Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? And I don’t mean being spied upon by that creepy stalker girl you dated for a week and then dumped, who six months later still hangs around outside your house wearing nothing but a trench coat, trying to tempt you with her less-than-stellar attributes into taking her back.
It’s even worse than when you’re fifteen and you decide to try your hand at shoplifting for the first time, so you snag the limited-edition Bruce Campbell As Ash figurine you’ve wanted since you first saw Army of Darkness and shove it under your coat, all the while casting fearful glances at the rotating black spheres that house the department store’s security cameras (most of which, I discovered later in life, don’t even work).
Compared to what I’m talking about, it’s a walk in the park to be run through the wringer by your musician father who seems to know exactly what drugs you’re on (probably thanks to personal experience) no matter how much Visine and chewing gum you use to cover up the more obvious of the symptoms.
No, my dear readers, the kind of surveillance I’m talking about is of the Orwellian variety. For those of you who’d rather turn on a rerun of The O.C. than open one of those old-timey “book” things you might have seen kicking around, George Orwell was a writer who postulated that in the year 1984 the world would be run by an insidious pseudo-theocratic dictatorship in which the government kept a weather eye on each and every citizen, twenty-four hours a day, to ensure that nobody ever committed a crime like free thought.
He might have been off by a couple decades, but thanks to the evil geniuses who run marketing and advertising conglomerates, Orwell’s prophecy is poised to come true in ways that beggar even my substantial vocabulary’s ability to elucidate (translation: I’m at a loss for words – if you can believe that).
I’m sure by now everybody who’s anybody either uses, has seen, or at least has heard of Gmail, Google’s answer to the MSN/Hotmail phenomenon of the mid-90s. Gmail is a great program, as far as I’m concerned – I don’t even use my Hotmail account anymore, for anything other than instant messaging and casually sorting through junk mail for amusement’s sake now and again.
The only thing that really gets under my skin about Gmail is its adaptive advertising software, in which a program (presumably a program – I doubt if they’d hire people to do the job of a machine, which will of course become the standard in the New World Order…dun dun dun) surreptitiously reads the text of my emails and offers targeted sidebar advertising based on what I’m writing about to and from my correspondents. As you might imagine I get a lot of ads for bulk whiskey sales, discount condoms, and red-eye flights to Marrakesh.
What grinds my gears is that, human or not, Google is reading my mail. In fact, on some level I’m even more bothered by the idea of a software program going through my personal correspondence and picking out buzz words to try and sell me shit I don’t need (except maybe the whiskey). I’ve seen Terminator and I’ve seen The Matrix. I know where this ends up.
And now, those evil bastards are trying to breach the fourth wall and bring this sinister snooping software out of the dream and into the real world.
According to this article, several major tech companies want to develop technology that will allow the ads you see every day on your morning commute – from subway posters to billboards to signs on lampposts pasted up by squeegie kids who play in a no-name punk band – to intuitively flesh out your gender, age, and the brand names of anything that might be on your person, including your Starbucks cup, your D&G sunglasses, your Arnold Palmer teeshirt, and the LCBO bag in your hand. They’ll implement this through the use of high-sensitivity cameras married to little computer brains like the one on Amazon that says “If you liked this piece of shit product, let us try to sell you ninety other related piece of shit products other people like you have purchased”.
From a purely marketing standpoint, this is a million-dollar idea. Anything that allows advertisers to get farther into your head and your wallet will be jumped on like the trampoline owned by the fat, smelly kid nobody likes but everybody pays lip service to befriending because he owns said trampoline. Like Bill Hicks used to say, advertisers are – in a lot of ways – the spawn of Satan, and they will do anything they can in the name of that Holiest of Holy Grails, the bottom line.
Thankfully, there are still enough people out there who value things like privacy that it doesn’t look like an idea like this will move forward anytime soon. Which is good, because I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to live in a world where somebody is watching me all the time.
But the danger is there. We have the technology, ladies and gentlemen, to keep tabs on every man, woman and child on this planet. Developments like the Patriot Act in the United States that curtail the individual rights of citizens and allow the government to poke their nose into all your transactions and conversations are just the beginning. Don’t fool yourself – no matter how innocuous or even useful a technology might seem, it can just as easily be reverse-engineered into a tool of oppression.
Get educated. Get informed. Don’t let shit like this slide under your radar, because otherwise you might find yourself waking up one morning to yawn, cough, stretch, and step in front of your two-way TV screen to perform your daily genuflections to Big Brother.