It’s a hoot the way Pinterest thinks it knows me


Remember that picture I posted the other day of the protester from 1963?

Well, I posted it on Pinterest, too, and today I got a message from that social media service headlined, “Pins you’ll love!”

One of them was the picture above, with the caption, “Fashionable men.”

Pinterest thinks it knows me. It’s decided that what I want to see is natty young black men in skinny retro ties.

People worry about increasingly intuitive algorithms knowing too much about them. I look at the way those programs actually work, and have to smile. They have a tendency, shall we say, to leap to thinly supported conclusions.

You especially get wild results when the principal medium of expression is photographs, which are so subject to misinterpretation. I’m a word guy; I was interested in the words on the protester’s sign. All Pinterest saw was the picture….

One thought on “It’s a hoot the way Pinterest thinks it knows me

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    As I’ve said before, I have trouble getting the usefulness of a social medium based on pictures (such as Pinterest) as opposed to words (such as Twitter).

    Back in the post headlined “What does a ‘like’ mean, as we slouch toward post-verbalism (if that’s what we’re doing)?,” I said:

    I saw a lot of images that interested me a great deal, but I couldn’t decide whether to “like” them or not. I mean, what does it say if you click “like” on a picture of a B-26 going down in flames? I don’t like that it’s going down, with American airmen dying in it. But I do want the program to know that I find images of WWII warplanes interesting.

    Or what about a picture of Michael Caine as spy Harry Palmer? Will it think I like the raincoat, or “The Ipcress File?” This is a place where words would help.

    And what does it mean when I “like” a picture of Marilyn Monroe? I mean, have you ever seen a picture of her you didn’t like, on some level or other? I haven’t. And yet, after I liked one or two of them, they kept coming in a profusion that suggested that Pinterest thought I had some kind of Elton-John-like celebrity fetish centered on her. I continued to “like” them, because that was my honest and uncomplicated answer. But I didn’t want it to offer me nothing but movie-star pictures going forward.

    The whole “like” thing is at least based on a word, but on a word that seems to me terribly inadequate in explaining a person’s views toward what he or she sees in a particular photograph. Like how? Like why? Like a lot, like a little?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *