escape the algorithm

a newsletter about taking control of our attention and finding a more human side of the internet

When I lived in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, one of my favorite things to do was wander the main streets of our neighborhood looking through store windows and return home to report on the gossip of the day: did you hear that Pamela’s Diner is closing / the used book shop is moving down the block to a larger space / the bakery is going vegan / we’re getting our 19th boba and/or vape shop?

Neighborhoods are more than the businesses that they contain. But it felt like something we could sink our teeth into: every coming soon sign required us to revise the mental model of our potential futures. At the new ice cream store, what flavor would we order? Who would we be with? Who would we be?

When we moved to South Philly this summer, I found myself not only mourning that I wouldn’t get to watch Squirrel Hill continue to evolve, but also that I wasn’t there to witness my new neighborhood’s past.

I felt a similar sensation when I first met my partner: a sadness that I would never get to meet her former selves—the parts of her that were no longer at the surface—and also a deep gratitude for all of the experiences that made her into the person I now saw before me.

I feel it too whenever I remember that I will never meet my 100-pound adopted dog as a 10-pound puppy, or when I lose touch with a friend and only get to experience their growth through a hyper-filtered instagram presence.

The noticing and the wishing you could notice, watching the leaves change color and fall only to wonder what it would be like to put them back in the tree again—isn’t that what love is?

When I walked around South Philly I could feel the ghost places haunting me. So I embarked on a mission to summon them, or at least their simulacra, back from the dead: a digital seance, if you will.

Map apps do not think you should care about shuttered stores, so they don’t tend to offer an easy way to browse them. But I paid a data broker $5 to let me download a spreadsheet of local closed businesses and cross referenced those with their Google Maps listings. I pulled testimonies of those places in the form of positive reviews and turned them into an interactive map I’m calling love letters to places i’ll never meet. I hope you enjoy it.

– Elan Ullendorff (twitter/bluesky)