Monday, December 12, 2016

Recommendations by algorithms

I have many Kindle books from Amazon and of course, the online retailer sells many things other than books.  So I get handfuls of emails from the company touting this product or that one.  I would say that at least 90% of their recommendations do not appeal to me, although there have been a few books that have meant plenty that I would probably not have heard of without Amazon's suggestions.

If I am looking for a demo of a computer procedure or some music that I want to link in my blog, I try YouTube.  I looked at YouTube today and I was impressed at the many recommended videos that did appeal to me.  Since I look at their stuff less often, it is easy to be charmed.  If I checked every day, I would probably get more used to what they push and be less attracted.

More than 20 years ago, a colleague on the faculty said that I should not send him links to any videos because he already spent way too many hours looking at YouTube. I was surprised at the idea that there were that many videos attractive to a man of his intellect.  I looked at some of the suggestions sent to me today but after a little watching, I wondered if I should find something else to write about today since so much of YouTube is relatively crude.

I write "crude" because the so-called dances and jokes and language seem to involve "twerking" invariably.  A couple of years ago, I happened to watch some broadcast television in which a 30-something did his version of stand-up comedy.  I was surprised at the very frequent use of the F word but even more surprised at the solid laughter and what seemed to be heartfelt appreciation of such humor.  Some reading teachers tell little kids to just say "teakettle" when they come to a word they can't read and go on.  Teakettle or the F-word or any word rather quickly becomes tasteless and boring, it seems to me.  It doesn't matter whether crouching in a toilet use position or repeated use of some word, it can be repetitive and ordinary quickly.

Eli Pariser and his book "The Filter Bubble" called attention five years ago to the possibility that we can arrange for filters and repeated use of the same web sites and sources and so surround ourselves in the same voices, positions and associations that we grow dim and dull.  We already have some mind mechanism built into ourselves that increase our ability to notice and retain information and ideas that agree with us while conveniently forgetting what contradicts. This mechanism is often referred to as our "confirmation bias".  It is real and steady and we need to keep an eye on it.

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