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Living With The Algorithm

I used to love the Algorithm. Now I fear the Algorithm.

Back in the day, the Algorithm was a good thing. Who wanted irrelevant ads when you could get ads for something you might actually want?

These days, the soul sucking trade off with the Algorithm is all too apparent. Sometimes the ads are so targetted as to be downright creepy. Searching for 'Quickbooks' and having the first three results be for 'alternatives to Quickbooks' is annoying. Seeing a SaskTel ad on a German website is just plain weird. Getting blitzed with ads wanting me to buy a Cobs bread franchise is funny, but only for a while.

Cindy showed her dad some Blake Shelton videos on my iPad and now I'm constantly getting country music playlists recommended for me. And not the good Hank Snow / Wilf Carter stuff either. Ugh.

It's looking certain that the Algorithm can be gamed too. Fakery getting shared online, then picked up by the Algorithm and recommended to others. Enough Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt being spread around to swing elections and make you doubt your neighbour.

They say that if you click through 6 levels of YouTube recommendations it's very likely you'll get some sort of radical propaganda video. I'm scared to try, lest I keep getting anti-immigration scaremongering video recommendations.

What actually happens every day online is scarier than the best of George Orwell's stories. So what are we to do?

Deleting Facebook seems obvious, but continuing to use Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) doesn't sound like an effective strategy. And don’t they also own WhatsApp?

There are alternate, non tracking search engines (like DuckDuckGo) to replace Google, but what about Gmail? YouTube? Google Drive? I use them all and am hooked in pretty tight.

If I watch one WWII documentary, is it really OK that Netflix sends me every violent / fascist / conspiracy documentary in their library as a recommendation? It's annoying for me, but what if I really got into that stuff? That's a scary echo chamber right there.

And what of Amazon? They sure are convenient but could very well be the worst in the long run. The perfect, terrifying marriage of things I'm curious about and things I buy.

Aside from going back to the days when I could only buy what was in my local shop and only watch what was in my local theatre, what are my options?

Can we still connect with each other online without giving all our dreams, desires, and preferred toothpaste to the Algorithm?