A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK • From New Yorker staff writer and author of The Longing for Less Kyle Chayka comes a timely history and investigation of a world ruled by algorithms, which determine the shape of culture itself.
"[Filterworld] is about how algorithms changed culture…[Chayka asks] what is taste? What is a sense of aesthetics? And what happens to it when it collides with the homogenizing digital reality in which we now live."—Ezra Klein
From trendy restaurants to city grids, to TikTok and Netflix feeds the world round, algorithmic recommendations dictate our experiences and choices. The algorithm is present in the familiar neon signs and exposed brick of Internet cafes, be it in Nairobi or Portland, and the skeletal, modern furniture of Airbnbs in cities big and small. Over the last decade, this network of mathematically determined decisions has taken over, almost unnoticed—informing the songs we listen to, the friends with whom we stay in touch—as we’ve grown increasingly accustomed to our insipid new normal.
This ever-tightening web woven by algorithms is called “Filterworld.” Kyle Chayka shows us how online and offline spaces alike have been engineered for seamless consumption, becoming a source of pervasive anxiety in the process. Users of technology have been forced to contend with data-driven equations that try to anticipate their desires—and often get them wrong. What results is a state of docility that allows tech companies to curtail human experiences—human lives—for profit. But to have our tastes, behaviors, and emotions governed by computers, while convenient, does nothing short of call the very notion of free will into question.
In Filterworld, Chayka traces this creeping, machine-guided curation as it infiltrates the furthest reaches of our digital, physical, and psychological spaces. With algorithms increasingly influencing not just what culture we consume, but what culture is produced, urgent questions arise: What happens when shareability supersedes messiness, innovation, and creativity—the qualities that make us human? What does it mean to make a choice when the options have been so carefully arranged for us? Is personal freedom possible on the Internet?
To the last question, Filterworld argues yes—but to escape Filterworld, and even transcend it, we must first understand it.
About the Author
KYLE CHAYKA is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he writes a column on digital technology and the impact of the Internet and social media on culture. His debut nonfiction book, The Longing for Less, an exploration of minimalism in life and art, was published in 2020. As a journalist and critic he has contributed to many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The New Republic, and Vox. He was the first staff writer of the art publication Hyperallergic. Kyle is also the co-founder of Study Hall, an online community for journalists, and Dirt, a newsletter about digital culture. He lives in Washington, D.C.
A Most Anticipated Book of 2024: Foreign Policy • Lit Hub • The Millions • i-D Magazine • Town and Country • Elle Magazine
“Trying to quiet 'algorithmic anxiety’ and 24-7 digital overwhelm, Chayka posits, we tend to take refuge in the average. [Filterworld] urges us to throw off the blanket some influencer has convinced us is a necessity…Unlike the cascade of content from strangers on the internet, Filterworld, as a proper book will, evokes less transient impulses than genuine, lingering feelings: depression about our big-box corporate dystopia and admiration for Chayka’s curiosity and clear writing style.” —Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times Book Review
“[Filterworld] brings stark clarity to the formulas that guide our behaviors online…it does the near impossible: It makes algorithms, those dull formulas of inputs and outputs, fascinating…This is a book about technology and culture. But it is also, in the end—in its own inputs and outputs and signals—a book about politics.” —Megan Garber, The Atlantic
“Chayka’s logic is seductive. The internet of today, where Filterworld’s impact is most keenly felt, is both less weird and more corporate than anyone who lived through the GeoCities era could have possibly imagined. There’s a palpable sense of grief in Filterworld when Chayka describes the walls of the internet closing in as it consolidated onto privately owned platforms.” —The Washington Post
“If our old tech anxiety amounted to well-founded paranoia ('Are they tracking me? Of course they are.'), the new fear in Filterworld is more existential: 'Do I really like this? Am I really like this?'....[With Filterworld] Chayka offers an alternative to the numbing flow of the feed.” —Esquire
“[Filterworld] explores the tension between our perceived online freedom and the increasing homogeneity of our Instagram-saturated world. . . Chilling. . . Evocative. . . Incisive.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Filterworld nearly vibrates…Chayka brings his background as an art critic and curator to the fore. He positions curators as a potential salve for our current cultural malaise, a sort of anti–Mechanical Turk that rejects computational sleights of hand in favor of deep, patient research.” —The Los Angeles Review of Books
“[Filterworld] provides a robust survey of many of the essential issues [of digital technology], in six brisk chapters that strike a readable balance between cultural theory, feature-style reporting, and hot takes. . . [Chayka is] a well-informed critic and thinker.” —Bookforum
“Chayka is an astute observer of the ways the internet and social media affect culture.”—MIT Technology Review
"Filterworld is the kind of book worth wrestling with, critiquing, and absorbing deeply." —Elle Magazine
“Intriguing—and distressing. . .Chayka’s timely investigation shows how we can reject the algorithms of the digital era and reclaim our humanity.” —Kirkus Reviews *starred review*
"Chayka’s frank discussion of his own digital detox, full of anxiety before arriving at an algorithmic homeostasis, will inspire readers to believe there is a way out, returning to human tastemakers. . .[an] astute historical analysis and philosophical rumination on the subject, all 'filtered' expertly with his own biography as a millennial who grew up amid the explosion of the socially fixated web." —Booklist *starred review*
“Necessary reading for anyone who has wondered just how, in expanding our world, the internet has ended up emptying our experience of it. Chayka's wide-ranging anatomy of algorithmic curation—which, he argues, is increasingly the cultural substitute for human choice itself—makes a bracing case not only for creativity exercised beyond the confines of digital constriction, but also against the dehumanizing sameness algorithms have introduced into our societies and lives. Timely, erudite, important.” —Ayad Akhtar, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Homeland Elegies
“Filterworld incisively diagnoses a problem that I've long felt but struggled to name and is the most convincing explanation I've encountered for why so many of our cultural products carry an uncanny whiff of familiarity. Amidst cheers for the death of the monoculture, Chayka offers a sharp and necessary counterpoint, demonstrating how mass culture, even as it diffuses into niche datastreams, trends toward a vacuous mean.” —Meghan O'Gieblyn, author of God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning “Filterworld is a vital interrogation of algorithmic technology and its unrelenting power in shaping both our online and offline experiences. Chayka deftly explains how today’s social media ecosystem operates and, more importantly, reveals a way out of the ever-tightening grip of this stifling digital filtration.” —Taylor Lorenz, author of Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet
“Kyle Chayka is a vital observer of how digital technology shapes our culture, and Filterworld will change how you think about the internet.” —Ben Smith, author of Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral
“Filterworld skillfully examines how the giant project of measuring humanity using the internet turned into an unfortunate modification of humanity. The story told here is instrumental to your own, even if you do not realize it.” —Jaron Lanier, author of Dawn of the New Everything
"Filterworld is a smooth and fascinating read." —Hyperallergic
"Great." —The Verge "Compelling....What Filterworld does wonderfully is deconstruct our current scroll culture with precision to make it less appealing. If Filterworld is not just a technology but a mindset, this alone is an accomplishment." —The Rumpus