On unsolicited content recommendations

2020-11-06 @Blog

Unless you were to ask, I’ll unlikely offer an unsolicited recommendation of content. I’ll not suggest books, melodies, cinema to corrupt your imaginative faculty, recipes to spoil your capricious appetite, stanzas of ambitious unrhymed verse, Neo-Victorian embroideries or the infinite varieties of enlightening or duller content to subject to your exhaustive data-processing apparatus.

(The above naturally pertains to the web, video links, blogs, subscriptions, podcasts and whatnot.)

I’ll write about such matters. I’ll speak of personal experiences and ways in which they impact me. I might even make general-purpose recommendations here on the site addressed to no one in particular, although usually carefully framed for a particular type of audience.

But in private exchange between you and I, I’ll avoid the wicked combination ‘I recommend you watch/read/listen/experience …’, unless you explicitly request. If I ever do otherwise, do consider me the hypocrite of the hour.

Likewise, I wholeheartedly wish you’d pay me the same due diligence concerning things to consume.

This caprice of mine is entirely personal, and probably blotched in severe conceit; but not unfounded.

It goes to say, I find most such recommendations mindless and unthoughtful. I say most, as I can conceive of a proper manner in framing them, described further below, which, alas, I rarely see respected.

I’ve alluded to the issue in my old, problematically titled write-up on ‘marginal’ value of books, but here I speak more generally.

Content takes time to peruse. It taps into the energy pool. It directs (or misdirects) thought engaged in other affairs. Much of it unwillingly primes your thinking in a trajectory you might not wish pursue.

You might also question what harm can ensue a poor recommendation that draws but a few minutes of precious attention? Easily addressable.

Be it a few minutes of active interaction, but the content taps into your neural network, generating new feedback, causing your mind to lounge, process, stroll down undesirable lanes of imagination, which channels energy and ultimately far greater time; provided you’re a human being.

Content perusal thus demands energy and time, one resource replenishable, the other not. Yet how often do I see both resources maltreated by both parties.

Another (replenishable) resource, often inapplicable to this question of content, is the financial. Arguably of lesser consequence to the two above in the grand scheme, yet would you not construe unsolicited financial advice, be it investment or expenditure related, similarly unfounded?

Rather, without being acquainted with your financial intelligence, history, habits, goals, risk heuristic, I would feel fairly rotten to offer you any such direction.

Or take interior design. I wouldn’t bestow you with interior decoration advice, save for having a thorough understanding of the nature of your residence, your taste, your possessions.

The above comparison might appear a bit incongruent. However, the way I see it, our mental space is a gallery of sorts, catered to very particular style. The management of that gallery demands energy, time (and possibly financing). It would be ill-conceived of me to offer you direction in that enterprise, were I not moderately familiarized with the nature of that glorious dominion of yours.

If you absolutely sport an urge to recommend, either cater to the parameters of your subject, of which you should bear notable familiarity across a number of dimensions; otherwise, do so conditionally.

In the first case, strive to identify:

  1. What additional (marginal) benefit you expect the content to render upon the person (ie myself), beyond what I’ve already assimilated and experienced.
  2. How it respects the person’s parameters, taste, election heuristic.
  3. How it respects the degree of challenge the person yearns to undertake.
  4. Lastly - because of limited resources, every serving of content consumed is another serving not consumed (a book read equates to a book not read, a film watched is a film not watched) - as such, what makes your recommendation a strong candidate to replace something else I’m presently engaged in, or have prioritized?

In the second, conditional scenario mentioned above, frame your recommendation respectfully. That is to say, explicitly acknowledge the time/attention/resources it might consume. State any assumptions.

Example. “Based on X, Y and Z that I know of you, I suspect you might find the following inspiring for such and such reason.”

Be specific. “You’ll likely enjoy the following work because it contains the properties Α, Β, Γ, but maybe it’s not worth your time if you’ve already heavily explored similar material, or something to the likes of Δ or Λ.” Such due diligence demonstrates care and respect.

With books, for instance, if you know the person to heavily prefer original, untranslated works of medieval authors exhibiting confounded poetic device, don’t suggest contemporary sources composed in sterilized language; or be explicit as to what makes this a worthwhile exception.

If you can’t respect the etiquette presented in one of the above cases, don’t recommend.

A genuinely good content recommendation can surpass the best birthday gift - can inspire and spawn infinite imaginative avenues for the lifetime remainder.

A mindless one, on the other hand, wastes precious resources and fosters resentment. But it’s easily avoidable.

Just be very explicit with what you believe it might entail for the person. The time required to articulate such a proposal isn’t much in consideration for the resources expended by the consuming party.

Questions, comments? Connect.