“There is this new website that you should visit”, or “I think you will like this movie”, or “Remember you told me you could not do XYZ with your bank, here is a bank that has that facility”…I think recommendations is a currency in itself. Not money, but attention. If I recommend something to you (a video, a book or anything) I am asking for your attention. I am asking you to invest your time in something that I think you will like.

There is a risk involved when I recommend something. If I ask you to watch a video, and you like it, then you will pay more attention next time I recommend something. If you don’t like the video and feel that it is a waste of your time, you will ignore me (or will take longer to see/hear what I have said) next time. It is very human to do that. There are a lot of things that we can invest our time in and time is limited, so we prioritize. I daresay attention spans are not uniformly decreasing. The key word is uniformly. We are getting better at filtering things that we don’t like, spending less time on them and giving them less attention. If I don’t like Italian food (let’s say) then I will not waste time in reading adverts about that. But the flipside is if I like something, I will spend more time on it. I will visit your website everyday, if you do something interesting everyday. Our attention has become very selective, lazy and expensive.

I don’t watch the movies that friend ‘X’ recommends (even if I may like movies) because our tastes are very different. But I may go out of my way to see a play (even if I may not like plays) just because friend ‘Y’ said it was good. By default, we seem to maintain a mental score on who is recommending us good stuff to invest our time in and who is “wasting” our time. This internal score is prone to outliers too. If the friend, who generally recommends things that I don’t like, introduces me to something I really like, he has surprised me. His score in my mind increases because of this one recommendation. The same thing happens if someone with my taste in music (or anything) makes me listen to a song I don’t like.

It is not just about the mental score. We also consider about who is recommending stuff to us. I may listen to Bob Dylan just because Steve Jobs listens to him and I am a big fan of Steve Jobs. I will read Khalil Gibran, because another author I like said that he got his inspiration from Gibran. Hero-worship plays a huge part in our selections.

The same thing happens from an artist’s point of view. If I am an author and want you to read my book, I need to make it interesting. If I am a singer and sing one song badly, you will remember that when someone recommends my next album to you. You are probably reading this note because you like my previous writing or because a friend you trust has direct you to this.

Another interesting thing is that we know all this when we recommend something to someone. We consider all the scenarios mentioned above, without even thinking about them. So the next time you think that, you liking something or not is purely your decision…think again!

— Mayuresh

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