There’s this illustration. I won’t say that ‘everyone’ has seen it, I won’t say that ‘you’ have seen it but a lot of people have; it’s moderately famous. (Probably because it was used as the cover art for an issue of The New Yorker some years back.) It illustrates a couple of points but I’m mainly thinking of one:
People tend to think of things that are farther away than some critical distance as just being ‘far away’; the details don’t necessarily matter all that much.
(Oh, all right — from a certain point of view, Manhattan is the center of the world. Or, to phrase it differently, people have different perspectives on what’s important.)
This ‘telescoping’ effect of people’s perception is temporal as well as spatial. What does that mean? It means that I’m kind of a pompous twit, but it also means that (for example) things from twenty years ago don’t necessarily ‘feel’ twice as ‘remote’ as things that happened ten years ago. Both are, first and foremost, ‘a long time ago’, just as, in the illustration, California and Japan are both ‘a long way away’. One is farther, but it doesn’t ‘feel’ all that different.
Where am I going with all this? Well, this morning, Facebook presented me with a music recommendation. Why? Well, once upon a time I had a momentary lapse of reason (not the album, although I might have that around here somewhere) and ‘told’ it about some of the music that I like. As a result, every so often it presents me with recommendations based on exhaustive analysis of my music collection combined with a thorough scrutiny of reputable music reviews. (Or maybe it just goes “you have music by this band or something vaguely like it so you might like this.”)
These recommendations just ‘show up.’ I’ve never asked for them and they scroll off my news feed fairly quickly so mostly I don’t give them much attention. There are exceptions, though. I’ll mention two of those here.
As I said, this morning Facebook presented me with a recommendation. On my newsfeed it said “Recently Released Albums”; under that was a picture and the name of an artist that I like. “Cool” I thought, “I didn’t know he had a new album.” Turns out he doesn’t, the ‘recent’ album in question is from 2008 — FIVE YEARS AGO. Now, I understand that one’s perception of past events can get distorted — I used the word ‘telescope’ up there — but 2008 isn’t ‘recent’ by any reasonable definition of the word. (If you’re talking about geological events, sure. Popular music, no.)
The other recommendation that I remember was given to me a few months ago. (I don’t remember how many months (telescoping, remember) but it was more than one, less than six. The exact number isn’t all that important in this context.) A recommendation for a ‘Recently Released album’ appeared and, again, I went “I didn’t know they had a new album.” Again, though, they didn’t: the picture showed an album from 2010 — three years previously. Recent? Umm, perhaps not.
Of course, there was a small complication. They got the cover art correct but the name of the album wrong. (And not ‘that’s obviously just a typo’ wrong — they got it completely wrong.) I thought for a moment that they just slapped the wrong picture on the right name. Nope — the artist in question has never released an album with the name Facebook claimed. Not in 2010, not ever. Perhaps when I used words like ‘exhaustive analysis’ I was being… optimistic. Charitable. (Ironic, even, but it might just be Alanis irony.)
It’s a good thing that Facebook is free (free. heh.) — you can’t buy that kind of quality.