The reader is undoubtedly familiar with Pinterest, a kind of social media website on which people “pin” images to virtual “boards” dedicated to things they enjoy. It’s like YouTube, but for still photos. There’s an app, of course, and you can waste hours upon hours just clicking around at random, finding things that momentarily strike your fancy.
Beware, though. As with everything you do on the internet, careful note is taken of where you wander and what you dwell upon. Your preferences are logged, and then the algorithm goes to work, and the site starts rooting through its archives of user boards so it can feed you material posted by other folks that it figures you might like too, based on what it’s gathered about you so far. Before long, endless reams of stuff start hitting your inbox. Emails four times a day, every day. Anything and everything the machine logic reckons might be right up your alley.
Sometimes it’s right on the money, and sometimes it seems to be taking shots in the dark based on general principles (e.g. “Male = Loves Sports”, “Likes Bunnies = Likes Kittens”), while it waits like a cat staking out a mouse-hole to see whether you do indeed glom on to what it dangles – at which point it will feed you more, and then more, with no indication that it’s programmed to imagine that at some point you’ll have had enough.
This being social media, with millions of users participating, there’s something in there for everybody. I mean everybody – no matter what you’re drawn to, somebody out there will have a collection of relevant photos, and usually there are whole communities of people posting thousands of pictures of things you never knew existed, or would never have believed anybody found interesting. Teacups, say. Or doorknobs. As an experiment, I tried to come up with something that nobody could possibly find interesting enough to merit a board, and gave up after paper clips, lawn chairs, chalk, dental floss, bricks, ceiling tiles and scotch tape dispensers all proved to have avid followings. I suppose there must be some obvious and unmentionable topics that are off limits, but apart from those the possibilities are literally endless, and the algorithm has unlimited choice in directing you toward places it thinks you might want to go. Like the man said, there’s something to sate every palette, both subtle and gross, and you can be sure of one thing: nobody’s curating anything for truth or accuracy.
As you’re fed the emails full of suggested images, it’s hard to escape the feeling that somewhere back there, the artificial intelligence isn’t just working out what you like, it’s clucking disapprovingly as it jumps to perhaps unfair conclusions, while forming decidedly unfavourable opinions about what a dullard/freak/reprobate you obviously are. By now, I figure, it’s seen enough to make it pretty jaundiced and cynical. Google is undoubtedly the same, right? Can’t you just hear it? Oh, so that’s what he’s in to, is it? You actually went there, you naughty, naughty boy! Hey everybody, get a load of Mr. Buttheadington Batshit Crazy, Esq.!
Reminds me of a great series of videos you can find on YouTube:
Anyway, somewhere along the way I must have clicked on the wrong thing, because Pinterest thinks it has me down cold, and it’s got me pegged as complete frickin’ idiot. Totally. As far as it’s concerned, there’s none too bright, there’s dumb as me arse, there’s dumber than a bag of rocks in cahoots with a sack of hammers, there’s clinically nothing but brainstem in there, and then there’s me.
I’m therefore routinely directed by unsolicited email to check out this or that new collection of moron Pinterest boards about moronic things that low-grade morons like, and let me tell you, it’s more than sobering to discover just how many varieties of moron there are out there. I’m not talking about the sort of knucklehead who likes monster trucks or heavy metal. Those are the clever ones. Compared to most of the recommended viewing, those boards are comparatively encouraging, they restore a little of your flagging hope for humanity. Thus it was actually a relief one time when, after sending me menu after menu of soul-destroying dreck, Pinterest off-hand suggested, apropos of nothing, that I should check out this neat little board assembled by a rabid fan of German thrash-metal band Rammstein – you know, these guys:
OK, I thought, they’re awful, but kind of funny. You could like them without being a crazed sicko. They’re quite popular, I’m led to believe.
Generally though, Pinterest doesn’t think that highly of me. While the algorithm sometimes dangles the odd thing that would make me merely a sad little dork in its estimation – for example, it’s pretty sure I like photos of every babe who’s ever been cast in every iteration of Star Trek (though actually, have you seen some of the gorgeous women that’ve been cast for Star Trek?), and everything else to do with Star Trek, including fantasy Starfleet vessels dreamed up by insomniac fan boys who design starships into the wee hours – mostly it thinks I believe insane conspiracy theories. It’s positive on that score.
For months, now, it’s been catering night and day to my presumed and presumably unquenchable desire to support the beliefs that:
- the Earth is flat:
- the Earth isn’t flat, but it’s definitely hollow:
- the Earth once hosted giant trees, before Noah’s Flood, and the massive Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (the geological formation featured in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is actually a fossilized tree stump:
- the Sun is not far away, like those lying so-called scientists claim:
- the condensation trails left by every type of aero-engine are actually “chemtrails”, and there’s a global conspiracy to use civil aviation to poison us all by using airliners to disperse mind-altering toxins like they’re all evil, high-flying crop dusters:
- the government is really run by disguised reptiles, the dreaded “lizard people”:
- and of course the Moon landing was a hoax, which at this point sounds rather prosaically normal:
Shit. I just realized I’ve spent an entire blog post reinforcing my moron profile for the algorithm.
Update: since I wrote this, Pinterest has started sending me photos of ceiling tiles.