After scoring a movie that I’ve watched, one of my rituals is to read a critic’s review of the movie. If the movie is contemporaneous to Roger Ebert’s tenure as the world’s most read critic, he becomes my critic of choice. I choose Ebert, first of all, because he is a terrific writer. He has a way of seeing beyond the entertainment value of the movie and observing how it fits into the culture of the time. I also choose Ebert because I find that he “really likes” many of the movies I “really like”. He acts as a validator of my film taste.
The algorithm that I use to find “really like” movies to watch is also a validator. It sifts through a significant amount of data about a movie I’m considering and validates whether I’ll probably “really like” it or not based on how I’ve scored other movies. It guides me towards movies that will be “safe” to watch. That’s a good thing. Right? I guess so. Particularly, if my goal is to find a movie that will entertain me on a Friday night when I might want to escape the stress of the week.
But what if I want to experience more than a comfortable escape? What if I want to develop a more sophisticated movie palate? That won’t happen if I only watch movies that are “safe”. Is it possible that my algorithm is limiting my movie options by guiding me away from movies that might expand my taste? My algorithm suggests that because I “really liked” Rocky I & II, I’ll “really like” Rocky III as well. While that’s probably a true statement, the movie won’t surprise me. I’ll enjoy the movie because it is a variation of a comfortable and enjoyable formula.
By the same token, I don’t want to start watching a bunch of movies that I don’t “really like” in the name of expanding my comfort zone. I do, however, want to change the trajectory of my movie taste. In the end, perhaps it’s an algorithm design issue. Perhaps, I need to step back and define what I want my algorithm to do. It should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
I mentioned that I used Roger Ebert’s reviews because he seemed to “really like” many of the same movies that I “really liked”. It’s important to note that Roger Ebert “really liked” many more movies than I have over his lifetime. Many of those movies are outside my “really like” comfort zone. Perhaps I should aspire to “really like” the movies that Ebert did rather than find comfort that Ebert “really liked” the movies that I did.