My iPhone buzzes loudly this morning to alert me that the millionth app wants access to my location. I go to the privacy settings, and I am horrified at the number of apps that want to know where I am, and want access to my camera and microphone. To be fair, they are all trying to improve customer service by making their advertising content and features more relevant to me. But do they really need to categorize me, violate my privacy, just to make ads more relevant?
Then, I open my LinkedIn app, and as soon as I accept a connection request, it asks me if this person is a ‘teammate’. I am puzzled, so I try to figure out why Linkedin wants to know. And I realize it is because they want to prioritize content in my feed. I have been on LinkedIn for over a decade, and I love its possibilities, the ability to connect, explore and appreciate the diversity of our world, giving a voice to people who wouldn’t otherwise have a platform. So, I am concerned.
For some reason, this was the proverbial last straw. I have been sick of algorithms running amok trying to organize my life, for a while now. Whether it is Facebook, or Google, or LinkedIn, they curate content; some more effectively than others, some more meaningfully than others. Come to think of it, everyone is doing it, from tech, to news, to media. We are categorized and cataloged and put in a box. Over the last few years that box has been getting smaller and smaller.
Why bother? What is the issue with algorithms and curated content?
The debate on curated content is the classic depth versus breadth debate, and the pull versus push debate.
Depth versus breadth – Algorithms that give you deeper content on what you already know, like, and are interested in, essentially aim to give you more information on a narrower set of topics.
This is an issue because a) it gives you false affirmation, thinking that the world agrees with your point of view (as ridiculous as it may be) because that is what you see in your feed, and b) it narrows your exposure to the universe of possibilities, solutions, and other viable ideas.
Pull versus push – This is the debate of choice. Most algorithms aren’t asking you if you WANT to prioritize certain content over others. They decide for you. And often, you aren’t aware that they did, and think what is in your feed is ALL there is.
For our personal growth and sanity, we need both, depth and breadth, pull and push content.
Why is this debate important?
True innovation lies at the unexplored periphery of disciplines. The narrower our world, the more siloed our functional areas become, and consequently the narrower our thinking and ability to innovate.
Leaders of the future have to be integrators. They have to synthesize copious amounts of complexity and make sense of it, to move the organization and the world forward. They also have to find common ground between dramatically diverse views. It is perhaps a little like playing 3 dimensional chess with yourself! A narrow or siloed view of the world will never get us there.
Expand our world view of what good looks like. We need objective criteria to evaluate, compare and benchmark what we see. What is ‘best’ in our limited understanding may not be so at all, if you benchmarked more broadly, with other functions, companies or countries!
Problems are everywhere. Good ideas, solutions exist everywhere too, but not always in the places that need them the most. The more expansive our world, the more we can leverage the best ideas to solve the largest challenges.
The internet, in the few decades of its existence, has truly changed the world. It has generated infinite possibilities, unlocked human potential like nothing else ever could. This was possible thanks to tireless efforts of those who had a truly expansive view of the world. It would be a shame for the next generation of algorithms to limit opportunity and human potential.
Our world in getting phenomenally complex. We have to enable the future generations to be more objective, more discerning, more thoughtful and help unlock their potential – Don’t box them in.
Tech, news, media companies – You have the power to expand our world. Task your algorithms to broaden our horizons, not make us myopic. Don’t reinforce our views, challenge them.
People! – We have the power to expand our own world. We can lead with curiosity, be interested in the wild and varied, and seek out diverse views and have meaningful conversations.
If you agree with me, when I say…
I don’t need to know more of what I already know, I want to know what I don’t know
I am curious – don’t limit my options
I am a global citizen – don’t limit my world (view)
I thrive on ideas, don’t starve me
I have something to say, don’t silence me
I yearn for the sky, don’t box me in
… Join me in wandering, exploring and discovering parts of our infinite world, and challenging algorithms and curated content to follow our path.
While I started this article talking about LinkedIn, I must acknowledge the efforts of LinkedIn’s Daniel Roth and the editing team who work hard to keep content professionally relevant, expansive and meaningful. LinkedIn is a place where discourse and debate is still possible, because of them, and efforts of developers with an expansive world view.
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