Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Book Review: You May Also Like

You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice
Tom Vanderbilt
2016, Books, Psychology

You May Also Like is endlessly diverting. It is also, for a rationalist, faintly depressing. Tom Vanderbilt charges (entertainingly enougn) off in a great many different directions at once, although making sense of his results is not simple. Executive summary: people are nuts. We seem to make decisions based on everything except anything that makes sense. 

For example, the conventional wisdom is that the Internet makes it possible for esoteric and idiosyncratic preferences to flourish (the so-called long-tail phenomenon). Sounds great, huh? Except that, according to Vanderbilt, it ain't so. The Internet, instead, magnifies the "signal" of mass consumption. People with more information on what's popular are more conformist, not less.

There are a lot of other examples here. Vanderbilt is good at drawing connections between seemingly-disparate findings. He's a little less good at large-scale conclusions. This is one of the few books where the epilogue, where Vanderbilt actually summarizes what he thinks he's found, is almost as informative as the main text.

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