I’d assign meaning to the SNAFU and think the person didn’t understand me or has a mediocre sense of humor. When TikTok feeds me ASMR content (not my kink!) or tries to teach me how to immigrate to Portugal, though, I write off the one-off deviations as big-data research.
When that continues for an extended period of time in the form of Amazon-recruitment diamond-peddling IBS treatment, however, things change.
Maybe watching Big Dumper contains a butterfly effect or Everything Everywhere All At Once-esque potential energy. Doing something whimsical and outside the rigid boundaries of your personality can help confuse platform capitalism and make for less turgid and bountiful revenue streams for bluechip behemoths.
Dig into the detritus of your personality and start doing something random! It’s literally praxis.
Divine Innovation is a somewhat cheeky newsletter on spirituality and technology. Published once every three weeks, it’s written by Adam Willems and edited by Vanessa Rae Haughton. Find the full archive here.