Sign of the Times

Sunday September 10, 2017 Written by Garry

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The Signs of the Times project, devised by New Zealand creatives Scott Kelly and Ben Polkinghorne, lampoons the algorithms that cunningly tailor content to us based on our browsing history and previous purchases. The duo plonked signs in front of popular landmarks, featuring the increasingly ubiquitous phrase: ‘People who liked this also liked...’ 

The public art was inspired by a 2016 journal article, Filter bubbles, echo chambers and online news consumption that explores the debate around whether the algorithms powering social networks and online publishing are expanding our world, or contracting it. There’s the argument that algorithms can create “echo chambers” in which we bounce around happy as lambs, only being exposed to opinions like ours (with said opinions being normalised/amplified because the space is small and the voices presumably reverberate). If you like mountain x, the algorithm would steer you towards a visit to mountain y. On the other hand, there’s the argument that virtual worlds can do the opposite, opening up a world of diversity and nudging our heads to see beyond our peripheral vision. If you like mountain x, you might also like, say, a Dubai shopping mall. 

Kelly and Polkinghorne don’t weigh in with an answer. They just want their giant signs to get us thinking about it. On their site, they write, ‘Perhaps you’re worried that as your life moves online… your decisions are essentially being made for you. Perhaps you’re worried you live in a bubble. Perhaps you’ve never thought about it. Hopefully, you are now.’

See more of their work here

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P.S. The irony is not lost on us here. Below, you will be directed towards three other posts that you might, indeed, quite like. It's the algorithm. Hopefully it suggests stories that are similar enough to pique your interest, but different enough that you don't feel like you're being funnelled into an echo chamber.