What will the algorithms think?

A big portion of my job when I worked as a start-up reporter was researching companies in-depth. This extensive research meant that Google one day thought I was a sales professional, one day someone really really interested in ERP systems, a renewable energy expert the next, and made me recall the character Violet from M.T. Anderson’s cyberpunk dystopian novel called Feed.

Feed is set in a future America where corporations rule the roost, kids only go to School™ to learn how to get better bargains online, everyone is outfitted with a micro-chip, and the internet, featuring real-time ads based on their thoughts, is beamed directly into their heads. Violet’s subversion in this world comes in the form of talking in the air unlike others her age who use chat, and going to a mall and asking for all sorts of things she has no intention of buying so that an accurate profile of hers can’t be formed.

The other day, as I unconsciously opened the incognito tab when I wanted to search for something, it struck me that, in an age where we’re increasingly aware of the data that we’re putting out there and how big tech firms are using (or misusing) this, we’re all becoming a little bit like Violet.

Without really being aware of it, I found that the question of “What will the algorithms make of this?” is always present in my mind.

It should be interesting to see how the dynamics of the largely ad-based tech world would change if we all start self-censoring ourselves and interact with the net differently. I guess the rise of voice-assistants and the chase by tech firms for a new dimension to control are partly an answer to this change.

By the way, with the help of this tool, I figured out what Facebook thinks I am interested in. Facebook thinks I am a crazy cat lady.

Somewhere I Belonged

It was a week or so before Teacher’s Day at St. Ann’s High School, the catholic convent school for girls I attended. The students had to pitch their ideas for the programme to the principal, Sister Tresa, and so I found myself awkwardly standing before the usually stern Sister, who was seated on a metal chair in her perfectly pleated beige sari, her hair tied in a severe bun. I rubbed one damp-chalk whitened Bata canvas shoe against the other. I don’t remember what we, my friend Aparna and I, told her about my idea. But I remember what the idea was. To perform In the End by Linkin Park for the teachers. Both the Chester and Mike bits. By myself.

Looking back, what was most surprising wasn’t that I thought this would be a good idea (a year earlier I made my friend perform stand-up bits of what we’d later learn was stoner comedy in front of the whole school), but that Sister Tresa listened to the entire song and nodded her head in approval. It was listed as a “special performance” on the programme itinerary, but there was no special performance that day. I chickened out at the last minute thinking of rapping in front of my Telugu teacher Mrs. Mangatayee.

That was how dedicated I was to Linkin Park. It was the first band I was a “fan” of. Their albums were the first ones I’d bought with money I’d saved up and listened to obsessively. Mum berated for listening to “yelly” music, but in my pre-teen angst, listening to A Place for My Head at near-full volume on the portable stereo was catharsis.

I had stopped listening to them by the time I went to junior college. Perhaps it was because my taste in music changed, perhaps it was because I’d been saturated with the two albums. But they’d slipped out of my mind, and even though years later I heard that they’d got a few new songs and albums out I didn’t make the effort to listen to them.

Today, I woke up to the message that Chester Bennington, the lead vocalist, had died. I was aghast, but it didn’t really register. But now, at 10:04 p.m. as I press play on the first title of Hybrid Theory, I know instinctively the words that will come next, the hooks that will come next, how the songs segue into each other, the lurid neon greens in the video of Papercut, and the icy blues in Crawling. I remember I liked the B side of Meteora more, and the frayed edges of the lyrics sheets that came with the cassettes.

I just wish I were remembering all this under different circumstances. Thanks Linkin Park for making 12 year-old-me somewhere she could belong.