How Accurate Is Your Algorithm?

Most people these days have an active online life. In that life, much of the online content is delivered via algorithm. Is that algorithm any good?

Of course, different websites employ different algorithms. The basic idea is the same in each case, however: if you like this thing, you will also like this other thing.

These programs appear just about everywhere online. For example, when you watch a YouTube video, a YouTube algorithm suggests other videos that you may also want to watch.

Not only are these programs ubiquitous, they are crucial to any good website. In the above example, if the YouTube algorithm does not suggest videos you actually want to watch, then you may leave the platform altogether. So, from YouTube’s perspective, it is vitally important that the algorithm work as intended.

What may not be quite so obvious, however, is how important it is to you. There are so many videos available on YouTube that it is impossible to watch them all. In fact, without some way of singling out videos that have some interest to you, you would almost certainly become overwhelmed.

Of course, it is not just YouTube that employs an algorithm to deliver content. Social media sites do it as well. They may suggest other accounts you may want to follow, or posts you may want to see. Online stores use them to practice a modern-day version of an ages old technique of up-selling. Online advertisements, which use cookies to track your browsing habits, can be tailor made to get you to buy something.

In your experience, are these algorithms any good? Does Netflix suggest TV shows and movies that you actually want to watch? Does Amazon recommend products that actually end up in your shopping cart? Is your Facebook feed made up of posts that interest you?

How accurate is your algorithm?

Related questions: What makes us comment on social media? What do you get out of social media? How does technology influence your emotions? How does media manipulate you?

How Does Technology Influence Your Emotions?

The technology we use in our everyday life is rapidly changing. In what ways are our emotions influenced by that technology?

The last century has seen the introduction of revolutionary technology, from the television to the Internet to the smartphone. These devices are used by most people every single day, often obsessively so.

In turn, our brains, which evolved without these influences, are reacting to and being shaped by this use. In particular, our emotions are being targeted by advertisers, media companies, and other people.

As you go about your day, can you think of ways your emotions are engaged via technology?

Positive emotions, like joy, love, happiness, and glee might be triggered in a number of ways. Seeing pictures of family members hundreds or even thousands of miles away might bring a smile to your face. The use of GPS might get you to your destination quickly and safely. You might laugh at a shared online joke or meme.

Of course, negative emotions are also being influenced. Cable news gets you to stay tuned by presenting scary news items. Advertisers make you feel envy toward others to get you to buy goods and services. You might also, at times, feel anger, jealousy, and lust.

How are your emotions influenced by our modern-day technology? What might you do to limit that influence, or at least not be controlled by it?

Related questions: Is technology neutral? What role does technology play in your life? What skills have you lost due to technology? What is the right amount of emotion? How does media manipulate you?

How Can You Be More Responsible Online?

These days, we all live a significant amount of our lives online. That naturally raises the question: how can we be responsible in our online lives?

Despite the fact that we have steadily increased the amount of time we spend online, not much good has come of it.

On a personal basis, the promise of the internet was to bring people together, even if separated by thousands of miles. While that happens, an increasing percentage of users feel more lonely and isolated than ever before. It is also true that it is remarkably easy to have your identity stolen.

Things aren’t much better on a societal level, either. On the plus side, anyone with an internet connection has access to a remarkable amount of information. Unfortunately, there is also more misinformation available as well. Rumors, lies, and conspiracy theories spread more quickly online than does the truth.

So what can we do about it?

One thing is for each of us to be more responsible in our online lives. This responsibility extends to how we protect our own information, how we behave to other online users, and what information we consume and share with others.

What, specifically, do you do to guard your personal information? What do you do to see someone as an individual when all they are to you is pixels on a screen? And how do you make sure you are not falling prey to hoaxes and lies that you might encounter on your internet travels?

Related questions: Can an internet friend be a true companion? Why does social media often bring out the worst in us? Are you addicted to your phone? What is your bubble?

In What Are You Complicit?

There are many problems and injustices in our modern world. From the threat of climate crisis to political unrest, from mass shootings to species extinction, hardly a day goes by without hearing of the latest development on some problem front.

While it is tempting to state that you are unequivocally against one problem or another, life isn’t quite that simple. While your words might say one thing, your actions may say something altogether different.

The infrastructure that is in place in our society often acts in a certain way, due to economic and political pressures. By taking part in that overall system, you are reinforcing the behavior of the system, even if it does something you disagree with.

For example, let us suppose that you are against the exploitation of agricultural laborers. The people who pick the fruits and vegetables that fill our grocery stores and restaurant pantries often work in dangerous conditions for poor wages.

You might support improving those conditions and are in favor of paying workers more. However, you might also buy the less expensive options at the grocery store, and you may not have any knowledge of where the produce comes from or how it is picked.

Your participation in the system — buying less expensive produce — reinforces the economic pressures that lead to growers paying less to people picking their crops.

This is true for just about every issue, regardless of your political affiliation. If there is something in our society that you disagree with, and yet you are part of society and contribute to it, in greater or lesser degree you are complicit in that problematic behavior.

If you drive on the freeway, you are complicit in the way neighborhoods were broken up when they were constructed. If you vote for a political candidate because you like their policies, you are complicit with any negative act that politician participates in. If you use a social media platform to keep in touch with friends and family, you are complicit in the bad behavior the company does to gain an economic advantage.

This is not to say that you are solely responsible for these bad acts, but you cannot claim complete innocence, either. By participating in a corrupt system, you are partially corrupt yourself.

Can you think of ways that you are complicit in acts and behaviors you don’t like? Can you think of things that you might do change the system or yourself?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What do you do that you shouldn’t? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? What are you doing to make the world a better place?

How Do You Maintain Cultural Literacy?

In our fractured, constantly updating society, trends and fashions change at a mind-boggling rate. How do you maintain cultural literacy, and stay on top of it all?

Hundreds of years ago, very little would change from one generation to the next. Your life was probably very similar to the life lived by your parents, and their life was largely the same as their parents. And your children’s lives would look much the same as yours.

Now, however, that is not the case. Someone born in 1900, if they lived long enough, would have been alive for the first airplane flight and also the first trip to the moon.

Fifty years ago, there was no Internet, no cell phones, the number of television stations could be counted on one hand, and so on. As technology changes, our lives change as well. And the rate of change is accelerating.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘Are we too busy?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What are our responsibilities to others?’


In concrete terms, this means that there is an ever-increasing amount of cultural information to track. Older generations had to keep track of actors, known from theater, TV and movies. But now, there are also people famous just for being famous. In addition, there are celebrities that are “Internet famous” — that is, they have popular YouTube channels, are Instagram influencers, or are known for their Tik Tok dances.

The same thing is true all throughout culture. In addition to traditional authors and reporters, there are now bloggers and cable news pundits. More traditional sports figures have been joined by video gamers and esoteric competitions like marble racing. Whatever niche interest you have almost certainly has a website or wiki page with details and further information.

There are not enough hours in the day to keep up with it all.

So how, then, can you learn enough about these things that you can have a reasonable conversation about them should the need arise? Or be able to recognize the benefits that might be available to you, or understand the potential risks or challenges they might pose to society in general? In short, how do you maintain cultural literacy?

Related questions: Are we too busy? How can we maintain wonder? How do you adopt new ideas? What social media platforms do you use?