A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

My day doing everything the internet told me to – The Guardian

In Nonsense, Really?!? on May 8, 2012 at 09:25

A Lego Star Wars sandtrooper

My day doing everything the internet told me to.

I go to Amazon in search of reading material that knows where I live, but the first 10 items it suggests are all Lego Star Wars figures. First up is a miniature Sandtrooper. Amazon, it seems, has never got over the fact that I bought my nephew some Star Wars Lego for his sixth birthday last summer. I drop it in my basket, grit my teeth and within three clicks have handed over £12.99. I email my sister to show off my act of unprovoked generosity and Gmail tells me to “consider including” my mum and my other sister. So I do. Mum, a psychotherapist, emails back. She thinks if I do everything the internet tells me to, it will “probably do your head in”.

My mobile hums at me as the confirmation email duly arrives. Two emails later, I see a recent arrival from a dating site I am on, offering people “to suit me”. Match 1 likes chillout music, chick flicks, rugby and chocolate. Match 2 keeps her cards close to her chest, but is “spiritual, not religious”. Match 3 is very pretty – well played, the  internet – but, oh, describes her sense of humour as “goofy”.

I start composing emails to them. I am on good form, listening to a tasteful playlist that Spotify has constructed for me by scraping my playlists for musical themes. This yields Fleetwood Mac, with a little bit of hip-hop and indie sprinkled in. I’m feeling cool and confident. “Hi! I’m Benji and I like Fleetwood Mac, how about you?” Send.

This is good. I am expanding my horizons and it’s not even midday. I endeavour to expand them further by following 10 new people on Twitter, all suggested by the “who to follow” tab on my Twitter home page. I’m a bit underwhelmed. Writers, travellers, media types. Variations on me, basically. One of them has written a book called Dirty Minds: How our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships. Ooh. Back to Amazon. I burrow into a rabbit hole of books about sex and psychology because that’s what “customers who bought this item also bought”, ending up on Sex at Dawn: How We Mate & Why We Stray via Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Sex and Science. I buy the Bonk one. I then panic, and check my Amazon recommended list again. It is now populated with Lego and books about sex. I assume I am being added to a watchlist somewhere.

I have entered what Eli Pariser, an activist who rails against the web’s newfound obsession with trying to be helpful, calls the “filter bubble”. In his recent New York Times bestseller of the same name, Pariser warns that “left to their own devices, personalisation filters serve up a kind of invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar, and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown”.


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