Tom Vanderbilt: You May Also Like



E What s your favorite beer I don t have A favorite beer I usually say it s the one in my hand It s what sounded good to meBut come on no one would ever say that their favorite song is whatever s playing especially to someone they cared about Music is probably the single most common and important way short of actual interaction for two people to figure out if they re socially not to mention romantically compatible Music is an exemplar of what the anthropologist Mary Douglas called the fences or bridges uality of goods or taste unifying people even as it separates them This is despite or maybe even because of the fact that most people have no idea what a chord is The way we talk about music is it turns out fairly predictable We see people talking about its context related to everything else they now he said That s exactly the Soft Bots - Changing Roles kind of text you want Musicological detail is relatively unimportantnowing the Soft Bots - Fuzzy Logic key or pitch of a song does not help guide listeners to the next song Whitman suggested You want tonow where a band is from what its influences are More than almost anything else your musical taste is a statement of personal identity I wish Vanderbilt had gone into a little detail on the intimate relationship between music and love but for a romantic comedy take on this idea just readwatch High Fidelity I use Spotify all the time not only to serve me things that I now I like but also show me new things I might like Vanderbilt discusses how Spotify s acuisition of Echo Nest whose technology powers their excellent Discover Weekly feature has given them insight into who likes what using my favorite band as an example Pink Floyd it turns out is one of the bands most liked primarily by Republicans even if the band s members seem to be rather liberal in outlook Whitman speculated this was mostly about the changing demographics of an aging fan base But Pink Floyd itself changed with age musically and so Whitman was able to identify a split in which fans of the earlier psychedelic Syd Barrett helmed Pink Floyd tilted Democratic To be clear the Roger Waters period of the band is best and if you disagree You Are Wrong But technology has changed how people navigate the unlistenably vast universe of music As the scope of people s choices expands beyond the point of comfort the power of curating rises with predictable effects on bands He cites the research of Duncan Watts whose superb book Everything Is Obvious complements this one well on how popular things get popular as people consciously listen to what s popular This obviously has vast ramifications for the music industryHowever that increasing long tail ineuality also holds true for all forms of art in a world of online feedback Vanderbilt raises the uestion of the power of feedback in the context of the power of reviews There is a rather gloomy endgame looming here though the artist only producing art that people he likes will like people only drawn to artists they think they will like Does the world of online taste open us to new experience or simply channel us efficiently into our little pods of predisposition Well first of all I think most artists have always aimed at some form of popularity Secondly people have always preferred things that are familiar Third the answer to the uestion has to be that it can do both I wouldn t have even found this book itself without the internet but then again I already new who Vanderbilt was but then even again I found his book Traffic online At some point I took a chance on this author and his work and no matter how many self reinforcing algorithmic processes are at work there will be some element of serendipity at playI haven t even touched on many of the other great discussions of taste in this book the issue of ironic art appreciation via the Museum of Bad Art the social dynamics at play in Jonathan Touboul s The hipster effect When anticonformists all look the same fashions in baby names as taste markers with appropriate citations to Baby Name Wizard how aesthetic whims can change entire pet breeds over time how artificial the entire idea of an impartial review is Judges drink in a way that no one else does anonymously in relatively small amounts paying attention only to what is being consumed not for pleasure but with a purpose the limitless ontological anxiety that some people express over simple acts of taste What did it mean when I thumbed a like on an Instagram post That I liked the content of the image the way it was shot or the person posting it Did my liking depend on how many others had or had not liked it Was not liking it saying that I actually did not like it or the 11th person game as a metaphor for your romantic history The next time you are in a public place point to a random doorway and ask a friend to choose one of the next ten people who walk through the door as a potential romantic partner There are two rules You cannot return to any previous person you passed up and if when the tenth person comes through the door you have not chosen anyone the eleventh becomes your de facto choice and So overall I thought it was fantastic Vanderbilt explores how we come to express preferences how those preferences change over time how our preferences interact with those of friends and strangers and how we use our preferences to appear certain ways to others This is a superbly evenhanded book anthropological without being polemical seeking to understand why people make lists rather than impose them Freuently I was reminded of what Berlioz wrote about Beethoven s symphonies Everybody is right What to someone seems beautiful is not so for someone else simply because one person was moved and the other remained indifferent and the former experienced profound delight while the latter acute boredom What can be done about this nothing but it is dreadful I would rather be mad and believe in absolute beauty I think you can tolerate others taste while still believing in the superiority of your own but this book will