I wrote about this before a little, but it continues to plague me: algorithm fatigue.
They really should have called Spotify “AudioMush” instead. I listen to it so much that everything has just become kind of a grey mush that I hear on it. It’s made me hate songs I like by making them no longer precious through over-exposure.
And I’ve never seen an algorithm yet, which – after a short period of time of trying to make me “follow my interests” and purporting to match me with content I want – I don’t soon become bored by.
It’s more than just “filter-bubbles.” It permeates everything online, “The Algorithm.” The Secret Decider. The Great Mystery That Powers All Recommendations. That Ungovernable Demon Who Thrives On Negative Engagement And Makes Humans Copy His Ways.
I poked around a little online about this feeling of “Algorithm Fatigue” which I feel I’m suffering from after 25 years on the internet. There’s not much talk about it in these terms yet. Most of the discourse has been about how “social media is bad,” which in many ways it is. But it is really just one symptom of a much larger issue that plagues us and will continue to for a long time, I would guess. The Algorithm.
From an article, perhaps (unintentionally) ironically entitled, “Building AI that doesn’t give your users ‘algorithmic fatigue’. (The notion that AI is going to magically save us from algorithm fatigue is already hilarious to me.)
“When the algorithm fails to live up to people’s expectations of the user experience and doesn’t deliver the service its users want, the people using the system end up feeling annoyed, frustrated, and tired”
I would argue, in the case of Spotify, that the algorithm isn’t really failing to live up to my expectations. In a sense, it’s too effective at doing a narrow thing: bringing me the songs it thinks I like. It’s recs, no doubt, are backed by some serious data science. But yet I still end up feeling, “annoyed, frustrated, and tired.”
Why? Whatever is happening here, I can bet that it is not “A.I.” that is going to solve it. It is going to have to be just plain old “I.”
This article seems to be another version of the same basic reporting, and has some other telling lines in it:
“When the algorithm fails to detect and cater to the individual need in the specific moment, the result is algorithmic fatigue.”
These kinds of quotes seem to suggest ever greater levels of sophistication in terms of tracking, and intruding on one’s personal life. And I don’t just mean that from a privacy/data protection standpoint. I mean it from a human viewpoint. Okay, algorithms are actually great in many instances, and help us do a lot of stuff (like any tool)… but I mean this from a more simply human or meta-human perspective.
Are we willing and ready for a world where we expect and desire algorithms to anticipate our every move, with the intent (I guess) of delivering us to some sort of harmonious product utopia? What happens when, like in any utopia, the real doesn’t match up with the ideal? Which happens with the vast majority of products and services out there. I don’t know about you, but I’m annoyed by stuff all the time I buy or rent access to. Why isn’t there this? Why can’t I do x with this? Why is this one part apparently broken? Seriously, when’s the last time you *DIDN’T* complain about something you bought? (Maybe I’m just an asshole. I mean, probably I am. But still…)
Also from the above article:
“The only thing worse than having poor AI is having no AI at all.”
Didn’t Ben Franklin originally say that? In Poor AI Richard’s Almanack? There’s actually another supposedly real Benjamin Franklin quote which I just found that maybe sheds some light on this underlying cosmic situation:
“The poor have little, beggars none, the rich too much, enough not one.”
This concept of “enough.” What is enough Twitter? Netflix? Amazon? Whatever?
In some sense, the present societal algorithmic systems we use as the invisible axes of our lives do not believe in enough. Audiences do not believe in enough. YouTube must always be fed. TikTok must always be fed. Baal must be fed. Moloch must be fed. You, your face, your voice, your body, your mind, your ideas & ideals, your emotions, your children, your relationships, your everything: just grist for the mill. There is never enough. You are never enough. And nothing, and no algorithm will sate it. The need. All life is suffering. Because the you bought on Amazon is the wrong thing. And the right thing doesn’t exist, and if it did, you’d never be able to find it from our trusted sellers. Or it would cost $3,000 to be shipped from Mars, when it should only cost $3…
There is no end in it (and no end to this blog post), unless I make there be one). However temporary. Perhaps if there cannot be an end, there can at least be oases. Last homely homes. Islands in the livestream. May this be one for however short a time.