Creepy Evidence Devices Track Us Too Closely

Recently I wrote a very sober and insightful post about how Richard Donner’s The Goonies isn’t really that good. That post was good enough to get people riled up here and there as I expected, but there were also plenty of people who agreed. It’s not the first time that I’ve stirred the pot with a heterodox movie opinion.

But that’s not what this post is about.

What it’s about is the “Discover Weekly” playlist on Spotify and how it demonstrated to me that our devices, and the accounts we’re on, track us way too closely for comfort.

I wrote the post about The Goonies via the browser on my Mac. It auto-published out to Twitter because I like to contribute things to that soulless flamehole in hopes they get noticed. I posted it to Facebook because…well, because of reflex, really.

I subscribe to Spotify. Every week the service auto-generates a playlist sampler based on my observed listening habits called “Discover Weekly.” It’s kind of funny, actually, because it reinforces the algorithmic bubble that traps you into the same listening and watching patterns, since listening to the “Discover Weekly” playlist feeds that data, generated by your previous listening, back into the algorithm, trapping you further as it makes recommendations essentially based on itself.

Anyway, the “Discover Weekly” list regenerates itself every Monday. I posted the post trash-talking The Goonies the day before that.

The first song on the “Discover Weekly” playlist was “Fratelli Chase” from the soundtrack for The Goonies.

So a post I wrote on a computer, published through a Web browser, and shared via social media, influenced the musical selection on a randomized playlist supposedly shaped by my tastes. Maybe it doesn’t creep you out, but it creeps me out.

The best case scenario is just that I can hope my post about Francis Ford Coppola causes it to drop in a track from The Godfather.

Other than that, it’s a little creepy to have it all demonstrated quite so cleanly like that. You might think only good things come of stuff like this, but I promise you…that’s not the case.

“I saw what you ordered on Amazon Prime last night, Dave.”

5 thoughts on “Creepy Evidence Devices Track Us Too Closely

  1. It creeps you out because of what it says about human nature. Algorithms can be written rather easily that predict the behavior of you soft, human brain. No matter how much of a free thinker you think you are, you just a silly ape.

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    1. Actually the point baked into the post is that algorithms with input like what we encounter online are instead feedback loops. We aren’t getting recommendations based on behavior beyond maybe the first or second input. After that they just feed on themselves. So it’s not that I’m a silly ape, it’s that the algorithms influencing our behaviors in terms of the content they serve are simpletons. I’m listening to that playlist for convenience but I recognize its shortcomings, hence the post. Further, the algorithms lack the ability to read nuance most of the time. Did it serve me a Goonies track because I liked it? No. It did the base monkey behavior on its own of recognizing a word and making a presumption without context

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      1. I picked up on that, but that makes sense. If people are grabbed by the first two suggestions, then the chances are high that the algorithm is feeding them exactly what they want. Hence, more of the same. It’s still grounded in our predictability.

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        1. I still contest that premise as an absolute. The predictable part is that reinforcing the loop appeals to our desire for stability. We don’t want too much input after a certain point. I use my brain a lot at work to try to find creative solutions, and it’s mentally tiring. It’s appealing to let something “pick” for me because I don’t feel like making another decision after 8-12 hours. But for instance, when someone is rested or on vacation, or what have you, they suddenly get more adventurous – they will try the new thing or take the risk. But we’re trapped in a weird situation where they purposely overload people with choices so that they won’t want to make choices, so their algorithms can remain lazy and feed on themselves. It creates the illusion we’re “simple,” but the truth is that they built guardrails so they could push us down paths that benefit them.

          Either way, The Goonies can go kick rocks.

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