Algorithms try to channel us into repeating our lives

Molly Sauter (previously) describes in gorgeous, evocative terms how the algorithms in our life try to funnel us into acting the way we always have, or, failing that, like everyone else does.

To understand, consider your phone's autocorrect, which tries to drive your prose to a statistically normal set of vocabulary choices and word pairings; when you finally teach it a word or context, it then aggressively inserts it wherever it can (trying to get you to call your dad "Pookie" because that's what you call your boyfriend, say).

Then there's your Zuboffian Surveillance Capitalism doppelganger, the echo of your data-self that follows you around on the web, showing you ads for things you've searched for and product-categories you've perused.

The worst offender is Facebook, which tries to bring back your "memories" in a variety of ways, often breathtakingly cruel (Google gets in on the act, too).

14. The Memories Facebook displays to you, cheerily, at the top of your News Feed, appear to be a combination of fixed events it algorithmically recognizes as significant: engagements, weddings, birthdays, graduations, celebrations, and posts that were especially popular. My acquaintance with the dead dog was exhorted to remember the day he put his pet down, probably because the post got a good deal of traffic from friends offering their condolences. The algorithm conflates attention with positivity: surely if so many people paid attention to this event, engaged with it, clicked on it, this is a thing you would like to be reminded of. The digital homunculus of memory is gorged on attention, and on recognizable personal milestones.

15. Facebook now gives you the option to blackout dates or individuals from appearing in your Memories. But as we, and others around us, export more and more of the infrastructural work of personal memory storage and retrieval to these technological superstructures — as evocative objects like photo albums, mix tapes, and handwritten letters are replaced by digital objects — blocking out stretches of time or exes or frenemies will increasingly leave us with two options: riddling our personal structures of remembrance with amnesia, as the evocative paths to memories are obliterated; or leaving ourselves open to continual assault by programmatic nostalgia.

Instant Recall [Molly Sauter/Real Life]

(via Clive Thompson)

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