Other customers bought them — you should too!
I’ve already written two columns whining about how grocery stores give us too many soup options, so I won’t bore you with a third, other than to say I still don’t see the need for “No MSG” soup. I figure if MSG killed people, personal injury lawyers would have sniffed it out long ago. You see late night TV ads soliciting sufferers of mesothelioma. I don’t see them for people exposed to cans of Campbell’s “Finding Dory” themed chicken noodle.
My point is that I wish we could go back to when we had just three choices of soup, (chicken noodle, tomato, alphabet), or maybe four if you count “vegetable beef,” which I don’t because it’s the same as alphabet soup, only without the element of Scrabble.
My theory was that we as a society were exhausted from having so many choices. That was my position.
Enter Amazon and Netflix, which said, “Fine. We’ll choose everything for you.” And they did, coming with a rating system based on your previous purchases, browsing history and, in some cases, dental records. They’ve narrowed down your options to just a few they believe you will appreciate and proceed to serve them to you on a silver platter.
And that’s even worse.
It turns out I like having choices. That makes me a hypocrite, but complaining about both sides of an issue is one of the few perks of writing a newspaper column, along with having attractive female groupies and receiving 20 percent off goat feed at the Fruita Co-op.
Netflix has this computerized algorithm which highlights the movies they think will be a good match for you.
For example, I like watching military documentaries and mob movies, so Netflix, using their sophisticated program, naturally decided (true story) there was a 96 percent chance I would like Disney’s “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure.”
Turns out their sophisticated system doesn’t work when you have more than one user. My wife loves romantic comedies, whereas my son watches superhero cartoons. My WWII documentaries come several hours after my daughter’s Disney princess movies. There have been nights when we’ve made the Netflix algorithm have a mental breakdown and cry.
It’s like that with Amazon. I don’t have an account, but my wife does. I found her password and logged onto it, just to make sure we have enough money after shoe purchases to pay for food.
I searched for a Kenny Chesney song. Below the order page was the “Customers who bought this item also bought ...” section, where they showed a Trisha Yearwood song, and songs by nine other country artists.
I’m sure not everyone who bought a Kenny Chesney song bought a Trisha Yearwood song. Some didn’t buy anything else. Some probably bought spark plugs. Some bought Preparation H. But it would look weird if you downloaded a Kenny Chesney song and Amazon recommended you purchase spark plugs and hemorrhoid cream.
I want to tell Amazon: “I don’t care what other customers bought!” Does anyone?
Imagine you’re at Walmart buying, say, an eggplant, when the cashier ringing up your order blurts out: “Other customers bought a cucumber!”
You’d think it’s strange, but you’d smile in a fake way and reply, “Oh, that’s nice,” and ignore it.
And say she followed up with, “Other customers who purchased eggplant also bought zucchini!”
You’d tell her, “So what?” and that you don’t like zucchini and to mind her own business.
And if she persisted and said, “We recommend you buy an onion. We’ve determined it’s an 87 percent match to eggplant!” you’d want to hit her with the eggplant, which — while justified — would still get you in trouble as there are laws on the books prohibiting you from assaulting a Walmart cashier with an eggplant (I’ve looked).
All of this is to say I want to choose on my own and not be force-fed choices selected for me by some impersonal corporate algorithm that has no clue as to what I like. I’m going to email Amazon and Netflix and tell them as much soon.
But not now. There are still ten minutes left in “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure.” It’s really good.