Some n years back — during an innocent time when a few of us, including myself, still subscribed to Pandora One — I unwittingly became aware of my fledgling doppelgänger, my twin — my “Zombie Shopper”.
When I was 18 years old I had an idea for a business; “My Songs When I Want to Hear Them”, I called it. All my friends were sold on the idea of a technology that would allow us to listen to the songs we wanted to hear transmitted to us when we wanted to hear them. Problem was, the technology didn’t exist to stream individual channels of music, neither from a memory device, nor from any form of mass broadcast. So I drew up some designs for massive memory boards to store data. Considering RAM/ROM was measured in K-bytes back then, size and cost of the system made it seem like nothing less than science-fiction. Anyway, jump forward 25 years and here I was with a “smartphone” in hand and the Pandora app loaded — wow! (I think I was out of office through the ipod revolution). I created a bunch of stations reflecting my musical taste vectors. Then I began giving my favorite songs a thumbs up, gleeful in the knowledge that I was fortifying Pandora with these data points so they could “hook me up” with similar tunes in the genre. Digital footprint be damned.
It was during this like frenzy when my synthetic shopping #zombie first became manifest. I didn’t realize it then because I was peeved, miffed, cheesed you might even say with my Pandora One “UX”. I have a diverse range of musical tastes; from Classical [yes, the dying variety], through Polka and Rock, to Yodeling and Zydeco. I skip between stations depending on my mood [and who’s in the car with me] like a stone skimming across a pond. Truth be told though, I tend to land and stick on 60’s-70’s Rock more oft than the rest. Only in retrospect did it occur to me — What cheesed me was indeed, a rub-up with my own nascent Zombie Shopper stumbling about in the ether-scape of Pandora.
Only in retrospect did it occur to me — What cheesed me was indeed, a rub-up with my own nascent Zombie Shopper
After having given thumbs up to about 3 songs in each of my diverse stations, something disturbing began to happen; Songs in one genre began to bleed across stations into non sequitur genres. It was like, “WTF Pandora, you got your Honey Drippers in my Handel!”. Only then did I recognize that my consumer-consciousness was being very crudely modeled [apparently as a cluster funktion]. The preference algorithm was not sophisticated enough to prevent convergence [read: collision] of content between stations.
My algorithmic twin was a contextual nincompoop.
This Pandora resident algorithm and many, many more instances of model-me algorithms across countless technology companies have my name, geo-location, buying, clicking, listening, etc. preferences interwoven within their array space. Shouldn’t we be demanding more accountability from our digital dilettantes? Shouldn’t we be part of their cognitive growth, care and feeding? Or at least be able to file:save their ass. What if one of these Zombies throws a wobbly and starts serving up Bieber? Seriously, my name’s on that thing. After all, nobody wants to be like this poor woman who was stalked across the internet by some unfortunately ugly shoes. Each of these newly forming entities are attempting to perfectly predict my purchasing preferences. I can’t help but harbor some sense of empathetic attachment. Mixed with a dose of consumer concern.