It’s time to resist the algorithms

Let’s face it: the algorithms are good and still getting better.

Everything you see on your Instagram feed, the product recommendations you get on Amazon, the videos shown to you on YouTube, and the specific directions given to you by Google Maps are shaped by powerful algorithms which process large amounts of data to provide you with an experience tailored to your preferences.

A world without algorithms would mean fewer of the many good things we enjoy and would be an immediate step backwards in terms of convenience and personalization.

Despite these measurable benefits for consumers, it is more difficult to quantify the cost of living in a world ruled by algorithms. I believe there are good reasons to push back against this force and preserve a space for older ideas to flourish.

Efficiency versus the good life

Like many aspects of modern life, algorithms have made our lives easier and more predictable. They are incredibly efficient at what they do.

But I fear that we are reinforcing a culture that places far too much emphasis on comfort, novelty and convenience at the expense of other traits associated with a healthy and vibrant society, such as risk-taking, adventure and independent spirit.

Instead of nurturing the next generation of go-getters and ambitious entrepreneurs, we are becoming increasingly complacent. Eventually, this bill will come due.

At the margins, I think we need more people who strategically and creatively resist the algorithmic lifestyle, while recognizing the important role that algorithms will play in our future.

These acts of resistance may not seem effective in the short term (why not outsource more and more of our decisions to these powerful algorithms?), but I think we need to preserve something crucial in the human mind: a set of values ​​that make good life possible, not simply optimized for convenience, security or engaging online experiences.

The case against algorithms

The point I’m trying to make is nuanced, but I think I have a useful analogy.

I think it’s amazing that so many of us now live in a world of food abundance. Over the past 100 years, food has become cheaper, tastier and more convenient than ever before in history. I celebrate this achievement and hope the trend continues.

However, it is not difficult to find problems caused by this development. A report published in 2020 by the National Center for Health Statistics reported that a staggering 76% of American adults are overweight, with 43% meeting criteria for obesity. On some level, it’s because food producers have their own algorithm, a combination of price, convenience, and heavily refined grains, sugars, and seed oils. This food is tasty, addictive and a major contributor to disease.

Living in a world of food abundance is both a blessing and a curse. As a whole, our society is perhaps the best nourished but the least dynamic on earth. And in many ways we are already pay the price.

The solution is not to return to a world before all these advances, but rather to cultivate a set of collective values ​​that push back against the dangers of the abundance of processed foods, while leaving enough space to enjoy the benefits. natural foods. Practices like exercise, fasting, growing our own food, and eating a balanced diet seem to do the trick.

The case against algorithms follows a similar vein. In order to benefit and thrive in a world of automation, convenience, and yes, algorithms, we must fight the complacency they encourage.

There are three ways in particular that algorithms shape us that are concerning:

Algorithms shape our view of the world

Most algorithms work like a black box. We don’t have much control over what we see or when we see it. In recent years, this has raised concerns about the rapid spread of misinformation and the presence of filter bubbles– in which people primarily see content that reinforces their views.

Algorithms reinforce passive consumption

A curious feature of algorithms is their tendency to break content down into small chunks and throw them back at us in a steady stream of dopamine hits.

  • Instead of albums, we play personalized music stations.
  • Instead of books, we flip through Tweets and pictures.
  • Instead of movies, we watch 30 second video clips and short episodes.

Algorithms bring out the best of the best and deliver it in a convenient, endless scrolling experience that encourages overconsumption. They increase relevance and convenience at the expense of serendipity, causing us to miss new experiences, opinions, and interactions that might have challenged us or shaped our worldview in unexpected ways.

Dependence on algorithms erodes other skills

In the short term, algorithms are often better decision makers than humans. But what if this comes at the long-term cost of eroding the skills necessary for human flourishing and growth? In a perhaps innocent example, we can see how the use of GPS has eroded our ability to use a paper map or travel without technological assistance. Are there more important skills that we lose and don’t know?

Beyond all of this is the simple question of what intent drives the design of the algorithm? In too many cases, these AI-based algorithms are designed to grab our attention and separate us from our money.

Small ways to resist the algorithm

A surprising side effect of algorithm resistance is that you start living a much more interesting life. You’re not the technophobe who hates progress or the techie who gets dizzy with every new development, you’re a maverick, blazing a new trail for the future and trying to keep the best of both worlds.

Are you ready to tap into your inner maverick? Here are a few ways to get started today:

Look outside the algorithms to learn new things.

  • Read entire books and long magazine articles
  • Resist the urge to google everything
  • Explore a bookstore or library for inspiration
  • Have conversations with people who don’t look like you
  • Try to learn a new skill without reading about it

Look outside the algorithms for your entertainment.

  • Attend live events (concerts, sporting events, festivals, theatre)
  • Go to the movies without watching ahead to see what’s on
  • Listen to a full album of music in one sitting
  • Subscribe directly to your favorite content producers
  • Watch more feature films and fewer music videos on social media

Look outside the algorithms for relationships and adventure.

  • Host dinner parties (be social without social media)
  • Get off your computer and enter the physical world
  • Find restaurants by exploring instead of reading reviews
  • Drive without GPS unless you absolutely need it
  • Travel somewhere you’ve never been before
  • Bonus points for traveling without an itinerary

Resisting the algorithm can be a fun and interesting way to live your life. It can also lead to new and exciting experiences that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. So go ahead and start exploring the world your way!

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Blog by Mike (and his wife, Mollie) at This evergreen house where they share their experience of living simply, intentionally and relationally in this modern world. You can follow by subscribing to their bi-weekly newsletter.

Sharon D. Cole