Is Google Dictating Your Taste?

Your Facebook wall is curated. Google monitors your keystrokes. And, Youtube sprouts recommendations based on your search history. This is hyper-personalization at its peak. Although, WIRED and NYT threw some shade at this newly coined term, is personalization that detrimental for the future? I don’t think so.

KOOVS & KAPLAN still haunt me

koovs
Credits: Lee Usher, Flickr

I am an online window shopper. I add clothes to check-out carts online portals and as soon as they ask for credit card details, I shy away; it’s almost as if I can hear my mother’s voice in my head saying “are you sure?”. When you come from a family of Baniyas, a good deal is hard to find.

KOOVS is an online fashion store that caters to young, urban Indians. In 2013, I discovered their collection and embarked on a hypothetical shopping spree. Three years later, the clothes remain untouched in my shopping cart.

Google managed to pick up on my searches.

On the right-hand corner of my computer screen, KOOVS summer collection is neatly packaged in a rectangular box as I browse through my Facebook news feed. Amidst SAT preparation, the most traumatic time of my adolescent life, the header on top of my Gmail inbox frequently recommended KAPLAN SAT Prep Courses.

wired

Ironically, while I was reading an article on WIRED that tore apart hyper-personalization, Lenskart’s collection hovered above the webpage.

Personalization is a dog that follows you home, wagging its tail.

The Merits of Browsing

For the layperson, personalization is so automated that the drawbacks of receiving curated content are often ignored. Of late, however, a number of scholars and tech enthusiasts have a question: can hyper-personalization negatively influence your interaction with the online and physical world?

reflection
Are we seeing reflections of ourselves online?

ShanyaHodkin from WIRED argues that heavy personalization can result in a confirmation bias of sorts. Natasha Singer from the New York Times refers to this as on ‘online echo chamber’. Both writers warn that curated content has become so individually specific that consumers run the risk of insulating themselves from dissenting opinion.

Singer suggests that we’re now living in e-comfort zones. Her critique of personalization emphasizes the dangers of seeing only what we want to see. As a result, our beliefs are only reinforced, not challenged.

Ultimately, there’s the danger of stagnation and fostering unidimensional personalities.

Why Personalization Matters

john meyer
John Mayer’s guitar solo on Gravity

I listened to ‘Daughter’, a relatively unknown Indie band. John Mayer’s live recording of “Gravity” played on my i-pod for an entire month. Ariana Grandes’ musical impression on Jimmy Fallon was the highlight of my second semester in college.

These were all discoveries made through Youtube’s recommendation system. In fact, I owe some of my music taste to Youtube.

And yes, while I recognize that Singer and Hodkin raise important points regarding the pitfalls of hyper-personalization, I owe these discoveries to algorithms that sent tailored content my way. I certainly would not have discovered Daughter and a whole host of artists that are now part of my collection. As another example, I wouldn’t have gone to that great Italian restaurant next to my residence.

Personalization facilitates. It saves precious time. And it gives you easy access to content you most likely care about. And for surprises, there is always Twitter where you can follow people who will expand your horizons.

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