The Unintended Anguishing Aspect of Automated Algorithms

As I approach the second anniversary of Kim’s death I decided a special blog entry was in order. Anniversaries and special days are hard. The firsts are obviously difficult. Today, I write about a new dynamic to grief in our technological era.

Algorithms can cause anguish. Let me explain.

First, a definition is in order. An algorithm is a process that is followed by a computer as designed by a programmer. It’s a set of rules that determines calculations or other operations designed to solve problems. Algorithms help with repeat communications and, in fact, learn your habits, learn about your life, recognize other activities, and make suggestions for you. How nice, right?

Second, these algorithms have been automated. Reportedly, they replace tedious and irreproducible manual work. Further, they replace manual parameters that are prone to errors. The hope is that they lead to performance that is state-of-the-art. But there’s a problem. The automated algorithms fall prey to subtle pitfalls. These pitfalls can render the process and calculation totally ineffective. Based on old or existing data, algorithms are prone to actions that are obsolete. New activity based on old data.

How about an example from my journey?

I received an email from RightNow Media around the first anniversary of my loss. The timing was purely coincidental, but the subject line was, “D. Ray, are you investing in your marriage?” It definitely got my attention. It was a shock, for sure. Worse, the email went on to tell me “…it’s never too late to invest time in your marriage.”

Well, I beg to differ.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Ephesians 5:25

Oh, how I wish I could continue to invest in my marriage. If you’re married, here’s a good place to start. Love your wife, men, like Jesus loved the church. Don’t waste time.

My encounters born of algorithms have been numerous. In fact, something I took for granted before my loss shocks me on a weekly basis. A few examples should help you understand.

Facebook has a service to remind you of things you did on specific dates in the past. A memory is highlighted, and when you open Facebook it can be a shock. At first these algorithmic deliveries are painful, alarming.

My Photo Stream on my Apple iPhone constantly identifies and highlights photos from previous dates. It brings them to the top for my viewing pleasure. It also collects photos of a person and puts those photos together for you.

Kim and I played Words with Friends together. Sometime after her death I received an automated alert: “They timed out,” referring to my opponent, my wife. Really? So painful!

I received an email from Shutterfly, the company that produces beautiful memory books. When the email opened, it delivered a picture of Kim and my sweet granddaughter among other pictures from past projects. It was a couple days before Mother’s Day. It’s a jolt, a surge of pain.

My kids have used Timehop which self-describes their purpose as helping people find new ways to connect with each other around past experiences. That’s fine until you don’t have each other anymore and you simply get reminders of how it used to be. Timehop also states that they are reinventing reminiscing for the digital era.

I contend that automated algorithms have reinvented grief for the digital era.

It’s not all bad. In fact, these algorithms helped me in my endeavor to face my loss. Really, they forced me. And the day came when algorithmic remembrances became positive again. After the shock and initial grief passed, I began to like the reminders. As my friend, Joe Hall, says, “You learn to love the taste of bittersweet.” After all, grief’s purpose is not to get you to forget the loved one you’ve lost.

For now, however, it’s good to recognize there is an unintended anguish that comes from automated algorithms. It’s a new dynamic to grief in the digital age.

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5

14 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I texted you over a year ago. You were one of two men I have ever asked to be a friend in FB. I follow some of the times I see what you have to post. I often send you current events in messenger. I understand your pain as I have a year of loss of my husband on you. My precious Michael died March 2018. I’m still not right. I hate living alone here in Deland. Let’s just say I am walking with you in loss with your Kim and my Michael. One day at a time sweet Jesus.

    • D. Ray

      It’s a long journey, isn’t it? Press on one day at a time. Sufficient grace, every morning mercies, surpassing peace are available each day.

  2. Anonymous

    I understand the feelings and events that Facebook and Instagram can provoke. After seven months, I am beginning to smile at the good times, memories of those good times, that my husband and I enjoyed. They were a gift from God.

    • D. Ray

      I am so glad you’re healing to where you can smile at the good times. Some of the most painful memories of loss early on become the most rewarding later on. I remember mourning what I had lost but realizing I could be grateful for what I had been given.

  3. Anonymous

    I can see how Automated Algorithms can be hurtful and helpful at the same time, the weight of each depending on how much time has passed. That is something that we all need to keep in mind.

  4. Annette

    There are days that almost any little thing will take my breath away. All I can do is is claim the Word and know that the Lord is the strength of my life. Yes, one day at a time.
    Be blessed brother.

    • D. Ray

      Thank you, Annette. We are promised strength for today. I’ll take it!

  5. Anonymous

    Hey D. Ray, thinking of you. Your words remind us of the pain that comes & goes. It’s not the same, but after my dad died back in ’92, we called my mom a few months later. She had not changed the message on the phone message machine and dad’s voice came on telling us to leave a message. It sort of hits you in the face and shocks you. Hugs & love, Cliff & Cinthy

    • D. Ray

      Thanks for dropping a comment, Cliff and Cinthy. It’s great to hear from you. And yes, these messages can hit you in the face.

  6. Anonymous

    My heart remembered the ache, it smiled, and it even laughed reading your post late today… that’s when you do indeed realize the grace and the progress in the grieving process He has led us through… and you ARE thankful for His faithfulness…
    Continued grace and peace for today, especially, and your tomorrows D Ray.
    Kathi

    • D. Ray

      Thanks, Kathi. Grace and peace for you, too.

  7. Anonymous

    Amigo muchas gracias , you are a blessings to many of us

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