Wednesday, February 28, 2018

It Knows What I Want

For more than a year, I'd muttered about it under my breath every single time I went on Facebook.

There, my feed, bearing the reflections and ruminations of all of my social-media friends and acquaintances.

But it wasn't chronological.  It was carefully sorted and prepared for me by the machine-mind, as algorithms showed me what they'd determined I most wanted to see.

So every single time I went on Facebook, I'd change the settings back to chronological ordering, which made me grumble in that first-world-problem sort of way.  Why can't you just let me look at the [blessed] thing in the way that I choose?  If every single time I use your service I have to change a setting, shouldn't that clue you in to THAT BEING THE SETTING I WANT IN A RANTY ALL CAPS WAY?  Grumble grumble grumble.

And then, about two weeks ago, right before I started time-delimiting my social media interaction for Lent, that changed all on its own.

I'm not sure why.  I'd gotten into a conversation on Facebook with two friends from college about how impossible it was to change, and then, lo and behold, it was changed.

The shift happened because my Chromebook browser started defaulting not to, but to, which automatically sorts your feed chronologically.  I didn't request this.  It just...happened.   Which was itself kind of weird, in that Google-becoming-sentient sort of way.  I suppose I'd selected that option enough that the browser simply learned it as my choice.  One AI learning system provided its own solution to my interface with another AI learning system.

What was weirder still: after a week or two, I realized something unsettling.  For all of my whimpering and kvetching about Facebook's AI selecting my feed? 

I actually prefer the algorithm.  

Because the machine-generated list I thought I despised is just much, much more interesting.

I mean, y'all are great,  The posts featured by the algorithm contain the most active conversations between friends about significant events.

They're discernably more relevant and more engaging than simple chronology.  I feel more likely to chime in, to spend time.  That's a qualitative and subjective thing, sure...but social exchange is fundamentally qualitative.  Whatever it's doing seems to be working.  It didn't at first, not at all.  My "Top Stories" used to feel off, like, c'mon, I don't care about this. 

Now?  Now it seems to have learned.  Improved.  It seems to know what I want.

Which is...great?