According to Nietzsche, “all of life is a dispute over taste,” and for Tom Vanderbilt the relativity of taste is a reflection of how transient our cultural climate is, and by extension, we are.
“We are in flux, the very je ne sais quoi of existence,” he says in an interview published on The New Yorker, promoting his new book ‘You May Also Like.’
With Facebook introducing the expanded like button reactions in February, where someone can do more than just ‘like’ a post, it seems we’re being prompted to engage authentically in a digitised world governed by trigger-happy, instantaneous responses.
“Most of a day’s idle conversation is a sequence of thumbs-up, thumbs-down assertions expressed with varying degrees of sincerity and conviction. We don’t put a lot of thought into these judgments.
They’re virtually automatic. Everything we experience gets an emoji.”
So what prompts us to make the choices we make and form the tastes we have?
The research shows that in a culture saturated with endless choices online, the ones we make can be chalked up at most to social consensus and familiarity.
“We seem to have a preference that we prefer our preference,” says Vanderbilt.
“There is a greater chance we will like something when we expect we are going to like it.” This is what he calls “a virtual law of liking.”
We are also highly suggestible and the Internet knows this.
In researching for his new book, Vanderbilt spoke to a team of experts whose job it is to come up with algorithms tailored to each individual consumer. Your clicks create a digital fingerprint the Internet stores and reproduces every time you’re online.
“The Internet is the Truman Show.
“We’re not seeing reality, or even a simulacrum thereof. We’re seeing what the algorithms want us to see. We can browse elsewhere, we can turn the digital page, but, the moment we arrive, construction of a new personalized stage set gets under way.”
Taste is highly malleable and Vanderbilt has an ambivalent stance on how fickle we can be in the preferences we make.
However in the midst of a cultural climate dominated by a pliable online sphere something that remains consistent is our attraction to familiarity.
“We like what we’ve liked.”