Technology is beginning to take the fun out of life.
Last week I finished up a book from an author I like to follow. In the past year I’ve read four of his novels. Fun to read because they take me to places I’ve never seen with my own eyes to meet people I’ve never met. But this week I felt like a change.
Problem is, pesky algorithms decided I should continue to read his or similar books.
This year I’ve started reading a few books on an Amazon Kindle. Nice tool. Convenient, easy to pack when I travel, and it allows me to read in the middle of night on occasion. Problem is Amazon is the only place I can purchase books – proprietary software and all. And everything they know about me, they use against me. Every book title I’ve read or even looked at is filed away for them to strategically put recommendations in front of me.
While this might sound like great idea sitting around a table with a bunch of technologists, the practice is getting on my nerves.
Walking through an independent bookstore is akin to a romantic experience – one filled with musky odors, textures on your fingertips as you flip pages, and the deafening yet respectful silence surrounding the quest. Beyond being welcomed at the front door, I’m on my own to explore, wander, and let chance lead me to my next book. The entire experience is a search-and-discover adventure.
My Kindle, on the other hand, insists on telling me what book I should read next. Or at least, based on my purchase or browsing history what I might interest me. Problem is, however, books are those rare opportunities to expand your world by consuming and digesting a wide range of subjects and storytelling. To never stray from something you’ve shown interest in is to limit your opportunities to explore the world.
Searching for a new title to read, the intrusive algorithms only increased the frequency of “books you might like” being put in front of me. Watching my choices continually reduced the longer I searched (search results now suggesting books I’d previewed and decided not to read), I turned off the Kindle in frustration.
A day later I found myself in a sea of books – real, honest-to-God, paper filled volumes of more book than I could ever read in my lifetime. Standing in the center of the store, dozens of shelves reached to the ceilings with hundreds of subjects and thousands of titles. One step took me to a new book on the Rolling Stones; another took me to local history. The world was mine – and where I ended up was completely up to me.
I now have my new book – one not even the most sophisticated algorithm could ever have predicted. And I can’t wait to crack it open.
So as much as I respect technology, I’m increasingly finding that in its quest for efficiency, something is getting lost in the translation – life.