“I think it’s an even stronger statement than that,” Seyal said. “If we fix the problem you describe, the user won’t necessarily come back for more, but we might have fixed what is a terrible internet experience. And that in itself is sufficient.
However, Pinterest hadn’t really solved it. The new setting feature I saw in their offices looked like nothing more than extended menu options, a Facebook review of settings. At the start of 2021, Pinterest still suggested “24 excellent and elegant silk wedding dresses” to me.
That day, leaving Pinterest and returning to my desk, I realized it was stupid of me to think the internet would ever shut down just because I had. The internet is smart, but it’s not always smart. It’s personalized, but not personal. It draws you in with a timeline, then fucks with your concept of time. He doesn’t know or care if you’ve miscarried, married, moved, or bought the sneakers. He takes these sneakers and runs with the signals you gave him, and good luck catching him.
All along there was the option of going nuclear. The great suppression. I could delete all of my old photos in Apple and Google apps, wipe accounts, delete widgets, delete cookies, and clear my browser cache over and over again. I could use Instagram’s archive tool, tell all the apps I didn’t want to see their crappy ads until they had the trick, and quietly defuse myself and stop following. I could turn off On This Day notifications on Facebook and uncheck my ex’s face.
I managed to do half the job. But that’s exactly it: it’s work. It’s designed that way. It takes an ungrateful amount of mental and emotional energy, just like some relationships. And even if you find the time or energy to navigate settings, submenus, and customer support forms, you still won’t have ultimate control over the experience. In Apple Photos, you can go to Memories, browse the collage the app has put together for you, delete a collage, uncheck a person or group of people, or tell the app that you want to see fewer Memories like this one. this. The one thing you can’t do? Turn off the Memories feature completely. Google’s options are slightly more granular: you can indicate that there is a time period when you don’t want to see photos, in addition to hiding specific people. Which works, I guess, if the period you’re looking at isn’t eight years.
Technologists tell me that this whole experience should improve over time. This is the nature of machine learning. Apple, Google, Facebook, and Pinterest all use artificial intelligence to determine which photos should appear in your memories or which Pins should appear in your feed.
There are algorithms that identify when people in a photo are smiling or when a member of the group is blinking. Facebook has developed a framework called the Memory Themes Taxonomy that informs the algorithms that surface on memories of that day. Facebook memories that contain phrases like “miss your face” are more likely to be shared, but food-related memories, like an old photo of tacos, are pretty bland in retrospect. Facebook, Google and Apple have also trained their systems to spot photos of accidents and ambulances and not to recall them.
“The machine will never have 100% accuracy,” Yael Marzan of the Google Photos team told me. “So for sensitive topics, we try to do a part of that. We know hospital photos are sensitive, so when our machines detect it, we’ll try not to show them to you. I couldn’t help but think of Marzan’s remark in the context of this pandemic year and the trauma someone might feel if, in a year from now, a picture of the hospital floated on the screen. of his phone.
But also, what if the hospital photo was of a birth, of uncomplicated relief? Wouldn’t those photos appear either? Shouldn’t there be some way to identify when a blue hospital gown is actually a happy time and a white wedding gown is not? Or are the two indistinguishable or impossible to predict, in technology and in life?