make you a lot fun at parties neatly proving its own point about the social utility of taste once you absorb its lessonsHe concludes with a useful field guide to liking You will Timbre Composition in Electroacoustic Music (Contemporary Music Review know what you like or do not like before younow why Get beyond like and dislike Do you Instruments of Darkness know why you like what you like Talk about why you like something We like things when they can be categorized Do not trust the easy like You may like what you see but you also see what you like Liking is learning We like what we expect to like we like what we remember Novelty versus familiarity conformity versus distinction simplicity versus complexity Dislikes are harder to spot but powerful I like books like this Hard hitting social commentary on what we humans want like and eventually do does intrigue me Tom Vanderbilt proffers evidence and science on how we pick and choose From judging cats in Paris to beer tastings to how Pandora chooses its playlists makes for fun reading Vanderbilt uses all these examples of what judging takes place every moment every instant to illuminate the how and why of our decisionsThis work has made me think longer about my food and exercise choices We must make these adjudications each and every day We slip into laziness by so many times going with what we always have done before Even optional uandaries such as music entertainments and art allow us to default into no decision at all This book serves as a tune up for our senses and taste budsThe title is correct we live in an avalanche of choices advertising and commercial goading Our productionprofit culture insists on with a background din of the drumming of society s manicured nails a manic force feeding of continuous consumptionPush back Savor the sheer art the freedom of our choice Before every bite prior to every purchase think about what we are doing Ask why five times I have been finding less is indeed Interesting examination of how we define taste and how it s been defined in the past Not a lot of definitive answers about what makes something in good taste or bad taste but a thorough explanation of those ideas throughout history Lots of information on how we come to like or dislike certain things but not many definitive conclusions It did make me want to go to a fancy cat show in France though and the Museum of Bad Art outside of Boston soudos to Vanderbilt on that front Although Vanderbilt includes some interesting anecdotes and studies he fails to answer the uestion why do we like what we like Taste he ultimately admits is just too complicated to write about He took me on a journey that led nowhere and left me with uestions unanswered Perhaps I expected too much from this bookWith that being said Vanderbilt provides some valuable lessons 1 Resist the urge to like and dislike objects instagram photos people situations twitter posts etc Instead practice verbalizing experiences make a mental experience out of a physical one Don t let your mind become lazy 2 Taste is not the same thing as flavor3 Be aware of projecting current preferences onto your future self Taste our likes and dislikes is constantly in motion To some degree we all want to be uniue but also feel as though we belong to a like minded community This can cause a continuous revision of ourselves to eep up with everyone else doing this exact same thing 4 Google can accurately guess my age but also thinks I m a baseball fan that enjoys deep sea diving. E form our preferences and how they shape us It explains how difficult it is even for experts to pinpoint exactly what makes something good or enjoyable and how the success of companies such as Netflix Spotify and Yelp depends on the complicated task of predicting what we will enjoy Like Traffic this book takes us on a fascinating and consistently surprising intellectual journey that helps us better understand how we perceive and appreciate the world around us.

Purchase You May Also Like here for just 10 This is the first book of this type that I ve read and did not now uite what to expect While a lot of it seems like simple common sense for example why we choose certain foods much of it was surprising Recommended for those with an avid interest in popular culture and time to digest the message Rachel The Book Grocer This is a book about why we like what we like The author explores major areas in which preferences are commonly shared from food and restaurants to books movies music beer and even cats For me not all of the areas he discussed were of interest or rather they might have been had he not belabored them so much In addition I didn t always find the studies he described persuasive Basically he concludes that there are lots of reasons we have tastes for one thing or another and it s hard to tell what they are It could be related to our memories we love something because it reminds us of happy times as ids expectations the wine is expensive so it is supposed to be good the influence of our culture we grew up in Philadelphia so we love Philly cheesesteaks or friends or experts or even identity issues eg I want to be seen as someone who likes highbrow things or conversely l want to be thought of as avant garde and so I want to choose lowbrow things We both want to be like others and we want to be different from others Which is it It may well be both but a theory for anything and everything doesn t explain much Similarly with our taste in books and movies seeing positive ratings by others can influence people to upgrade their evaluations and seeing negative ratings can induce them to downgrade them Vanderbilt avers we crave novelty but we also crave familiarity What exactly does all that explainIn other words there are theories that explain every possibility and therefore they provide no enlightenment whatsoeverThe author does include a few interesting vignettes about music and food and movies but beyond being diverting they just don t say much He also poses some thought provoking uestions How exactly for example would you