The story of the broccoli recipe

While reading the Salvo and Rosinski “Information Design” chapter a note that was written by a previous borrower of the book stuck out to me, the note said “F***ING CREEPY” and was written next to a paragraph that describes the following scenario.

“Imagine that a father with children sent the request for “broccoli” into a search engine, and imagine how his results might be improved if the search engine recognized that he was, first of all, at a home computer; such recognition might adjust the parameters of the search. Add that he is searching from a computer located in the kitchen at 5pm, which the terminal knows  because all telephony connections are blocked between 6:30pm and 8:00pm by the user’s request. So the database search interface now restricts the search term “broccoli” to recipes that take an hour or less to prepare. The same search from the same place made on another day at 6:00pm would eliminate all the recipes that take longer than 30 minutes to prepare.” p. 123


Image from

I don’t think we are too far off from this scenario being real. Marketers know more and more about where we are, what we’re searching, buying, researching than ever before. As technology improves, there are more checks and balances being worked into systems to allow users to choose to block access to personal data. But this example illustrates the potential that search engines can, and often are, using information that is readily available (read: collected by the engine itself based on our habits) to provide more relevant search results for users.

Think of sponsored ads for a moment. When was the last time you were reading a news article or browsing the web and had an ad show up that was for a product you’ve been considering purchasing? Earlier I was browsing American Eagle for new fall sweaters. I ended up not purchasing anything, and left the web page. About an hour later I clicked on an article on CNN that was about young voter turnout. And sure enough, the advertisement on my screen was featuring the American Eagle items I had just previously looked at.

American Eagle

Image from CNN.

Because of my browsing history, the advertisers knew that I was looking at American Eagle, was interested in purchasing something, and ultimately didn’t. So I’m the perfect person to show their ad to. To test it, I had my friend pull up the same article to see if she got the same advertisement, she didn’t. Her advertisement was a DSW ad highlighting winter boots.

So is scenario of the broccoli recipe the future? If so, what role will technical communicators have in creating that online space? And how will this changing landscape redefine what a technical communicator is? As Salvo and Rosinski say, “Effective technical communication has never been simply about writing clearly, but rather, about effectively organizing written communication for future reference and application” (p. 123). As the technological world continues to grow how will all this information be managed and what check and balances will be put in place for users to restrict their machines from knowing all the information presented in the broccoli story?

Posted on November 2, 2018, in mobile, Social Media, Society, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Brittney,

    I think the broccoli search scenario is already happening. Our textbook, Digital Literacy, was written in 2010. GPS, location services, and search algorithms have come a long way since then. Google definitely knows what type of computer we are using (Google Analytics provides that data), and many apps use GPS to function, so Google knows where we are. Plus, many of us have the Echo dot and other devices and appliances in our homes that are connected to the internet as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). These devices are interacting with each other because they are connected to the same wifi and on the internet accessing Google and other services so when you enter information in one, they all receive it.

    When I was at my boyfriend’s today, my iPhone asked if I wanted to share the wifi password with someone else. My device was connected to his wifi, which was trying to connect to another device and causing our devices to interact. We should expect to see more and more of this. It’s already happening whether we know it or not.

    Thanks for your post.


  2. Angie, I do agree with you. Search algorithms have come a long way since 2010, and it feels like in the last 2-3 years things have been becoming more and more complex at even faster rates. Yesterday afternoon I was looking up restaurants on Yelp and before entering any information it knew what my “home” address was. This is because I was logged into my Google Drive account, and in that account Google Maps has my “home” location saved.

    I work at UW-Madison College of Engineering and we have an Internet of Things center in my building and it’s definitely interesting hearing what latest devices they’re working on to connect us even more.

    Thanks for your comments.


  3. Brittney,

    I love what you were saying about the advertisements – and sometimes, I could take the words of a stranger right of our your book and say, “F*&^ing CREEPY” with regard to them. I have had those advertisements go so far as to feature things I have not searched, but that I have SPOKEN aloud about while near my phone. Next thing I know, those items are appearing as ads in my Facebook newsfeed, on my Google news homepage, etc. Our phones have become this extension of ourselves, and I think we forget that they are always on and always listening. For similar reasons, my husband covers his camera when he works on his laptop. I always thought that was silly, but the more I read and discover, the more I think he may be on to something! Seems that maybe George Orwell was just a few years off with the whole “Big Brother” thing. :/


  4. Hi Brittney,

    Great post this week! The title and images you chose to highlight and provide more detail on were terrific! You made some great points about the internet and technology knowing and paying more attention to our browsing history that when we return to our screens it’s almost as if they want us to pick up where we left off or show us, in your scenario, more items we may want to view from a particular company. The world in which we engage online knows a lot more about us, our browsing patterns and even our future searches than what we probably imagine.

    This reminds me of when I am conducting a general search in google and often begin typing in phrases or thoughts that come across my head and google’s search engine is already finishing my sentence…

    Queue the drum… hold the applause… how is all of this happening?

    I even came across a fascinating article that overviews this process of being continuously tracked on the internet, even when you think you are deferring Google from tracking your browsing patterns by entering incognito mode.. you really are not deferring Google.

    Thank you for the great post this week that highlights the creepiness and realness behind the affordance of technical communication and technology.


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