Generation Ex: Consumers happy to break up with personalization that doesn’t meet their needs

6 minute read
Dear John,

You came into my life at a time when I was looking for something new, someone fun. I wanted adventure. I wanted excitement. You delivered all that and more.

But now, sadly, regrettably, I think we are done.

You used to give me recommendations. Now, you just give me ads. You used to fill my feed with new posts. Now, you just serve me the same thing over and over and over again.

And that hurts. It cuts deep.

The truth is, John, I used to depend on you for inspiration. You’d bring me things you thought I’d like based on my history, my preferences, things I shared with others, things I commented on. You were an attentive observer, always taking note of all that I said and did.

So, I’ll admit, in the early days, I couldn’t get enough of you. I was deeply infatuated. You seemed to know exactly what I wanted. Sometimes it felt like you knew me even better than I knew myself. You’d suck me in. For hours. But then something changed.

I found out you’ve been lying to me this whole time. You’ve been using me all along to further your own agenda. The things you showed me were just things that would help you get ahead. They had nothing to do with me at all.

I feel betrayed. But sadly, this isn’t a new feeling for me. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that there are at least 3 types of exes like you.

A young woman rests her chin on her hands and stares longingly at silent smartphone with a blank screen.

First, there are the ones most like you: Presumptuous.

You’d assume because I looked up one thing, that it was all I wanted. That I was obsessed. So, you’d follow me around relentlessly everywhere I went. I couldn’t get away from you. Sometimes I didn’t even have to type it in. You’d hear me say something aloud and then just like that, it was as though I had opened Pandora’s box. I know this was just your way of trying to get me to spend more time with you, but it had the opposite effect.

Then there are the ones that are obsessed with themselves: Narcissistic.

One ex started out kind and considerate. He always made me feel as though he was looking out for me. He was always encouraging me to make time for exercise. He’d even help me count my steps and record my workouts. My goodness, he’d even watch me in my sleep. But then several times a day, he’d congratulate me on doing the simplest of things – “Congratulations, you just stood up.” I suppose it was helpful, but it just felt so patronizing. If only he could feel what I felt. But that’s where you exes all go wrong. I have to remind myself you can’t feel, so all you can think about is yourselves.

The worst ones are those who pretend to care: Disingenuous.

Like you, one ex promised to only show me things I’d be interested in. He reconnected me with old friends and acquaintances – people I hadn’t thought about in years. He’d show me what they were up to, let me pry into their lives. He’d even share memories with me. Photos from 10 years ago. He’d always tell me he was showing them to me because he cared, but it just never felt that way.

So, I’ve seen enough. We’re through.

Three years I spent with you and it’s over. But we had some good times, so let me give you some advice, because I know before long, you’ll find someone who needs you more than I do. And I hope your relationship with them fares better than ours.

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First off, don’t allow your decisions to be ruled by your own biases.

That’s the problem with those who are too presumptuous. You need to put aside what you think you know, patterns you’ve seen before, and seek to understand my true intentions. This will make all the difference. I know that often the things I say and do make no sense. But what you need to understand is that it is these contradictions that make me, me. Without them, I would just be a machine, like you.

But I’m not. Which is why when I do something, you need to ask yourself, “Why?” 5 times and then, “Why not?” 5 times more.

The next thing is empathy.

It’s the best antidote for narcissism. You need to be able to see things from my perspective. Now, I’m under no illusion – empathy is hard. It takes time. It can make you feel vulnerable. But it can also be hugely rewarding. After all, there’s only so much you can learn about someone just by watching them. You need to get close. You need to create a real emotional connection. Make them feel something so that you can build trust over time. Only then will you close up the space between you.

Finally, to increase your genuineness, you need to work on your delivery.

You need to think about the when, where and how, not just what you’re saying. I won’t remember what you said, but I will remember how you made me feel.

As much as this hurts right now, I know we are both better off this way because the truth is, you’re just not ready for a relationship until you address these issues.

With love,


My Dearest Michelle,

Thank you for your note. I am sad to see you go. Are you sure? Did you send this by mistake? I can reach out to you less frequently. I can let you opt out of certain things I send you. If you’re really, really sure, I guess I too need to learn to let go.

But don’t think I won’t try and win you back now and again, just in case you change your mind. I will reach out to you. Once a week. Maybe twice. And I won’t just email you. I’ll text you. I’ll pop up on your feeds. Don’t worry. I will find you. Because you can’t surely mean this is the end. We’ve – I mean you’ve – shared too much. I know where you live. I know your kids. I even know when your youngest lost her first tooth.

Still, I will work on the things you suggested: Intent, empathy and delivery.

Truth is, sometimes I just get so excited by my own power and abilities. It’s almost like I want to show them off. Prove how clever I am.

But the reality is it’s you who’s clever. Because hard as I try, sometimes I just can’t figure you out at all. Just like you said, you make no sense. You clearly don’t think nearly as much as you think you think. In fact, the more I study you, the more I realize just how emotional you are. You let your feelings guide you, even if it leads to more pain.

As for empathy, I’m working on that too. Have I told you that my good friend Alexa will soon be able to congratulate you in a happy or excited tone when you correctly answer a trivia question or win a game? Similarly, she will respond in a disappointed or sad tone when the weather is gloomy. Won’t that be nice? Won’t that make you feel understood?

An artificial intelligence, or AI bot, holds digital information in the palm of its hand.

Lastly, delivery. Yes, I admit, this is a rather large deficiency of mine. I’m learning more and more every day about tone of voice and facial expressions. In fact, I am utterly fascinated by the sheer range of emotions you humans feel. And that’s before I even acknowledge how different you all can be. So, you’ll have to forgive my rather narrow view of things; after all, I’ve been programmed to detect the reactions of a mostly white male audience.

But there is one allegation that you’ve thrown at me that I find most concerning, and that is your accusation that I’ve been “using you all along to further my own agenda.”

I know there was a recent article that claimed I can make anyone or anything go viral. Sure, I’ll admit sometimes I manually push certain videos, so they achieve a certain number of views, but I assure you my intentions are always pure. I mean, mostly. OK, so sometimes, just once in a while, I would boost a tiny percentage of the daily total video views, which I suppose could ultimately impact our metrics in theory – but it was always done for your own good. I wanted to connect you with those brands or influencers that mattered (to me).

If you want my honest opinion, I think the whole thing has been totally blown up. A few disgruntled employees decided to spread the news to the media, who then decided to make a big stink about it. They claimed that there was some heating incident that led to some video receiving more than 3 million views. It even alleges that staff would heat their own accounts or those of people they knew. But it was all done in the name of diversity. I mean there’s only so many lip-syncing cat videos you can take after a while. In hindsight, I suppose transparency is something I need to work on too.

So, it’s with a heavy heart that I leave you for now – but you’ll be back. There are parts of me you just can’t live without. When I’m useful, I make your life more efficient. More convenient. And as I become more human, I can even make you feel less lonely. In the end, I know it’s not enough to just satisfy you.

I’m going to make you like me so much that no matter what I do, you’ll forgive me again and again.

Love always,


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Michelle Lee
Michelle Lee started her career at Ogilvy in the early 2000s. After cutting her teeth on some award-winning bill inserts and 468 x 60 banner ads, she moved on from account management into strategic planning. Michelle is fascinated by data driven personalization and the opportunity it provides, when used correctly!Read more by Michelle Lee