Reading Yoav Aner’s blog this morning I’m reminded how many applications, particularly the mobile variety, have the capacity to creep us out by appropriating our personal information. Whether it’s compiling recommendations based on our usage behaviour, accessing our physical location, or trolling our contact list, the expectation is that our software experience is somehow enhanced by the unscrupulous broadcast of our personal information.
Netflix is a prime example of a service that tries way too hard with the concept of personalization. Not really creepy, just more of an annoyance.
If I happen to watch an episode of Doctor Who Netflix starts filtering my menu with list after list of science-fiction related movies and TV shows.
Because you watched… Conan the Barbarian our automated algorithms have determined you’ll be interested in seeing Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise. Really? I’m curious, what’s the logic behind these seemingly arbitrary recommendations.
Because your 7-1/2 year old son logged in under your profile and watched an episode of Transformers: Rescue Bots we think you’ll be interested in watching The Smurfs.
Because you watched… Waiting for Lightning, the documentary covering the life of legendary skateboarder Danny Way, here’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Walking Dead, and Jack Reacher.
Here’s what’s popular on Facebook: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Walking Dead, and (surprise surprise) Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise.
Ok, Netflix really thinks I should watch Jack Reacher.
Please no. Stop it. Stop trying to learn what I’m interested in viewing. Please just allow me to search by genre (PS3 interface) and decide for myself.
As I write this post I’m sitting in bumper to bumper traffic going up Bathurst Street on my way to the subway station. “What’s the hold up?!” I can hear one of the elderly passengers towards the front griping abrasively to the bus driver, who seems largely unconcerned by the gridlock. Our bus is moving at a snail’s pace. Oh but thanks to WordPress’ lovely Android app I can blog to my heart’s content while stuck in this transit purgatory.
“It might actually be faster to get out and walk” one of the guys sitting behind me jokes. Yeah, you’re probably right, I say with a cynical undertone. I wonder if I’ll get home before 7:30 pm to eat dinner with my family. Yeah right, who am I kidding, they’ve already finished.
Like many people living in Toronto, I spend what feels like an agonizing amount of time commuting each week. Sure, my carbon footprint is awesome but that gives me little solace when I think about Toronto’s current traffic woes and how difficult it’s becoming to get around the GTA (that’s Greater Toronto Area for all you international readers).
What will Toronto’s transit system look like in 10 years if we continue paying lip service to bolstering subway and LRT lines?
The disheveled man sitting next to me smells like an ashtray. There’s also the palpable scent of a late afternoon fast food lunch, perhaps stale fried chicken grease —or was that hot dog and onions au jus? —I can’t put my finger on it. The man’s stinky third-hand smoke odour reminds me of a scene from the first Matrix movie when Agent Smith tells Morpheus why he wants out of the [Matrix] simulation.
In a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, Roger Cohen writes:
Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost.
The modern world’s tech-giddy control and facilitation makes us stupid. Awareness atrophies. Dumb gets dumber. Lists are everywhere — the five things you need to know about so-and-so; the eight essential qualities of such-and-such; the 11 delights of somewhere or other. We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience. These lists are meaningless.
This is a very astute observation of the modern tech-centric economy in which we’re currently living. Lists are in fact quite insidious and could be regarded as the quintessential attention-thwarting shortcut one finds permeating the digital space. Listicles as they’re sometimes called (why yes, there’s a Wikipedia entry) obliterate mental focus and encourage us to read less.
There is arguably no better way to fragment audience engagement. Create a list and people will skim rather than absorb your content.