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On opening up my computer the other day, I was greeted with a striking photograph of a landscape on the login screen, perhaps taken somewhere in Asia, I thought.  In the top right corner of the screen was the caption ‘Like what you see?’  Clicking on this gave me two options; ‘I Like it!’ and ‘Not a fan’.  Depending on which I clicked, my computer promised to ‘Keep showing you pictures like this’ or ‘Switch to a new picture’.  I liked it, so I chose the first option, and since then I have been treated to several other equally striking images of landscapes from other areas of the world.

This is great, you might think, in that the computer is ‘learning’ my preferences and so can continue to serve up content that I will like.  Where’s the problem in that?  While my taste in photos and preference for vistas may not be too big a deal, after reflecting on the new feature I became a little uneasy.  Recently there have been reports in the tech press about how companies that know a lot about us (e.g. Facebook, amongst others), are using algorithms and other automated ways of deciding what is shown on our ‘news feeds’.  Basically, computer programmes are ‘guessing’ (with increasing accuracy) which stories and social media posts will be in line with our interests and preferences, and are displaying those more prominently on our apps and computer screens.  Things that we do want to see, and views that we are more aligned with our own, are given priority over things that don’t ‘do it’ for us.  I can’t help but wonder if this is the digital equivalent of ‘not eating our greens’.

Many of us will have had the experience growing up of choosing the favourite item of food on our plate to eat first, and pushing what we didn’t like so much to the side.  We may have had our parents, grandparents or others that cared for us nagging towards the end of dinner to ‘finish your meal’ and to swallow down those items which although not to our liking were necessary in order for us to have a balanced diet.  We couldn’t, for example, skip the mashed potato and peas just because all we really wanted were the sausages!  Is this, however, just what the social media companies are encouraging us to do?  Don’t like the mash?  No problem!  Not keen on the peas?  Just leave them!

In the past I have worked with clients on using food as a therapeutic tool for facilitating change.  Purposefully introducing into our diets something that we don’t particularly like can habituate us to swallowing other unpalatable things in our lives.  To eat what is served up – the nice and the not so nice – can mirror how dealing with life itself can be bitter-sweet a lot of the time.  We may enjoy this part of our job, or this facet of our relationship with so-and-so, but in reality we have to accept the whole package, not just cherry pick the best bits.  Learning to put up with what wouldn’t naturally be our preferred state of affairs can be a valuable lesson which will see us through testing times.  Just because something will benefit us ultimately, doesn’t mean that it has to be pleasant.

So, if you like what you see, does that mean that you should only look at things like that?  I would argue that in order to build resilience and a robust way of approaching things in general, exposing ourselves to the rich variety of what is on offer is essential.  The more I think about it, the more I am tempted to swap that beautiful sunset currently displayed each time I boot up my PC to something a little bit different.  I wonder how easy it will be to persuade my computer to let me do that?  :-)

Rob Oglesby MBACP (Accred) B.A. (Hons) BSc | Ashwood Therapy

Ashwood Therapy provides a discreet, confidential and professional online counselling service by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email.  More details, including tips on wellbeing and information on current counselling session pricing, can be found at www.ashwoodtherapy.com

Like What You See?

Like What You See? | Ashwood Therapy Blog