Home  >   Blog  >   Am I Zombie? Autonomy vs. Recommendations on the Internet


Am I Zombie? Autonomy vs. Recommendations on the Internet

  Support by donation   Gift a cup of coffee

Nowadays, our day-to-day decisions rely too much on how others think. The others are not from a close relationship like family, friends, and colleagues. In fact, the people who are making an influence on our behavior are complete strangers on the internet.

  • Someone gave a 5-star review for this product.
  • Why don't you go to this place where many people like you enjoyed it?
  • By the way, how about this item you might overlook?

As the technology advances, online review and algorithmic recommendation become more accurate and make our life more "efficient". Consequently, it is very difficult for us today to enter a really bad restaurant, read a horrible book, or listen to a song that is completely out of your taste.

But, wait—Do we really need that degree of certainty every day at every single moment?

Of course, the information is good for specific situations when you must not make a bad choice (e.g., business dinner, gift for a loved one) and/or you intentionally want to accomplish the task with minimum effort on a regular basis (e.g., grocery shopping, where you don't need any big surprise). However, at the same time, I believe relying too much on online recommendations sacrifices our humanity and decreases the quality of life at the end of the day.

That's why I'm occasionally trying not to read reviews on the internet, by reducing the time spent on Google Maps, prioritizing real friend/colleague's opinions (e.g., about books, podcasts, media contents) over algorithmic recommendations, and simply incorporating randomness into my life more often.

As we see Ethical Challenges in Recommender Systems, modern intelligent systems are constantly suppressing our autonomy by attempting to "addict" us. Most importantly, the developers are intentionally designing the systems in such a way so it keeps gaining user's attention to optimize business metrics; if you ever worked on these software systems or algorithms, it's obvious how "easy" manipulating users' behavior is.

Therefore, it is important for individuals to take a proactive action to block digital distractions. Otherwise, we can easily become a "zombie" which behaves sluggishly without any consciousness. The notion of zombie comes from Nir Eyal's book, Indistractable:

she received a late-night notification from the app challenging her to walk a few flights of stairs. She accepted the challenge [...]. As soon as she completed the first challenge, she received another offer — walk four more flights and the app promised to triple her points. “Yes, of course! It’s a good deal!” [...] For the next two hours she walked the stairs to and from her basement like a fitness-crazed zombie.

"Is Some Tech Too Addictive?"

For me, our modern life is already crazed to some degree due to the loss of autonomy. How to avoid being a zombie—It's an ultimate mission for all of us to seize the humanity in our life, and it's a crucial challenge for developers to exercise ethical product development.



Recommender Systems Data Science & Analytics Business Life & Work

  See also

When We Lose Autonomy—Whose Life Are You Living?
Ethical Product Developer
Reviewing Ethical Challenges in Recommender Systems


Last updated: 2022-09-02

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, previously working at a Big Tech and Silicon Valley-based start-up company where he wore multiple hats as a full-stack software developer, machine learning engineer, data scientist, and product manager. At the intersection of technological and social aspects of data-driven applications, he is passionate about promoting the ethical use of information technologies through his mentoring, business consultation, and public engagement activities. See CV for more information, or contact at [email protected].

  Support by donation   Gift a cup of coffee


  • Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of organizations I am/was belonging to.
  • I am doing my best to ensure the accuracy and fair use of the information. However, there might be some errors, outdated information, or biased subjective statements because the main purpose of this blog is to jot down my personal thoughts as soon as possible before conducting an extensive investigation. Visitors understand the limitations and rely on any information at their own risk.
  • That said, if there is any issue with the content, please contact me so I can take the necessary action.