describe what a carrot tastes like without using the word carrot Vanderbilt points to a paucity of words to account for taste unlike the plethora of theories to describe itThis doesn t mean the subject doesn t have the potential for being fun There are some hilarious videos on youtube to list but a few with people arguing about whether grits should have sugar or salt which Jewish holiday dishes are better The Great Latke Hamantaschen Debates and whether deep dish pizza is better than thin crust But in this book the strength of preferences and the reasons behind that vehemence was mainly discussed with respect to very very esoteric types of musicEvaluation I hoped this would be better but in spite of what I thought was a potentially interesting topic it didn t engage me much But then again it s all a matter of taste What I like not so much other readerslisteners will undoubtedly like a lot You May Also Like Taste in an Age of Endless Choice Tom Vanderbilt Here s a conundrum how to review a book that s all about how people judge and review things It s well researched really interesting and has the potential to be widely popular It s fascinating stuff about literal and figurative taste what we like and how we like It is a dense book full of information but entertaining nonetheless I also really like his book TrafficWhat follows is a very specific example of how my attitude towards this book is colored by an unrelated aside and is not intended to be part of the actual review of the book but just the bit that sticks out at me as an illustration of some of the concepts he writes about and that I feel compelled to write about because while I m aware that other people might read my reviews they are primarily a journal of reading for me to look back at So feel free to skip the following view spoilerI generally like it when nonfiction writers let a little of their personal lives bleed into their work the pretense of detachment and disinterest and fair and balanced is bogus and everyone nows it And mostly it works well here But early on he casually observes how his neighborhood in Brooklyn happens to be mostly thin people Okay this is a guy who should now that thinness correlates with wealth and that fat people are penalized to hell and gone in the US in healthcare education advancement at work as well as the ubiuitous fat shaming It s not some ind of statistical fluke that his neighborhood is thin it s thin privilege letting him be oblivious Like I said this is pretty early on like the introduction or first chapter So he Beach Blanket Bad Boys kind of accidentally mentioned a topic that Inow a fair bit about and that brief flash of annoyance became attached to the signifier Brooklyn And then it seemed like constantly but couldn t possibly have been he Kingdom of Souls (Kingdom of Souls, kept mentioning Brooklyn So now even though I really appreciate his writing I m left feeling really hostile towards smug Brooklynites which by exposure to only possibly one is unfair both to the innocent smugless residents of one of New York s five boroughs and probably to the author in particular as well But there it is my opinion of the book might well be forever colored by a casual aside and I m uite likely to always be put on edge when I come across Brooklyn as well And now I ve written about three times as much about my emotional reaction to this aside as I have about the book in general because that s how people s taste and discussion of same tend to roll And if anyone else bothers to read this little spoiler they will probably have an emotional reaction towards what I ve written which could easily go The hell or Oh me too I hate that and life is really complicated isn t it hide spoiler I picked this book for one reason Tom Vanderbilt I absolutely loved his book TRAFFIC and bought copies to give or lend to other people TRAFFIC is the sole reason I bought this book in hardback instead of seeing if they had it at the libraryVanderbilt talks in the book about how liking other things predisposes people to want to like something So having read and liked his other book influenced me Would I have liked it less had Inown nothing about the author Probably If I hadn t nown and liked the author and if I hadn t paid twenty five bucks to buy the book I might not have finished itI wanted to like it I wanted this to be a life changing pop science book that everyone uotes from Maybe it was the locale He says in the book that sometimes you like that wine when you re in Italy but you hate it at home because what you really liked was being in Italy Maybe I disliked it because I think of it as doctor s office waiting rooms in the apex of an especially hellious summerOr maybe I disliked it because of the bland MS Paint cover though I saw they also offered it in red Would I have liked it if it had a dynamic cover If I had read it on an idyllic beach If it had blurbs from celebrities Maybe I was jaded against it because it was mentioned so glowingly in The Week I was promised champagne and got Big Red Or maybe I just disliked it because it seemed so disorganized a loose collection of factoids and anecdotes that didn t seem to draw any compelling conclusion or lead the reader to an epiphany about the world Maybe I disliked it because it really needed some photos to go along with the extensive discussion of art so that I didn t have to go and google the image I wanted specifics concrete examples and something to draw from this experience besides the conclusion that research on taste is pretty much inconclusive One of the things that made Malcolm Gladwell s work so compelling is how his deep understanding of one or two specific examples per chapter led the reader along his though process to draw the conclusion he drew One of the things I liked about Stephen Johnson s HOW WE GOT TO NOW was how every chapter dealt with one cohesive theme I don t want to read about inconclusive research and conflicting ideas unless I can be convinced to care through a compelling argument or a deep dive into the subjectOr maybe I don t now why I