I’ve worked pretty hard to ban the use of Facebook in the household, not because of the threat it poses to democracy, nor because I’m worried about privacy or data or whatnot, but because it makes us look old. The kids don’t use it, obviously, because they’re not old. Mr Z has historically been susceptible to “six years ago today” nostalgia jags, and posting pictures of us on holiday that make it look as though everyone’s getting on better than they are. I’ve worked pretty hard to stamp that out, and if nixing Facebook means we miss the odd event of other people who are also old, I’m OK with that.
What I can’t do is stop him watching food videos. It is a very distinct genre; I don’t know how you’d land on it by accident, except maybe if you typed into Google “the most disgusting thing anyone’s ever eaten”. A guy, often with only his arms visible, probably with sleeve tattoos, will get a gigantic piece of meat and fashion it into an unnatural shape, usually a rectangle. Then he’ll layer it into a tower, spliced with cheese, and wrap it in more meat. Somehow egg yolks will get involved, then additional cheese. It’s all a bit sped up, and mesmerising. I don’t know where the suspense comes from – what could it possibly taste like? Who would ever eat it? Why did an animal – sorry, eight animals – have to die for this? When is karma going to get involved and exact some retribution upon the mozzarella dude? These questions are never answered. And now you’re in the machine, and some fresh horror involving a thousand frankfurters is just about to begin.
It took a while, but eventually this has fed into Mr Z’s targeted ads, which are now a picture: “best T-shirts for big bellies”, diet books, meal replacement shakes, home cholesterol kits, gut biome analysis, clothes for people who have eaten enough protein to power a squad of weightlifters, wide-fitting shoes. The assumption can only be that people who watch this stuff plan to eat this stuff, and then feel bad about it. That is diametrically wrong, I think – you only watch it to feel relieved that you never have to eat it. I don’t know if this makes the algorithms more or less scary, but when they get it wrong, they get it radically wrong.
Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist