The New Week Newsletter
Starting off a short series on algorithms, prediction, and Tarot . . .
As I worked on putting together the Sunday newsletter, I realized my planned topic was too long to cover in one go. Then I got halfway through reshaping it as “Part 1” of a two-part series—and realized that wasn’t going to be enough either.
I decided to let my unconscious work on the quandary overnight.
Result: This seems like one of the most significant subject areas I’ve discussed so far in the Exploration Project. So to cover its various aspects, I’m reconfiguring Week Four of 2022.
Here’s the new plan . . . .
Monday: Some conceptual background
Tuesday: A “Time Capsule” trip back to very early inklings of Tarot technology
Wednesday: A UC Berkeley graduate project utilizing Tarot to “mediate” algorithmic predictions
Thursday: Tarot, TikTok, and the ripples of destiny
Friday: How Nodus Labs used the sophisticated math of “network visualization” to analyze Tarot structures
That all looks rather heavy when it’s written down! But I’m planning to start each episode with—
A Lighter Note
First: I’ve realized that I neglected to include a January Fool in last Thursday’s newsletter. So I’m compensating today with this historical snapshot of the evolving Card Zero:
FYI, TarotWheel—one of my favorite resources—offers a richly detailed look at the evolution of the Fool.
If you want to use TarotWheel for research on individual cards, I’ve shared a “cheat sheet” that provides direct access to each trump page. But there’s also an option for navigating from the site menu that I didn’t discover originally. If you hover (don’t click!) on “History,” and hover your way down to “Individual Trump Cards,” a flyout list of links will appear.
Second: My deck-of-the-moment is Theresa Hutch’s White Sage Tarot.
Like A Little Spark of Joy, White Sage is far, far away from my usual preferences. But what can I say? This “light hearted” treatment of the Minor Arcana cards charmed me:
I didn’t connect with White Sage’s Major Arcana cards in the same way—but that’s just personal. There’s (a lot) more detail on the deck in Benebel Wen’s review.
Now for that “conceptual background” . . . .
Algorithms, Social Media, and Tarot
These days, everyone hears the word “algorithm” often, in the context of social media. But not everyone has in mind exactly what an algorithm is. So here’s a refresher:
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer (Oxford Language)
a set of instructions — a preset, rigid, coded recipe that gets executed when it encounters a trigger (CMS Wire)
Social media companies use pre-defined algorithmic processes to determine what content they will push to what readers. From one perspective, that might seem benign. You could just think that Facebook and Instagram are making content suggestions, based on the interests readers have shown in other content. And that could be seen as a service to readers.
But from another perspective—we know that social media algorithms are not (for the most part) focused on serving individual readers. They are designed to maximize engagement by provoking strong feelings. Negative and controversial content is more likely to be driven out to readers, in part because that type of content is more likely to be shared. More shares are good for the platforms, and raise ad revenues.
Those basics are most applicable to Facebook and Instagram, with a somewhat lesser role at Twitter. But across the board—social media users are targets, not beneficiaries.
If you’d like to know more about how social media algorithms work, sign up for Hootsuite’s free plan and check out their algorithm guides for each channel.
Tarot content on social media is overwhelmingly composed of posts that offer some version of COTD (Card-of-the-Day) and/or promote services and publications. A lot of what’s posted falls into the general category of brand-building—that is, establishing a distinctive identity, creating rapport, promoting freebies, and so on.
That kind of content doesn’t have much potential to “go viral” and I’m guessing (no way to know) that Tarot-related recommendations are based mostly on combining social connections—”someone you know likes or follows this”—with your own clicking behavior/history. Probably there’s also some weighting for amount of traffic, number of followers, and likes/shares.
That’s all been true for quite a while, and I’ve had roughly the same attitude toward Tarot on social media as I have toward Tarot and content marketing.
But algorithms are not just strategies for manipulating social media engagement. They are used in almost any process that applies some sort of rote activity to some sort of data. For example: algorithms are used in predictive modeling—which is:
a statistical technique using machine learning and data mining to predict and forecast likely future outcomes with the aid of historical and existing data (Oracle NetSuite)
At a simple level, algorithms are used to “predict” what you might choose to read, watch, or buy next. But they can also be extremely complex—for example, when applied to predicting what will happen in the stock market.
Obviously . . . prediction is where algorithms overlap with divination.
And somewhere in this area, we also have the use of algorithms in developing so-called “artificial intelligence.” AI utilizes algorithms that are capable of learning and changing, based on what happens when they run. And the more layers of algorithmic processing they have, the closer they can come to human-like “thinking.”
You might want to find out more about “deep learning” from this accessible explanation.
But my closing thought for today is that no one (as far as I know) talks about “artificial intuition.” I’m pretty sure that means something in terms of prediction/divination—and hopefully we’ll find out more as this week’s series progresses.
But first—Tuesday’s throwback will look at the days when Tarot “software” came in a box full of floppy disks, online Tarot discourse took place in barely moderated forums, and 1-800 phone lines connected fortune-seekers with fortune-tellers.
Thanks for reading! C
even reading the phrase 'floppy disks' sparks joy. looking forward to it.