The web has become obsessed with working out who we are, and serving us accordingly. Amazon wants to predict the books we should read. Facebook’s algorithms toil to introduce us to new friends. Adverts for things we have considered buying stalk us across the web.
In essence, the Internet wants to help. It wants to create a bespoke, recognisable experience when we are online. But in doing so is it shrinking, rather than broadening, our horizons?
A growing school of thought thinks so. A recent article in Intelligent Life magazine warned against the web’s assault on serendipity. “Google has become so good at meeting our desires that we spend less time discovering new ones,” moans the article’s author, Ian Leslie. As I read to the bottom of the piece online, an advert pops up. After 1,500 words on how the internet is killing serendipity by serving up an infinite stream of more of the same, I am asked: “Do you want to read more like this?”
This is the wise web at work: bored by being a facilitator, it wants to second-guess us at every turn. Log on, read more, email this to a friend, like, buy, click, click, click. But how good is its advice? There is only one way to find out. For one day, I will aim to do what the internet tells me, and wherever it points me, I will follow.
So, yes, I do want to read more like this. I click the link and am taken to a sign-up page for a $24, six-month subscription to Intelligent Life. I begin typing my name into the info boxes, but I am only at “Be …” when it completes my details for me. And so, for the next six months, a copy of Intelligent Life will be delivered to my ex-girlfriend in the flat we used to share. Bad start.
Read the rest of Benji Lanyado’s guided Internet adventure in The Guardian …