A Philosophy of Recommendations

What is a recommendation? We get recommendations and give them all the time. A recommendation functions like a map, it’s located in space and time, and it’s curated, tailored, it does not include all one could possibly ever recommend to someone, but just a slice, a sliver of that.

A bit of etymology:

Approaching philosophy from an etymological standpoint reveals a lot of hidden, but also obvious details.

1. Recommendation = reciprocal commitment

So, the word recommendation derives from the Latin re-commendare, where commendare means to commit. A recommendation therefore requires reciprocal commitment of (long-term) attention. And the commitment lies in the act and effort required to remember what one has been recommended. To remember a recommendation, is to show that you cared enough about the other person’s point of view etc., to find a way to remember and engage with it even after they left.

Have you ever tried to recommend something to a stranger? It’s impossible to do without turning it into a random suggestion. A random recommendation is not a recommendation at all, it’s more of an opinion. A recommendation relies on reciprocation; it equally takes the other and the self into consideration.

2. Recommendation = to be rooted in time

The word recommendare contains the suffix -dare (to give) which is the root of the word data and date. So to give a recommendation is to be rooted in time, to give and plant in that particular moment an opportunity for further exchange. A RECommendation, RECords, an interaction, through the vessel of the book/film/place that has been recommended. A recommendation is also a unique reflection of your self in that point of time because as we get exposed to more and more things, our recommendations change.

3. Recommendation = to mend

A recommendation (when taken up) can mend. It can restore a connection in absence of the recommender. It can re-establish the presence of someone. A recommendation builds bridges across experiences, and across separations. When engaging with a recommendation given to you by someone not currently present in your life, you can feel an intense sense of connection. I think that’s because you are exposed to the same material as your recommender was at some point. It shrivels up distance and time by revealing a constant between two people. The recommended book has not changed; for the book no time has passed. Distance and time are trivial to most things we recommend. The recommendation allows you to access a point closest to the moment, of your recommender experiencing the same input as you are.

In conclusion, a recommendation is spatial, temporal, intentional and deeply personal.

How many recommendations have you received recently?

How many recommendation have you given recently?

How many of them did you actually commit to?

Who was the last person who committed to one of your recommendations?