only felt meh about this book After reading it I don t feel like I have a better understanding of why people like things and why they don t Perhaps that s reason enough to dislike a book on liking things This was an interesting and in depth analysis of many concepts to do with liking including what we like why we like what we like and why our tastes change over time I really liked haha how well researched it is and how the author is able to explain these concepts by drawing on a wide range of examples where they are relevant eg Netflix recommendations online reviews music tastes craft beer tasting competitions etc His discussion moves naturally from one idea to another and incorporates many relevant theories from psychology marketing and neuroscience I was convinced I would love this book I love pop sociology and who isn t at least a little terrified of how good computers have become at predicting what we want Unfortunately this book was very very dry I can t fault somebody for writing at an academic level rather than one appealing to the masses but the cover was certainly deceptive about just how much minutia would be discussed about the research of each topic A friend told me she listened to it on audio where it felt like hearing NPR reports That seems like a pot. From the best selling author of Traffic a brilliant and entertaining exploration of our personal tastes why we like the things we like and what it says about us Everyone nows his or her favorite color the foods we most enjoy and which season of House of Cards deserves the most stars on Netflix But what does it really mean when we like something How do we decide what's good Is it something biological What is the role of our personal experiences in shaping our.

Entially palatable way to digest this information but 100 pages in I just didn t care enough to find out Recommend to people with patience for details which I really generally do have and interest in the mechanics of the research not just the results I ve been fascinated with taste for a long time and Vanderbilt whose previous work Traffic is a must read for anyone with a commute collected in this book almost everything I ve ever wanted to say about it He discusses what taste is where it comes from how it works and how it relates to status plus plenty of other aspects I hadn t thought of all over such varied domains as food wine beer music art film architecture pet breeds and baby names As you would expect for such a complicated circular and subjective topic his analysis is somewhat digressive but in a good way with plenty of specific and well chosen examples He s careful to build upon the works of famous philosophers of taste like Pierre Bourdieu Immanuel Kant and David Hume updating their thoughts about objectivity social determination and personal identity for the modern era He investigates the act of judgment while being reasonably non judgmental himself Best of all his conclusions are lots of fun to discuss is our sense of taste a carefully curated expression of our innermost selves or the circumstantial accumulation of stochastically determined signaling indicators that are essentially meaningless in and of themselves BothTo cut to the chase there s really nothing wrong with simply saying there s no accounting for taste when it comes to something like music preferences and leaving it at that book over thanks for playing When you really confront the idea of taste as an aggregation of preferences or the value of an individual preference any rigorous analysis is rather deflating from the traditional perspective of human personality On the one hand many things are preferred over others for essentially random reasons you might like a particular song because it s associated with pleasant memories uniue to yourself On the other hand many favorites follow predictable statistical patterns lots of people might like that song too and similar people like similar things which is how they re defined as similar to begin with It s not very emotionally satisfying to learn that you like something either because it was the first thing you saw or just because everyone else likes something Tom the Dancing Bug had a perfect satire in the June 16 2007 comic Everything Was Better When You Were Twelve And taste can especially seem arbitrary when you hear people disagree The closer people are to each other socially the pronounced taste disputes become similarly the less a choice serves some utilitarian function the it implies about identity Yet there s obviously not nothing to the idea of taste because it has real effects in the world Taste plays a huge role in meeting friends selecting romantic partners creating and defining social groups and broadcasting information about yourself to other people In 1979 Pierre Bourdieu wrote the still fascinating Distinction A Social Critiue of the Judgement of Taste where he attempted to uantify who liked what and why and as Vanderbilt says we can move far beyond Bourdieu s data and conclusions Almost every aspect of human taste that Bourdieu was interested in is every day being cataloged online in numbers beyond any sociologist s dream What music do you like Spotify Pandora What is your ideal human face OkCupid Match com What is the ideal subject of a photograph Flickr Instagram With all of this data can we finally untangle the role that feedback loops and circularity problems play in determining taste What does it mean to be a data point How do some people get to be so influentialAgain those inds of philosophical uestions are not really answerable with data the most data can do is give you a skeleton to hang a narrative on Christian Bauckhage wrote an interesting paper unfortunately not cited here titled Mathematical Models of Fads Explain the Temporal Dynamics of Internet Memes that fit the popularity of various memes to various graphs as a function of time but explain is a strong word it s hard to say why one meme fits one exponential decay function and not another Taste is a space on a graph might be a perfectly true sentence about the