Machine Learning Is Messing with My Mojo

Technology is messing with me. My devices are all feeding me ads and content based on what I say, search, and email. Which means I can't tell the difference between a coincidence and a "customized content result." It's making me realize how important coincidences have been to me—and not in the way you might think.

An example: when I went to a record store to buy music, coincidences would help anchor me. Store recommendations alone might not get me to buy a CD, but if the album being recommended was something I'd heard about from a camp friend the week before, then yes, then they might. In other words, it wasn't any one recommendation or exposure to something that got me to pay attention, it was a combination of exposures that would influence me. And not just any combination would work; it was the apparent "random walk" of coincidences somehow had more legitimacy than, say, seeing four different ads for the same product in a day.

Now, whether or not those were truly coincidences is something we can debate another day. My point is that, for better or worse, those coincidences helped me justify certain decisions. They did this by providing context via connections to other things I was doing, or people I was with, or ideas I was having. The decision to buy an album, for instance, might have been triggered by the memory of that camp friend mentioning a song, or the visual memory of the CD in a friend's older brother's room, or the memory of a car ride to school. Coincidences gave decisions context, and with context came meaning and depth.

But when "coincidences" are manufactured, designed purposefully to feed off one another—and especially when they all come at me through the same screen—they lose their value as anchors. Decisions become more abstract. My Spotify playlists are far less important to me than old mix tapes; they're disconnected from any other idea in my life other than, "That sounds good." I can't even talk about most of the songs in them because I don't know who sings them or even what their titles are. Sure, I see the song titles all the time on my iPhone or car dash, but disconnected from anything else, they don't stick.

Music makes a clean example, but it's also just one area of many where the loss of coincidence has surprisingly left me unanchored: apps, docs, business flows, friends' contact information, finances... it's all become abstract. Paying bills was always attached to certain times of month; auto-pay somehow makes it just a little bit harder to calibrate on the calendar.

Today, whenever I'm asking someone to try a new technology; I search out where technology might be creating unexpected disconnects and try to understand where context is being lost, so we can recreate it. I know how discombobulating it is when technology messes with my mojo. I don't like it, so assume others probably don't, either.

innovation, personalseiden