Big-tech recommendation systems have been critiqued lately for their manifold sins— i.e. how their remorseless lust for “engagement” leads them to overpromote hotly emotional posts; how they rile people up; how they feed us clicktastic disinfo; how they facilitate “doomscrolling”. All true.
But they pose a subtler challenge, too, for our imaginative lives: Their remarkably dull conception of what’s “interesting”. It’s like intellectual monocropping. You open your algorithmic feed and see rows and rows of neatly planted corn, and nothing else.
If you want to have wilder, curiouser thoughts, you have to avoid the industrial monocropping of big-tech feeds. You want an intellectual forest, overgrown with mushrooms and towering weeds and a massive dead log where a family of raccoons has taken up residence.
(Coming back to the mushroom metaphor for IndieWeb 😉)
Weird is interesting. I think a lot of my reading and living is about soaking in newness, trying to do different things, go new places, read widely, listen eclectically. I’m looking for inspiration offline, in paper books and at gardens and outdoors since I’m not willing to go inside places yet. I’m reading indie published books to see what stories are out there beyond what publishers feel like they can sell.
Lately I feel like my RSS feeds and newsletter subscriptions are a bit off, like I’m not getting enough variety. I notice the same articles be recommended time and again. I’ve been taking that as an indication that I really need to read that article, but maybe it’s that I’m reading within the same spheres. Ironic since I made an effort to cast a broader net with what I’m reading earlier this year. Funnily enough I did often find new things on Twitter, when I let myself use it, because I was following a ton of artists and writers – I wish they all had blogs or newsletters I could follow instead!
Links back again to browsing as a form of discovery and serendipity. Wandering through the stacks, seeing what catches your eye, pursuing bubbles of curiosity. StumbleUpon or webrings might be similar online formats? Not quite the same…
I wonder if what’s throwing me off is taking in too much without making enough of my own.