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You May Also Like by Tom Vanderbilt review – what forms our tastes in a digital age?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/08/2016 - 4:30pm in

Why do we like what we like – this band or that ice-cream flavour? Is it biological or cultural? And what role do Amazon and Netflix play in shaping our preferences?

When an earnest undergraduate quizzed the aged E M Forster about the good life, the novelist is supposed to have replied: “Don’t ask about the good life. Find out what you enjoy.” I’m not sure of the source of the story, which I’ve heard in more than one version, but the dictum attributed to the novelist encapsulates a popular type of liberal philosophy. Arguments about the good are unending and inconclusive. Despite Aristotle, Buddha, Laozi and all those who followed them, there is no more agreement on the subject than there was two and a half millennia ago. Given the essential elusiveness of goodness, why not focus on something we can judge with reasonable confidence? After all, we all know what we like. If we stick to what we enjoy, we can hardly go wrong.

The trouble is that, in fact, what we like is often unclear to us. As Tom Vanderbilt writes:

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