the meaning of personalised – a note

“personalised” – what does it mean?

Personalised recommendations from Amazon, for example, extrapolate data – just for you – from your existing, past shopping and browsing behaviour on Amazon. As a process, this does not however define the subcategories according to your online activity from which “personalised” suggestions will be drawn. These are set. The system of subcategories is open to the extent that new subcategories may derive from the interaction or intersection of sets and new products may be added to sets, form subsets, and, in the case of product lines wholly new to the total system, new categories may be founded.

The fit between your browsing and shopping – what you add to your basket, whether actually purchasing it or ‘wishing’ for it, or leaving it for later – and what a semi-automated system of settings grouping like products with like and establishing categories for product lines is the “personalising” process from which the suggestions arise. What is recommended just for you is that you belong to a superset of semiautomated comparative decisions: what you are like or really do like is of no consequence apart from how your activity bears out these predelictions; what is like a novel by Haruki Murakami is of consequence and so is what others like you have liked.

Such decisions in turn – like with like – belong to the general concept of representation, as does the personalising process where it is one that cancels out difference. Here personalised means founded rather in like you than just for you.

What you are like is, to risk plunging into a philosophical discourse, identical with itself and not generated under the principle of sufficient reason, for the purposes of what seems to be a differential process, but is only represented as such, which is what I am calling “personalising.” What’s the difference? Or, what difference does it make that my activity online on Amazon, for example, is not generating the differences amongst a diversity of products and product lines but rather that the personalising movement is from decisions that are not mine about what is like what I like and therefore entails that I am like someone who reads Haruki Murakami?

It should at least be obvious that there are two distinct processes in question here: one, the existing one, which groups the same or similar; and one, which I am proposing, for the time being hypothetically, that produces difference. The latter provides my excuse for allowing the principle of sufficient reason to enter this note, since Deleuze reads the principle of sufficient reason as exactly personalising. This principle grounds the different things I do in difference itself and not in preset decisions about what it is I do that resembles something else or what someone else does.

How would a subrepresentational personalising process – i.e. avoiding representation by avoiding resemblance or avoiding making resemble – work for Amazon?

In a word, better. I would no longer be receiving suggestions that are already redundant or inappropriate because the image of what I want could not be prearranged. I would perhaps buy or browse 1Q84 and Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude and no longer be classed with others like me who liked Reamde. But instead a definite penumbra of contextual resources would arise around each of the former choices and perhaps include Neal Stephenson. It would also include primary and secondary works around contemporary French philosophy and possibly all of Haruki Murakami’s extensive oeuvre.

This definite penumbra of contextual resources available on Amazon would thereby assume the form of localised rankings: Meillassoux and Murakami would not be forced into unholy matrimony to produce Stephenson. Rather, for each writer singly and differentially there would appear works, media, products which related only to them. These would descend from them into the future.

This system would respect the fact that I am in the process of personalising myself. It would open 1Q84 to a process whereby it continued to gain both new readers – who either would want to recommend it or not – and new and unforeseen items, products, works, ideas, inventions, to which it related. The book would also be undergoing the differential process of personalising itself, becoming what it will be.

To me, it seems that this is the best definition of personalised – something that adds to personalising and which retains its difference. This is the definition of personalised that company means to embody.