What do the following topics have in common: Donald Trump, Kate Middleton, Milo Yiannopoulos, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Harvard, James Patterson, and cruelty-free down alternatives?
Well, they are all the topics of news stories that appeared in my Google app on Tuesday morning, following a Google update that brings a new “Discover” news feed to Google’s app, under the Google doodle, search box, and weather. HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS MORNING? HERE’S MILO YIANNOPOULOS’S EYEBROWS-RAISED FACE! SURE, HE MAY HAVE BEEN BANISHED FROM TWITTER AND FACEBOOK, BUT HE CAN STILL APPEAR DIRECTLY UNDER YOUR SEARCH FOR “SMITTEN KITCHEN MEATBALLS”!
As Dieter Bohn pointed out in The Verge, the introduction of a bunch of random news stories to a place where you didn’t used to see them is — annoying at best, these days. It feels less “interesting stories you might have missed” than “garbage ‘news’ you definitely weren’t interested in reading about.” (Okay, with the exception of the Shirley Jackson.) Bohn:
Being Very Online lately has been exhausting. Trying to curate the information you’re taking in is hard and getting harder, and now, we will all have another feed of information to curate.
Here’s one very minor example: I’m trying to pay less attention to American football. My reasons are personal (concussions and NFL owners attempting to suppress free speech), but it’s taking a while for Google to get the message. It knows I was a huge Vikings fan, so it’s showing me scores and recaps. I can click the various buttons to tell Google I’m not interested, but I have to admit I still look sometimes. Now I worry that every tap, every scroll, every time I linger on a news story as I flip through my phone is sending the wrong signal to Google. It literally makes turning on my phone something I feel guilty about.
That’s just football, and it’s also the personal experience of a person who thinks a lot about these news feeds and is more informed than the average person about how and why they work. I have no idea what most people will think and experience and feel when they encounter yet another news feed. Probably nothing quite so fraught, but then again, who knows?
This feels very right to me. Bohn also has valid concerns about whether fake news will appear here and how misinformation will be spread and so on, but the point that resonates with me most is just the exhaustion. It’s kind of satisfying — for a moment — to go through the feed, tapping “Not interested”: “Not interested in stories from hellomagazine.com.” “Not interested in Milo Yiannopoulos.” (When I tapped that, it was instantly replaced by — a Brett Kavanaugh story! Not interested in Brett Kavanaugh! Is this what I get for Googling “shitty media men” so frequently a year ago?)
And, more mundanely, Not Interested in a year-old story called “Six Book Blogs You Need to Read” by some site called “ServiceScape.” Not Interested in “How to make sorbet,” it just got pretty cold here, which Google presumably knows? Not Interested in literally any sports news, especially the above. And I thought I’d clicked “Not interested in Donald Trump,” but the same birthright citizenship story just popped up again.
It feels gross and unnecessary. Also mildly insulting. And oddly dated — like, don’t make me customize a feed to select the “topics” I want to see more of. Just know what what I want from you — which, in this case, is a clean white space.
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