I don’t click on Amazon much. Their sales strategy bothers me. For example, why I should pay almost $200 a year for the benefit of “free” shipping. Do I detect an oxymoron here? No matter. I’m a bricks-and-mortar person. The last item I purchased was an electric tooth brush from my dentist, after his hygienist explained how it works. Don’t laugh. Nothing electronic is simple these day. What’s more, thanks to my lesson, I was spared having to squint through the small print in the owner’s manual.
Amazon is where I go to obtain information about books I’m considering for my program, Just Read It on YouTube. When I intend to buy print material for myself, I go to a bookstore. Amazon’s algorithms haven’t figured this out yet, so they persists with pop up suggestions whenever I’m on the site.
As Zeynep Tufenci explains in Wired, “The Power of Suggestion,” (May, 2019, pg. 24) Amazon uses at least three algorithms to entice customers to part with their money. One program attempts to make educated guesses based on a person’s previous acquisitions and browsing habits. A second makes recommendations drawn from books people “like you” have ordered. A third displays what’s “trending.”
Tufenci wonders, as do I, what Amazon means by people ”like you.” Are customers grouped by age? Income levels? Is the company interested in whether credit or debit card gets used? Does hair color have any meaning? You ask how Amazon would know my hair is grey? I haven’t a clue, but in the 21st Century, it’s wise to be a little paranoid.
Recently, I did research on Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Natural Causes. I wasn’t surprised, when Amazon recommended her other books. The wonder was she’d written so many. But the perky little algorithm didn’t stop with Ehrenreich’s titles. Once those were exhausted, it went on to offer a fresh array of topics, each taking me farther afield from the original one. I could buy books about health, medical breakthroughs, and so forth, until these themes, too, reached an airy thinness and landed me with a book on how to gamble in Los Vegas without making an enemy of the Mob. I suppose that advice would qualify as a health issue.
As to trending, the third algorithm, I paid it no heed. Understanding the “popular” mind has never been my strength. I’m still scratching my head to think the Khardishians have survived on television for 14 years. Carl Sagan and his Cosmos lasted two.