Admit it or not, our lives are increasingly run by algorithms.
Little mathematical computer programs choose what we see, how we see it, and when we see it. I took a short course in Anthropology in college, lot’s of assumptions, ample amounts of political correctness.
What stayed with me however, was this concept of ethnocentrism. Put simply, it states that you and I, are in no place to judge those from different backgrounds. We were raised with different biases, effectively making us incapable of judging others.
If you think this only applies to aborigine cultures though you are strongly mistaken. See in this day of “Father Google” and “Mother Apple”, we are subject to the very same filters, albeit more digital.
See, what we often fail to realize is that the internet you see, is different from the one that I see. Take any tech company, hardly matters which. Amazon, Google, Netflix, they all assign us an algorithm. I call this “Ethercentrism”.
From the first click, search, watch, these companies categorize us. They feed us what they think we’ll like. After all, views drive revenue. And so it goes.
I ask though, what if the algorithms are wrong? After all, what is created by humans is almost by definition subject to errors. No equation can account for the man who prefers both Kung Fu and Chick Flicks.
These machines can only mimic, they see patterns, and make assumptions.
So what does this have to do with nutrition? Our biases drive our diets.
Let’s say you happen to like the sound of the paleo diet. Lots of meat, bacon, high fat, no “new-age” foods like quinoa. Once you start searching for terms like “low-grain diet”, “bacon diet”, “high fat diet”, Google is silently pushing you into the paleo camp.
Next time you search for “Diet”, I can all but guess what will come up within the top 5.
Take a click to Netflix and you’ll see plenty of Vegan-friendly documentary dramas. Watch one, get curious, watch another, and soon your feed will be filled with pro-vegetarian suggestions.
Hopefully you are starting to see the error of this.
It’s 21st century censorship, but not for the sake of censorship. It’s censorship for the sake of ratings, advertising, clicks. That’s a “Brave New World” issue right there. Censorship for the sake of happiness.
I think we as a nation, as a planet, need to be more demanding of truth in reporting, advertising, you name it. Otherwise we get trapped in circles of recursive logic.
There’s a concept in biology known as the “Ant Mill“,
when a colony of ants gets lost they default on following the one in front of them. All it takes is one to circle back and sooner or later the whole colony is traveling in a circle, doomed for failure.
All I can hope is that these ethercentric algorithms don’t do the same to how we see the world, or nutrition.
– Joshua Iufer, RD