I'll See You When I See You.
I’ll see you when I see you.
When I first wrote this sentence down likely weeks ago by now it had a different association, yet as I sat down to write this it felt fitting given the subject matter.
The almighty algorithms are failing us. Yep, failing us by doing exactly what they were designed and what we expected them to do, learn our behavioral patterns and give us more of what we “want” or that which we might “respond” to or “resonate” with.
I used to say that Spotify had the best algorithm and for me personally it did for a little while. Via artist or song “radio stations” or the “discover” playlists curated for me, I would regularly find new artists and music–much of which I often enjoyed and continued to explore. Fast forward to perhaps the past year and I find that this algorithm that I’d previously awarded a blue ribbon to, typically just serves me most of the music that I’ve already listened to just in different order on different playlists or artist/song radio stations. Thankfully, I don’t get sick of good music too easily, but as someone who genuinely loves music I do love the process of continuously discovering new music and artists, regardless of genre. Now, I’ve found myself going back to my old-school ways of discovering new music–virtually sifting through the music shelves of Spotify for new artists that I might enjoy. Not all that dissimilar to a 14 year-old me poring through cd and records at a local music store like I used to love to do.
In fact, I still love to do that in record stores. I am so overdue for a record store trip come to think of it.
As with bookstores, I could probably still spend hours in a record shop going through records, both the known and unknown, even if I only walk out with one or two. What is lost on the digital shelves of Spotify is the smell, the cover art (yes it still shows up on most songs and albums, but it’s not the same as looking at a dusty often plastic covered sleeve. Then, there’s the record store employee/“music aficionados” always willing to chime in with their musical trivia knowledge. That’s what you lose on Spotify.
But, you get access to just about every artist and every song on demand anytime and anywhere. Anyone can be a dj, all they need is a playlist that hits. And that convenience is one that a music lover like me can’t walk away from even if I keep getting served the same songs over and over. I’ve said before, and still stand by it, that Spotify is probably the last subscription service that I would cancel–above Amazon Prime, above Netflix, above Zoom, etc.
Strong statement, but that’s how much I need/love music.
Secondly, there’s Instagram. I hardly go on TikTok, because IG is already enough of a time-suck, even though I appreciate it as a marketing and creator platform.
One of the real reasons I don’t go on TikTok as much either, beyond the fact that watching one video can turn into four hours of videos later, is that you can’t miss the videos that go viral or the trends because ultimately they end up on IG or YouTube anyhow. One of the biggest reasons as well was because I would get sick of hearing the same songs over and over and over again as hundreds of re-creations of the same trend would sprout up overnight and saturate your feed because you watched one of the videos.
Yet, Instagram is a different story as I do appreciate visuals and the aesthetic. Yet, also there is a lot of good and helpful information that is available. From my personal account I recall I’d first followed a lot of photographers, cinematographers, artists, interior designers, architects, engineers, scientists, tech folks, and many others in those veins. I didn’t even follow all of my friends, I still likely don’t. And for a while I very much enjoyed the feed, seeing various expressions of creativity, innovation, design and pretty much just a bunch of mad scientists from all walks of life “doing.”
I will be honest though, I never need to see another person’s work to be inspired, as I am my own motivation. I appreciate what they do and find art and design beautiful–sometimes moving, or touching but it doesn’t make me want to go create something. That is within me. I am the only person that can truly inspire me. Yet, being ruled by Venus, Mercury, and Uranus I love a good aesthetic, cutting-edge or out-of-the-box ideas or theories, and anything original. I never followed influencers, mostly because again I like originality.
The bad thing though is that while there is so much originality to be found in the world and on social media, it gets super-buried like treasure in a lot of mediocrity. Yet, that’s what happens to when you open up a platform to everyone, user-generated content has turned social media into an amalgamation of our local news, America’s Funniest Home Videos, MTV’s Cribs, Star Search, America’s Next Top Model, and every other reality show out there. Yet, it can definitely suck you in and hold you hostage for hours.
It is also now, “As Seen on TV” as companies schilling their products hook consumers like you or I (not going to lie, I’ve definitely consumed “As Seen on IG” products)...again, ruled by Venus over here. I also can’t resist the Amazon hacks and products.
Yet, these days I rarely see any of the content that I originally signed up to follow. I try to unfollow more of what I can go without seeing to see if I can “repair’ my feed, but it seems impossible. Honestly, I’m ready to start another account to get more of what I actually want to see.
YouTube, also just likes to serve me more of what I’ve already watched. Don’t even get me started on Netflix, Amazon, etc. as the only new content I discover is what they want me to consume. Thank goodness for those “What to Watch on Netflix” this month type of SEO-heavy articles, likely the last vestiges of internet articles and “listicles” that drive traffic to websites helping them to keep the integrated marketing / sales departments employed.
Yet, all of this is what we asked for. For products to cater to us and personalize our experiences and to get to know us as consumers. Just like in relationships we want to be valued for the individuals that we are, all of our likes and dislikes, quirks and eccentricities– or lack thereof. Enter the ever-powerful AI that likely and scarily knows us probably much better than our significant others ever will, and that’s something.
Yes, AI is a powerful thing and we’ve only experienced the very tip of the iceberg of what it can do. Yet, just like it can start off with endless options, as it gets to know you and anticipates your preferences those options narrow down until you are in a comforting bubble of all of those things that you enjoy.
What makes social media and subscription services like Spotify so powerful are the ways they connect us to people, moments, and nourish our need for expression of our unique identities, yet on the flip side of the same coin it can also limit and inhibit us depending on what we’re consuming or how much actual “influence” we allow to our person to experience.
One random AI thought I had recently was what if, like in virtual worlds, our entire existence was curated and informed by our preferences, i.e. if I ventured out into my town one morning and all that existed were the types of stores and services that I typically engage with or that I engaged with in the past six months. Entire blocks of vendors and stores would disappear. I would never be able to locate an oil-change facility nor so many other practical service-geared companies. Blocks and blocks of dress shops (that actually sounds glorious, where do I sign-up?), more Ultas and Sephoras (but no Blue Mercurys), bookstores, gas stations would instead grow in number. What's for certain, this would be one way to get more art museums and galleries out into the world. I would also probably make gun shops disappear as well, though and boy, could we use a shortage of guns and ammunition at this time (yet that won’t solve the problem). So there’s that.
If I had to live with the daily consequence of things that I don’t use or engage with regularly disappearing just like a social media feed’s algorithm, I would certainly live my life a different way. I’d make it a point to visit more mom n’ pop shops and also make a weekly visit to the grocery store to ensure that I never face a shortage of basic necessities.
Social media is similar, because just as we can view it as entertaining and somewhere that allows us to “waste time” or decompress, it also is feeding our minds and perhaps even our souls, for better or worse as what we consume with our eyes definitely sticks around in our subconscious and psyche.
Sure, as consumers we need to be more mindful, but that includes everything we consume, even those moments when monetary currency is not involved.