Algorithms, or algos, now rule our digital lives. They affect what we see in our uncurated social media feeds and what content suggestions are made. It’s why I’m pleading for an incognito mode on everything now.
Let’s take Netflix, for example. I tend to be a bit hopeless and watch the same types of shows over and over again. Gritty crime or historical dramas, insightful docuseries — I enjoy watching them all and the algorithm knows it. Instead of presenting me with something light and trashy, like reality TV, it knows to show me something mysterious and moody.
I like it that way. It doesn’t waste my time and it’s usually pretty accurate in figuring out what I want to watch next.
Every now and then, however, I like to watch something completely left of field. A dumb action movie. A trashy comedy. Something so ridiculous and out of my usual viewing habits, it would throw my carefully curated algorithm into disarray.
The problem is Netflix doesn’t have a private viewing option so the choices I make are later reflected in my suggestions. Something friends love to raise eyebrows at when you’re having a night in.
Luckily, there are some simple ways to avoid ‘ruining’ your algo. You can make a guest account, which is where I watch things like Nailed It so that my main account isn’t suddenly filled with baking shows.
You can also remove browsing history by heading to Settings and looking for your watch history. I’m not entirely sure if this removes it from the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithm too, but it’s a question we’ve put to Netflix Australia.
You know what would be easier, though? An incognito mode. That way I could tell the algo to take a hike for two seconds so I can indulge into something completely off-kilter.
It’s not an entirely brave new concept. Spotify has had a private session feature for years. Even YouTube has introduced the feature on mobile apps so you can switch it on and go down the YouTube rabbit hole. Sadly, it’s not yet available on my PlayStation 4 app so when I watch things like GQ’s Couples Quiz with Saweetie and Quavo, the algorithm apparently believes it’s all I’ll ever want to watch now.
Of course, no one should let the invisible, omnipresent algo dictate what you watch but damn, it would be nice to have the choice to let it forget me for a second.