Friday, February 03, 2006

You Might Also Like…

Amidst the current debate about the legitimacy of wiretapping, a more insidious invasion of privacy continues unabated. I’m talking about the tracking of online purchases and the assumption that A leads to B.

I ordered James Blunt’s “Back to Bedlam.” You all know what came next. The list of other artists Amazon thinks I might enjoy. Damien Rice, David Gray, Coldplay. Holy target marketing, Batman. I own a total of seven CDs by those three.

Put a book by Jonathan Safran Foer into your cart. I can almost guarantee recommendations will pop up for Nicole Krauss, Ian McEwan and maybe Michael Chabon or Zadie Smith. Bingo. All of these writers can be found on my bookshelves.

Are we really so predictable? Can we be pigeonholed so easily?

I log onto Amazon’s site and click on their suggestions for me. Three of them I already own, another six I have given serious consideration. I find this disturbing. The “personalized” list makes me feel less like an individual and more like a category. As if I could be interchanged with any number of people who have a fondness for folkie male singer/songwriters and literary fiction. I suppose I am expected to feel like part of community; instead, I am depressed that I’m so easily defined.

Or am I?

My husband can tell I’m a David Gray fan because he’s heard me play “Babylon” to death. But he’s also aware I thought Gray’s last CD was kind of weak and I’m not going to invest in his latest. Conversations with my friend Aleks frequently center on books, which is why she would never steer me toward something in the non-fiction genre. There’s something to be said for personal interaction and an intimacy that’s been earned.

I open my email. has a deal for me. I click on the message, hoping for a 30% off coupon. It’s not. Instead, they’d like me to know I can pre-order a children’s book.

“We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased ‘Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook’ by Shel Silverstein also purchased books by Kate Dicamillo….”

Yes, I bought “Runny Babbit.” As a Christmas gift for my nephew. I’ve never heard of Kate Dicamillo, thought I’m sure she’s a perfectly fine author.

And suddenly I feel vindicated. I am capable of throwing the occasional curveball. The computer knows my buying history. But it doesn’t know me.


Luminous sighting
Chicago Tribune, Feb. 3, review of the movie “Something New”: Kenya (the luminous Sanaa Lathan, who emerged as a star in 2000’s “Love and Basketball”) is a hugely successful accountant….


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