New Media Art | Academia

Compounded disappointment through algorithmic advertising

Wed Mar 13

I (very) recently had an application rejected to spend two months studying in Japan. It was disappointing, but I’m pretty good with the reception of rejection: I spent two years as a freelance writer after finishing my undergraduate degree (and during the great recession). I got used to an article-pitch success rate of around 5%, or on another metric, two articles per existential crisis.

This recent rejection – although fine – comes with its own unique challenges, the most notable being that I’ll have to explain to my contacts in Japan why I won’t be able to attend the scheduled research we judiciously planned; an apology for wasting the efforts and faith they placed in me getting the funding.

However, I’d mentally prepared for this process. What I hadn’t expected was to be reminded of the disappointment on every website I visit. Every advert or “sponsored post” (if the two are different?) relates in some way to this previous fantastic, but now fantastic, trip.

The research practicalities took a lot of planning, and came with a lot more day-dreaming, both of which have been harvested from my search and internet history. If asked, it’s unclear how Google, Facebook or other ad-masters’ brain would contextualise these traces of data, but they have obvious made a conclusion about what I might want to buy: flights to Tokyo. Bullet train tickets to northern Honshu. Hotels, hostels. Onsen visits. Mt. Fuji. Travel pillows. The ads are a skeleton of my research trip, stripped of the flesh of its purpose; an intrusive consumptive spectre of rejection, haunting my browsing.

How, now, do I inform all of these third-party advertisers that, actually, it’s a sore spot and I’d prefer that they didn’t insistently repeat my rejection, and that no, it doesn’t matter if it is in tasteful text-based ads or batter-draining flashing gifs? That my interest in these things, that they have so artly gauged (or intrusively taken) has switched from 1 to 0? That kind of binary change is something that – if anything at all – a computer should be able to understand.

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