Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Big Brothers

Barbara here, venturing very cautiously into the blogsphere today. Every now and then, something happens to remind me how far into the cyberworld we have all blundered, and how many fingerprints we are leaving behind for others to read. This time, it was the purchase of a new computer, a MacBook to replace my aging PC. This required setting up a whole lot of new software, reinstalling old software - often an updated version of it, which claimed to be new and streamlined - and generally hooking my computer to my wifi, my turbo stick, my email account, and probably other places that in my befuddled state I have now forgotten. In doing so, I realized just how much Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and God knows who else knows about my life. They know who my friends are, what websites I visit, what goods I purchase, what posts I read. In the interests of "seamless" browsing or synched programs, they are always trying to link the various parts of my life together. To link Facebook to Twitter to Linked In to my blog, my website, my contacts folder, and so on. My documents are all on a Cloud. Where, only Apple knows.

It wasn't always so. I am from the pre-computer era. I spent most of my life anonymously buying newspapers in the store, borrowing books from the library, researching material in the dusty card catalogues and stacks of university libraries. Records of my activities were available, to be sure, on scribbled little cards filed under some heading somewhere, but with no computer to search them all in a microsecond and connect them all together, no one knew what I was reading or buying or thinking about.

Now Amazon knows whenever I click on a book. Google knows my searches and uses that information to create a profile of everything from my political leanings to my leisure pursuits. At best, this results in more targeting advertising. I don't even want to contemplate the more sinister possibilities. As a writer, I do many searches of very strange things, so I have no idea what Google makes of me.  Facebook chooses what feeds I get to see, and regularly posts ads targeted to my age, location and occupation. And now, just about every company I interact with on the web, from Skype to Expedia, wants me to set up an account with a login, a password and a personal profile. The minute I idly search for flights to Hawaii, ads for them start showing up in my email.

All this is very unnerving to someone who came of age in the 60s and has a healthy suspicion of big power and big money. I want to feel free to move about unnoticed and uncontrolled. The internet has been a boon to writers, making it possible to research everything from guns and lock picking to bird songs. But there are days I fear the price has become too high. There are days I long for the anonymity of those dusty stacks.

If only libraries weren't all going digital too.


Susan Elizabeth said...

THE NET would be so much more relevant today than it was in the 90s!

Rick Blechta said...

I hear what you're saying, Barbara. Between that and what is picked up by video surveillance that's all over the place in cities now -- AND how the government can snoop on your email if they so choose, it's getting to the point where you can only keep your privacy by living in a cave in the woods!

Charlotte Hinger said...

And another thing--where did all these blasted marketing surveys come from? I can't go to the bathroom without someone somewhere asking if it was a moving experience.

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