It’s a Small World
In the toddler play area at Ceaserland there is an oversized red funnel, with an ominous looking black hole at the center. You drop a penny into the side of the bowl and it rolls around in a great lazy circle, then goes around again, and one more time, spiraling faster and faster, until it disappears into the waiting black yawn.
The image of the spiraling penny comes to mind when I read a tech article about an exciting new technology that can recommend books, or music, or friends, or places to visit based on information you’ve input previously. Twitter’s ‘Who to follow’, Facebook ads, Pandora’s algorithm. You’ve read that so you might want to read this. You ‘liked’ this article so you’re probably interested in skiing and therefore want to buy a ski board.
The architects of these technologies claim they are expanding worlds, ushering people towards doors they might never have noticed otherwise. Kind of them, I concede, but then I see the penny and the way its world keeps shrinking as it moves around the red mouth.
Imagine: You are sixteen and your entire life is governed by online interaction. You read books online, you play sports on a Wii, you eat at places recommended by Yelp, and listen to music liked by your friends on Facebook. At sixteen you like The Black Eyed Peas. At seventeen you like bands that were recommended to you because you liked the Black Eyed Peas. At eighteen you like bands that were recommended to you because you checked in at a concert of a band that was suggested to you because you liked the Black Eyed Peas. At nineteen you like a band… When you’re fifty, you’re still listening to music because at sixteen your friend liked the Black Eyed Peas.
More ominously, all the links in the Black Eyed Peas’ evolution that had been so kindly suggested to you were not the product of survival of the best, but intelligently designed by the best minds in marketing. At fifty, you’re listening to music that a genius marketing intern decreed you would thirty years earlier.
The real world also has a way of getting bigger and smaller at the same time. Smaller as you mature and realize your own limitations; bigger as you realize that the world that you do have is endlessly full of new discoveries. In the digital world, unless you feed it more information from its analog counterpart, your world will keep getting smaller.
Unless the bottom of the big red funnel at Ceaserland is really a wormhole. And my penny is out there in an alternate universe.