mathematical relationship between the set of things you like but we re interested in our relationships with those things and with each other Tastes are categorical contextual constructed comparative and uncongenital Take the uestion of food and whether we should limit ourselves to pleasures within the confined of our established taste as opposed to taking the risk on something new assuming it turns out to be goodAre you better off ordering your favorite food off a menu or something you have never had Rozin had suggested to me it might depend on where you want your pleasure to occur before during or after the meal The anticipated pleasure is greater if it s your favorite food You ve had it you re familiar with it you now what it s like The experienced pleasure is probably going to be higher for your favorite he says On the other hand for remembered pleasures you re much better off ordering a new food If you order your favorite food it s not going to be a memory you ve had it already That issue of how different your enjoyment can be depending on when it occurs reminds me of how mood affects pleasure as well I ve always been interested in how most people s top 10 lists are high brow things they ve seen once instead of the low brow comedies they watch over and over again and how that odd distance from the genre is reflected in how most lists of greatest films ever are mysteriously free of comedies is comedy somehow subjective than drama One reason is that movie taste is performative Think of the moment in Play It Again Sam where Woody Allen s character is scrambling ahead of a date to array his coffee table with respectable books You can t leave books lying around if you re not reading them his friend complains to which he replies It creates an image You create a serious image by telling people you like serious films even if the majority of the time you re not really in the mood for something serious This affects ratingsAs one expert says Who s likely to rate The Sopranos Not someone who watched five minutes and didn t like it because it wasn t really part of their life It s the person who committed to it and spent a hundred hours of their life watching it On the other hand who will rate Paul Blart Mall Cop It might not be a very good movie but it s ninety minutes long Your bar or criteria might be different There are all inds of things I Love Will Follow know that I d probably like but I just don t have the time to get to them Even things that I do get to experiencing I often don t give a fair chance as in the chapter on how little time people spend in art galleries really looking and appreciating paintings But how are those things madenown to me To that point about ratings and what gets rated how should we interpret online reviews There s a distinction between an experience good like a book or a movie or a search good a camera or replacement windshield wipers and experience goods are notoriously difficult to rate objectively Is there such a thing as an expert Vanderbilt drops his normally even handed tone to offer one of his own strategies for reviewing the reviewersFor as important as the uestion of whether they liked it is Are they like us One looks for signals of authority and a shared outlook A red flag for me for example is the word awesome It is not simply that I think the word has lost most of its connotation It is that I place less trust in the opinion of someone who uses it for example awesome margaritas and you may trust me less for not trusting it The word anniversary or honeymoon in a review portends people with inflated expectations for their special night Their complaint with any perceived failure by the restaurant or hotel to rise to this solemn occasion is not necessarily ours I reflexively downgrade reviewers writing with syrupy dross picked up from hotel brochures It was a vision of perfection or employing such trite abominations as sinfully delicious It s just inherently difficult to use impartial and fair language to describe subjective experiences even for experts Part of that has to do with what you re discussing As Garrett Oliver the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery had told me beer people tend to talk like scientists here s our EBV here s our IBU our final gravity while the wine guy is talking about rolling hills Craft beer which became popular fairly recently is still dominated by nerds who talk like nerds whereas wine has been prestige for a long time and there s a well established somewhat allegorical vocabulary of description if you visit parody sites like vicioustastingcom you will see what craft beer fans think of overly flowery tasting notes Instead of describing what it s like though what about describing how it s used Something like Pabst Blue Ribbon at least judged by the thousands of people who have weighed in on RateBeer com is described in grudging almost apologetic terms a decent lawn mower beer good for standing in the crowd at a concert the perfect college student brew to drink while cranking out an essay How do you describe what you like As one brewery owner says People often ask Tastes And how do businesses make use of this information Comprehensively researched and singularly insightful You May Also Like delves deep into psychology marketing and neuroscience to answer these complex and fascinating uestions From the tangled underpinnings of our food choices to the dynamics of the pop charts and our playlists to our nonstop procession of thumbs and likes and stars to our insecurity before unfamiliar works of art the book explores how

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ONLINE You May Also Like AUTHOR Tom Vanderbilt – ecogenlife.org

Tom Vanderbilt writes on design technology science and culture among other subjects for many publications including Wired Outside The London Review of Books The Financial Times The Wall Street Journal The Wilson uarterly Artforum The Wilson uarterly Travel and Leisure Rolling Stone The New York Times Magazine Cabinet Metropolis and Popular Science He is contributing editor to