The Reflection of Our Patterns

Can we see ourselves in our user patterns?

Published June 24, 2023
The algorithm has a skewed perception of our preferences. A click is a vote, a like, an approval. The TikTok algorithm will keep feeding you videos about the Illuminati if you watch one in its entirety. Twitter will keep showing you crypto-lyricists after you click on a profile out of spite.


The algorithm works on 1s and 0s. There is no nuance for guilty pleasure, no room for noncommittal curiosity. To consume is to approve—to give a "yes" that will provide you with more content. Our consumption patterns surpass us; they feed into our future. The proactive user must curate their future feed to reflect their preferences, reducing them to a "yes" or "no."


                    


Our user patterns have no feelings, creating a reductive reflection of the thoughts and emotions we experience through consumption. Sometimes, I hesitate to click the "Not interested" button—am I really ready to say goodbye forever? When it leaves my feed, it leaves me for good. My algorithm has a better memory than me, maybe because I trust it to behave as an extension of myself. I entrust my algorithm to take on aspects of my preferences so I can free up space in my brain.


On TikTok, it's common to see the comment "Trusting the algorithm to bring me part 2." We understand that our algorithms know us and predict what we want. The fallibility of its prediction is likely; there is no way to know for certain if a user will enjoy content simply because it's related to what they consume. Our preferences are often spontaneous, instinctive, illogical. But the algorithm doesn't work on individuality; it functions on the masses. If the majority of users who consume DeepTok also watch Corecore, you will be prescribed the same content on the assumption that you fit the majority. This negates our sense of individuality, a negation we are confronted with continually through social media. On a TikTok that underlines an extremely specific human experience, the top comment will always be "Damn, we all living the same life fr."


Does the algorithm force us to be part of the majority? Is it possible to express individuality when the algorithm feeds us what's most popular? Perhaps this is why those of us who have deleted social media say it with a sense of pride. Like it was an addiction that we've unshackled ourselves from.

No, I haven't seen that TikTok. In fact, I don't see any TikToks.


Is it the case that we turn to social media to identify with others rather than exhibit our individuality? Or are we somehow seeking to do both, simultaneously? We submit ourselves to the masses; we become one of them, but we delight in our unique user patterns. A common dinner party talking point among my friends is "What side of TikTok are you on?" It's a peek into the recesses of our unique virtual selves.


Your algorithm isn't a reflection of you—it's a prediction of who you will be in the future, configured from past data. In a way, the passive user is shaped by their algorithm. If they fail to make their preferences known—to correct their algorithmic portrait—they wind up consuming what their algorithm prescribes. They submit a "yes" to their algorithm. This “yes” says: "You were right, more of this." In a way, they start to reflect the portrait that their algorithm paints.


Sometimes your algorithm feels too long gone, a portrait based on your past self. Time to deactivate and start anew.


                                               




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USURPATOR is an online magazine sharing essays and interviews about the user experience of our current virtual landscape

Run by @hard_boiledbabe