I’ve noticed that more and more of my online life involves either actual personalization (I make choices of the content I want to consume) or AI generated personalization (such as when Amazon shows me products that it thinks I will like based on my prior spending habits). The problem with more and more personalization is the loss serendipity. It’s important to encounter “happy accidents” and losing those opportunities is a growing problem for all of us.
I often see personalization gone bad with the online advertising networks. I’m constantly presented with ads for products related to something I searched on or related to content I read. Usually I am just not a candidate to buy the product.
For example, back in January I did some research on a “walking boot cast” because my doctor told me he would be giving one as part of my recovery from ankle surgery. I wanted to learn the basics before I was to get the cast a few weeks later. I found a bunch of products in my research but I didn’t actually buy one myself because the doctor said he would provide it..
Today, more than 7 months after those searches and with a healed ankle long ago, I have zero use for a walking cast. Yet I’m still occasionally shown ads for various companies’ ankle walking casts!
But there is so much more I want to know beyond my passions!
Because of so much AI driven content we must be diligent in figuring out ways to learn things we didn't think to ask.
In my case, that’s where good old-fashioned print comes in. I read a daily newspaper nearly every day – the Boston Globe when I am at home and the local English language newspaper in whatever city I’m in. I also read a bunch of print magazines.
This is important for me so that I’m constantly aware of what’s going on outside my narrow interests. What did the editors deem important for me to know? What's new and interesting that I didn't think to ask for?
Another great way to learn something new is to chat up Uber drivers. Most are part time drivers and it is interesting to hear about their lives.
Serendipity is important for my work but also for my life. I hope it is for yours too.