I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. The TikTok algorithm seems to know you better than you know yourself.
The moment I got my dog—an adorable, adorable pup named Henry—my entire online life changed. My TikTok For You Page (FYP) was suddenly one dog video after another. My Instagram ads were strictly for dog-related products. Twitter was…still a cesspool of my own choice, so at least that was there.
But life before Henry was completely different online. I had Interests. I’ve gone jogging, I’ve air fried, I liked NBA basketball, I’ve spent way too much time thinking about crickets. Those interests have all been supplanted by the algorithms that practically say “YOU HAVE A DOG!”
The WOpet Sprite feeder is a good low-tech option, with some caveats
OK, but look at my dog first. A short Henry break, if you will.
Look at that smooth face.
Look. At. That. Face. i love this dog Anyway.
Our adoption of Henry was completed on November 15, 2021. We took him home on the New York subway in an Ikea bag filled with blankets. I can’t pinpoint the exact date my personal internet finally changed, but I suspect it was November 16, 2021. It felt so immediate.
And sure, cute dog videos are a staple of pretty much every experience on the internet, but this was different. It wasn’t just “Hey, look, a puppy is cute.” It was much more specific and aimed at dog owners. I’ve been served TikToks on how to pack your dog properly. Or things you didn’t know about puppy behavior.” Or it was products. So many products.
For example: Today I checked Instagram. I thoughtlessly flipped through some of my friends’ stories. Here are the ads that were served to me. Dog dentistry, dog treats and a dog-friendly apartment. Even my real estate surfer knows I have a dog now.
My life now consists entirely of dog courtship.
Photo credits: Screenshots: Instagram: Bark Bright / earthlypets / Streeteasy
And TikTok, well, forget about TikTok. That was really the point where I realized my online life was changing. The app has a notoriously specific algorithm for its For You page that seems to know everything about you. And boy has it been since we got Henry.
I do five or six videos in a row without seeing anything but dogs. Granted, that’s not a huge problem, but it’s also totally different from my pre-Henry feed. I had more cooking videos, a lot more exercise content, well, random stuff. One day, in less than three minutes of scrolling, I was shown at least 10 dog videos on TikTok, with most of them coming three or four in a row. It was all dog the whole time.
Dog. Dog. Dog.
Photo credits: Screenshots: TikTok: @dorhor / @rosieadventures / @justinfloyd
What I find most interesting about this change in my online life is the uniqueness. It’s not that I see more stuff about dogs – although I am. It’s that the content is tailored to my life as a dog owner. It’s struggling with raising a puppy, which since Henry is only six months old, is a big part of my life. Or it’s an ad for some type of veterinary or veterinary care, which I’m sure is a result of my many Google searches for my often sick pup’s symptoms. Or it’s advice on what treats to give your dog, which I probably would have blasted right past Henry.
Speaking of Henry, here are some more pics.
HENRY. HENRY. HENRY.
My social feeds know I’m interested in dog content because algorithms know everything about me. I mean look at this post. I’m including pictures of my dog, although those pictures are completely unnecessary to the story itself. I’m obsessed with the little guy. Of course, the algos would pick that up right away.
dr Emilee Rader, a researcher at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences, has spoken about how much algorithms are picking up.
“One important thing to keep in mind is that these systems record data about everything we do,” says Rader said about her research how algorithms affect our lives. “You watch everything from the people you’re friends with to what you click on. They take into account what you flip through, how long you spend on a post, and what links you click and read. It takes signals and data and paints a picture of you. Then the system uses that data to choose what to show you.”
The algorithms of the internet have a clear picture of me. I am a new dog owner. I’m obsessed. And I want to know every last training tip, every feeding trick, and see every last video of a dog walking around. So yes, my online life has completely changed with Henry. But it is my own work. I looked at my Instagram advertising interests and it was now full of dog-related search terms. Just a selection of the terms: Your Dog Magazine, Your Cat Magazine, Maltese (Dog), Pedigree Petfoods, Animal Planet, Purina ONE, Welsh Corgi and American Pit Bull Terrier.
I could Go to my Instagram settings and adjust my ad settings to include less dog content, but why would I do that? My puppy is a big part of my life no matter how you divide it. The difference between online and offline life is hard to tell at this point. Especially when I live in New York City, in the middle of a cold, pandemic-ravaged winter — most of my life is online. Having a puppy is not like having a human child, but it is a big life change nonetheless. I spend most of my day thinking about the next time I have to walk Henry, or making sure he doesn’t eat the strings on his toy, or petting the little guy. Henry is an important part of my life away from the phone and computer.
The year is 2022. It was only a matter of time before dog ownership would invade my online life as well. Not that I mind. Who could be upset about that with that smooth face?