If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that our lives are increasingly being dictated by algorithms.
Have we come to trust them? Perhaps not. But we’ve come to accept that this is how it is and we don’t have the strength to resist.
How, then, does it affect our ability to love?
This deep question struggles its way around my mind as I consider the onrush of Valentine’s Day. The day when humans are thrust into one of three temporary categories: love, lust, or loneliness.
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I thought, then, that I’d try to help those who are sure they want to express their love with a gadget, but don’t know which gadget really, truly says love. How can I help? I can ask Amazon’s infallible algorithm.
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I was spurred to this after a PR representative had insisted that Shokz headphones were the perfect Valentine’s gift.
That couldn’t be right, could it? Headphones? Headphones whose bone conductivity suggests it’s hard to get things into your lover’s skull?
Surely, Amazon would have some better answers.
I searched “Valentine gadget” on the world’s premier shopping site and goodness did the machine have answers. Answers that disturbed me beyond reason.
The very first was a multi-tool pen set. Or, in Amazon jargon: “ZOOI Valentines Day Gifts for Him, 9 in 1 Multitool Pen, Men Valentines Day Gifts, Tools Cool Gadgets for Men, Birthday Gifts for Men Who Have Everything, Women, Husband, Grandpa, Engineer, Handyman.”
Note the detailed lexicon. For men who have everything and, um, women. There are no women who have everything? There are no handywomen?
Also: This has replaced my multitool for a fraction of the cost
Oh, please go away.
Amazon’s next suggestion was no less sexist: “RAK Magnetic Wristband for Holding Screws — Christmas Gifts for Men Who have Everything — Wrist Magnet Tool or Screw Holder for Handyman, Tech Geek, Mechanic, Electrician, Robotic.”
There’s that “men who have everything” again. Did ChatGPT write that? And wait, did that say Christmas gifts? Is Amazon’s algorithm having problems? I do believe it might be.
“Darling, I love you so much I bought you a screw holder.” Romance at its finest.
Please don’t worry. The sexism rolled right on. Even though I’d not specified whether the Valentine’s gadget was for a man or a woman, the algorithm was sure it knew.
The next Amazon idea? Oh, hark at this: “PARIGO LED Flashlight Gloves Gifts for Men — Valentines Day Gifts for Him Birthday Gifts for Dad Husband Him, Car Guy Unique Tool Cool Gadgets for Men Camping Accessories Fishing Gifts for Men.” (Yes, I copy-pasted that whole thing.)
Seriously. Your man needs a glove that says love. A glove that has flashlights on it, so that he can see where he’s going. The algorithm clearly doesn’t believe love is blind, then.
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As I meandered depressively down the page, I finally came to a suggestion that seemed, possibly, to be aimed as a gadget gift for women.
It was, hold your breath now, the “Eartim 5Pcs Valentine’s Wooden Spoons Utensils Set, Non-Stick Cooking Utensils Carve Burned Bamboo Spoons Slotted Spatula Kitchen Cookware Gadget Funny Valentine’s Day Christmas New Year Present.”
So women get the wooden spoons, eh? To give you a flavor, these spoons are embarrassingly kitsch things, with phrases such as “Cutie Pie” and “Cuter than Cupid” emblazoned on the handles.
They’re so versatile that they can be personalized for “Valentine,” “Autumn,” “Grandma,” “Halloween,” and “Mother.”
What do those five have in common? Please tell me.
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I really wonder about what we’re being presented by algorithms and how it’s being presented. I really wonder, too, about the deterioration of Amazon. A site that was once lovable for its efficiency has now been taken over by a curiously crass commercialized cynicism.
It’s not pretty. And it’s most certainly not lovable.