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The Empty Algorithm

Have had this thought rattling around in my head forever, about how “karaoke” translated to English means something like “empty orchestra.” I’ve always thought that captured a certain kind of beautiful sense of desolation…

Likewise, for years has been careening around my awareness of the emptiness of algorithms. How cold and forbidding they feel when encountered emotionally – which is all the time now almost in daily life. Nudges, notifications, so-called dark patterns. Driving user behaviors. Predicting preferences, recommendation engines.
Once, long ago, I remember hearing about new music through friends. Now Spotify serves up lukewarm drivel “based on your interests,” and sometimes all you can decide in the information tidal wave, is will this make adequate background mush sounds for the next few moments?

I swear sometimes I can almost hear the algorithms that control many popular music stations on the legacy technology called “radio.” Some scientific calculation based on popular multiplied by payola multiplied by who knows what, but I don’t like it.

Lately, I listen to Radio Paradise Mellow Mix a lot (internet radio station), and FIP Pop out of France. Both of these are good and feel much less cold and artificial and algorithmy than letting Spotify dictate which kind of audio-mush will be served today. But after hours and days of listening, one might still discern the shapes of those algorithms as well I suppose.

The neologism solastalgia apparently describes nostalgia for a world where nature and the environment was a source of solace, rather than a source of distress and anxiety. What word might describe a life lived free of (or at least more free of) the cold dead reach of the algorithms. Algostalgia? It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it. But I think it’s linked. That once there was a way, a reality, a modality, a type of living that provided solace. Not endless scrolling feeds, behavioral manipulation, yadda yadda. A desire to go back there again, even if perhaps we’ve never been there in the first place: outside the reach of the Empty Algorithm.

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