Algorithms kill

Hey man, good post.  Sorry I have been slow in responding.  The title for my response is a little overly dramatic, but I am with Maddie and A.D. on this.  Amazon does a really good job of finding stuff that I am interested in…a spooky good job. Sometimes I think they have bugged my brain. But the more stuff, options, opinions that I am spoon-fed, the less that I am going to stumble around on my own.  The less aimless exploring that I do, and it is this undirected inquiry that allows me to discover stuff that I didn’t even realize existed, stuff that I was not even looking for but am happy to find.

One of the requisites of evolution (in all its many forms: learning, change, adaptation) is the introduction of novelty.  Our organizations, institutions, communities and professions are already resistant to novelty, this tendency is only amplified by human nature and it is now being amplified further by what you are talking about.

Novelty is really important, and algorithms remove novelty.  Algorithms know nothing about the future, they are rooted in history. Algorithms are convenient and quick and likely profitable, but they push us further in the direction of conformity and the status quo.  Unfiltered, undirected exposure to the larger world is incredibly important.

I grew up on a family farm in Iowa.  We had three television channels and a few radio stations, and the music that I was exposed to was a very, very narrow slice of what was actually available. I thought Casey Kasems Top 40 was basically “the entire world of music.” During my junior year of high school one of my close friends got his hands on a Whodini cassette and it kind of changed my life.  I simply had not known that there was a whole big world of music out there…I accepted what I saw (Top 40) as the entire universe of options that were available to me, until some novelty was injected into my life, in the form of Freaks Come Out At Night.

I know that I wanted or needed that novelty, until it showed up.

I don’t even like Top 40 music man.

I will probably always be a little bit resentful towards Mr. Kasem…but when Top 40 music represented the only “choice” that I had, not liking it was not much of an option. If we are not careful, algorithms can limit our introduction to novelty.

Have a good weekend man.



  1. I’m going to side completely with Joe on this one guys. I had a musical epiphany eerily similar to Joe’s when I was young that opened my eyes to the growth potential of a little randomness in my life. That was followed by many books plucked off of library shelves that had no linear progression from my past readings, yet added insight and value to my brain. Some of the people I’ve met that mean the most to me were stumbled upon, not as a function of prior and similar activity, but just because we happened to meet in some random way.

    I do see some value in the “if you liked this item, you might want to check out this other thing” algorithms, but if that becomes the norm for expanding our horizons and we loose sight of the intrinsic value of chance, we become stale. Our cognitive diversity decreases. And we become insanely boring.

    Side question: do we seek randomness less as we get older?

  2. I’m with you in spirit, but I also think there is another possibility here. If algorithms help me find what I know I need/want, they actually free up more time for me to explore, wander, and stumble upon novelty I didn’t know I would value. That presumes I will use the time that way (which in most cases I would). I notice in workshops that if people came with a specific question to get answered they resist the more exploratory conversations until they have their need fulfilled.

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