Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#20: The analog, human web

I read Casey Netwon’s timely How platforms killed Pitchfork, which has a number of incisive and realistically cynical insights in it, all of which are relevant in the modern fractured and declining digital era. But one thing that’s kind of sticking with me is this passing observation:

On one level it’s impressive that Spotify can perfectly capture my musical taste in a series of data points, and regurgitate it to me in a series of weekly playlists. But as good as it has gotten, I can’t remember the last time it pointed me to something I never expected I would like, but ultimately fell totally in love with.

This isn’t the most original thought, but a lack of genuine and human-centered discovery does seem to be a significant void in today’s web. Ironically, as we construct algorithmically fortified communities designed to guide us towards our preferences, we become so much like automatons ourselves, steered only towards what we’ve already pre-established as our likes and dislikes. In its most extreme form, this leads to the creation of echo chambers. But it has other knock-on effects as well.

In response, efforts to reclaim a smaller and more personal web are actually attempts to redefine discovery through the lens of human insights and curation. It’s the same impulse that’s leading some to reclaim the word and spirit of the Luddites. But as both sides dig in their trenches, the web divides more.

Which is maybe ok. But it’s instigated a thought. Do we need two words to define these two very different ways.

I’ve been thinking over a term for all of this, one that’s somewhat like the way ‘analog’ is to ‘digital,’ that can help differentiate the web crafted by a human touch from the one build by (and sometimes, for) robots. The term ‘analog’ was initially used to depict how electrical signals are transmitted via devices like telephones and record players, in stark contrast to a digital signal, which is encoded and subsequently decoded. But it has slowly gathered into an entire culture.

What we need is a term—an ‘analog’ equivalent—that encapsulates the essence of the human web. The small web. The personalized web that’s an intentions reflection of our human imperfections laid bare for others to see and explore, and maybe, to discover. I’m going to do a bit of thinking on this one.

A recent episode of ‘Why is this Happening’ with Chris Hayes featured Robinson Meyer discussing climate change. Somewhere in the middle was this intriguing tidbit

the number one predictor of whether you have solar panels on your roof is whether your neighbor has them.

Network effects abound.

Thich Nhat Hanh on the meaning of true love:

Loving-kindness is not only the desire to make someone happy, to bring joy to a beloved person; it is the ability to bring joy and happiness to the person you love, because even if your intention is to love this person, your love might make him or her suffer.