Here Is How Algorithms Are Taking More Than Just Your Data

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If you are like me and are regularly logged in to your Google account, you may have 100+ descriptions about your interests and desires. Some of my top hits are included in the picture below. I don’t have a particular interest in how Google generates this data. However, I do care about how these algorithms may be affecting our mental, financial, and physical wellness. In this article, I will discuss a few scenarios where I have suffered due to these algorithms. It is my hope that anyone reading this who finds themselves relating, can find some solace with my tips, tricks, and assertations.

Who does Google think you are? A “Data and Personalisation” section can be found on your Google account homepage. From there, you can enter your own “ad personalisation section”. This is where your virtual personality will be presented to you.

 

Who You Are Versus Who You Want To Be

At first, I was flattered to be described as a “restaurant-loving scientist who just so happens to wear the most in-chic bohemian apparel”. However, I soon realised that these are all the things I aspire to be. The issue here is that a lot of my aspirations cause significant stress in my life. Mainly due to financial restrictions, or not having completed my degree yet. So when these buzzwords are incorporated into a virtual algorithm used by companies to market towards me, I get frustrated. My broke student ass can’t afford every piece of boho clothing presented to me. Then I feel bad about myself either because I don’t have the money to get them, or I am reminded I need to work harder towards my career goals.

If this is a scenario you’re familiar with, or even if you’ve ever felt bad about not being able to purchase something you want online, just know that these material things do not reflect who you are. Evolution is a strange thing. We’ve evolved to want to look attractive to others for survival, whether that be through social acceptance or by finding a mate. The probable reality is your mates don’t care about what you’re wearing or what you can afford. And any worthwhile bae wouldn’t either.

They Want Yo Money, Honey

We have not only evolved to seek social acceptance, we’ve evolved to crave tasty AF foods which fast-food chains are more than willing to supply. Maybe it’s a Sunday, the hangover is real, and you just need that pizza. I understand this, all too well. However, maybe you should think twice if its an average day and Dominoes have just presented you with an unreal discount code on your Facebook page. When I went vegan last year, I was shocked to see all the take-aways suddenly advertising “plant-based” items on my Facebook. Google has recorded that I’m a vegan, so I wouldn’t be surprised if my social media accounts know that too.

Impulse buying isn’t restricted to tasty foods, there are many products online that can instantly catch our eyes, and our Euros. I do have a few tactics that might help with impulse buying. If your card details are automatically saved on your phone or laptop, consider removing them. Do you have Amazon prime or any subscription with free delivery? Consider ending your subscriptions. It’s all about putting back up barriers that give you some time to reflect. Companies strive to remove any obstacle on their website that could give you time to contemplate your purchase.

If the prior seems too intense, try giving yourself a “cool-down period” of one hour before you decide to purchase something. Even if there’s only “3 items left”, more than likely they will still be there when you come back. This time allows you to reflect on if you want what’s in your cart. You may just be surprised at how often you change your mind.

Dopamine Hits and Your Attention Span 

As your algorithm gets to know you more, you begin to see more and more content that you’re interested in. You may be presented with so much interesting content that you even fast forward videos to get to the goods bits, then you can move to the next video and so on. If this cycle occurs very often, it may wreck havoc on attention span. This is partly to do the minor dopamine hit you get every time you look at something new and exciting. Insufficient attention in lectures can make it so much more time-consuming to get good grades. It may even take longer to write assignments. Did you know that Instagram sometimes holds back likes, so they can deliver them all within a few minutes, this gives you a stronger dopamine hit and encourages habitual use of the platform. They want you to use the platform more so that they can generate a more accurate profile about you. This is in hopes that ads targeting you will be more effective.

There are ways to take back control, the following actions have helped me to improve my mood, get assignments done more quickly, and to spend more time doing things that I love.

I mute my group chats for a few hours when I need to get some work done. I’ve turned off my phone notifications completely for anything that isn’t a direct conversation. I am now aware of how much time I spend scrolling and I try to only allow 30 minutes scrolling time per day. There’s also this adorable app I use called ‘Forest’. This app plants a virtual tree in my own digital forest for every 25 minutes I don’t check my phone. When you earn enough credits by growing virtual trees, they will plant a real tree for you!

Alas, I hope the information from this article will inspire you to take back control over your algorithm. I have a love-hate relationship with the internet, although I would certainly be lost without it. I want to use the internet to serve me and not vice-versa, and I wish this for my fellow students too.

References:

Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time

 

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