All Those Algorithms

All Those Algorithms March 4, 2021

I was pretty amused to find Amazon–yet again–recommending my own book to me. This happens every few weeks, or whenever I go to see if there are any more ratings or reviews, or just to gaze at it lovingly before moving on with my day. Twenty-four or thirty-six hours later it shows up in my spam, wondering if I’m interested in buying it again. Then I have to go and look at lots and lots of shoes to get new stuff recommended to me that I really do want to buy.

Anyway, I read yesterday that Elizabeth Warren is proposing that Bezos–well, maybe she didn’t particularly name him, but really the whole group of them together–be taxed such that he would have to pony up something like 5.7 billion dollars. When you added that together with whatever Zuck would owe, maybe we could get rid of all the national debt (that’s just a little joke).

I mean, I’m not a big fan of “taxing the rich” because no one feels rich, especially when the taxman cometh. Like assigning blame, it’s so hard to figure out how to tax people appropriately. But my feelings have gradually shifted as I’ve tried to navigate around facebook and endured their many many algorithmic changes. First, they wanted people to post pictures and everyone did that, then they wanted people to share news and links and everyone did that, then they realized that it was all fake news and wanted everyone just to post status updates…and then we realized that we were product but, like crack users, can’t give it up even though we want to. So now I’ve tried a couple of times cutting my daily blog post link into the comments, rather into the actual post, hoping not to be penalized for whatever bad algorithmic thing I’m doing, and that my post will show up in everyone’s feed in the usual way.

What’s that weird thing that Jesus says about John the Baptist? “What did you come out to see?…we played the flute and you did not dance, we sang a dirge and you did not weep.” That line goes through my head every time my thumb scrolls silently, mechanically, over the lives of people I know and people I don’t know, people I’m curious about and people I haven’t ever had a thought about before in my life.

Underneath it all, people who I don’t know at all and have never met have been able to organize my own life, and to make millions and millions–or is it billions–of dollars off of me. Not only the money I directly give Bezos because I’ve so come to love my own convenience, but also the money they accumulate just because I spend so much time on their platforms. Maybe it would be nice if they gave some of the money back that they’ve taken from the world while the world was unaware, just scrolling, just trying to keep ennui from hammering down the door. Maybe all that money could be given to some venture that would get us all away from our phones, in some kind of ironic reverse social engineering. Having given up the money because we didn’t want to do anything, now the money is spent to get us to want to do something.

I say “we” but, tragically, the “we” has also been destroyed by all the scrolling. So many unforeseen consequences! So Much Money! Who could have known that all this would be so bad for us? While you think of an answer to that, I’m going to go wander around the instacart site and wonder to myself if it’s too cold for me to actually go get my groceries this week, or if I should just order them in. Tinkerty Tonk, and I mean for it to be slightly irritated.

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