Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.
As we learn more about Facebook and other social media sites and the masses of information they hoard about each of us (they record links I don’t remember clicking!), we begin to sense the kind of world we’re entering. Convenience—together with a call for more “national security”—has erased much of what we used to guard as privacy, and—for the most part—we agreed to cooperate.
Personally, I find it annoying to have ads associated with searches I’ve done suddenly pop up on my Facebook page. Whose business is it if I’m browsing through bathing suits or skimming books about the afterlife? If I wanted to know more, I’d search. I’m not someone who appreciates being led. It’s even more annoying when the algorithms assume I’m interested in the topic of a book I bought as a gift. (World War II military histories? I don’t think so!) I feel misrepresented.
Recently my husband and I rented a Netflix DVD of the independent film THE CIRCLE, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, among others. It isn’t one of those cyber horror pics that follow a thriller template. It’s a story of an ambitious but well-meaning, gullible woman and an international social media empire. (Tom Hanks gives a creditable performance as an energetic Steve Jobs-like character, by the way.)
What if anyone anywhere could know anything you do and anywhere you go at any time? Those of us who’ve had encounters with stalkers are instantly creeped out by the idea, although finding people is becoming easier daily—whether or not they want to be found. We live in times when ethics, empathy, and responsibility seem fragile. Are they truly outdated? The film was unsettling. It gave me the same kinds of goosebumps I had when I first read BRAVE NEW WORLD in school and recognized the mass think rising around me.
I don’t know if it’s too late to bemoan the fact that as consumers we’ve become commodities to be bought and sold and manipulated. I confess I enjoy being able to do superficial research without leaving my chair. However, I am disturbed that more than one person has told me, “You can find ANYTHING you want on the Internet.” No, you can’t. You can’t freely access some kinds of research, for example. You can see that books on your topic exist, but you have to pay to read them.
Not all the “facts” that leap to your command online are well verified. Discovering which information is colored by bias can be difficult. As we’ve seen, sites such as Wikipedia are not always right or fair. Who is it who posts opinion pieces on volatile topics, directing our attention and, perhaps, our votes? Who should you believe? The last American election demonstrated that most of us don’t know the answers.
Your searches favor presenters whose points of view match your own, but aside from reassuring you, they don’t teach you much. In addition, many who present themselves as authorities have only a portion of the grand view of health, wealth, or personal improvement. Their sure-cures may have more to do with a product the site owner is selling than the certainty of the results. No wonder so many claims conflict with one another. Critical reading has never been more important.
I’m not ready to relinquish my cell and my laptop, but I am more and more careful about what I post online as well as what I take seriously. Even so-called “private messages” are apparently accessible. I don’t have anything to hide, but I’m an individual, not a consumer number. Some of my personal conversations need to remain confidential. I don’t want to be just one more “moo” in the herd.
I like ‘misrepresented’. And like you, I don’t want to be herded willy-nilly based on one random search. As for finding “anything”, as a former researcher, I can verify that information is becoming more cloistered. What I was once able to access easily is now locked away, or available for a fee, as you say. But, I’m happy we have the Web and don’t really mind too much because we’re all under scrutiny in ways Orwell saw so clearly. But, the adage “Don’t believe everything you read” is truer than ever and needs application. Thanks for this piece. It’s a good reminder. xx