Friday, December 17, 2010

Blinding the Watchers

Okay, I'm drawing the line. I will not purchase an E-reader, ever. Don't buy me one for Christmas, either. Please.

I know what you are thinking: Here goes another technophobic moron who can't accept change. I'm not afraid of technology. In fact, I embrace it in many aspects of my life, from music to the workplace to -- well, blogging. No, it's not the technology I'm afraid of, it's people and their potential uses of such power.

I am also petrified by the ongoing loss of privacy in our world. Worse than losing privacy, we are losing our fear of losing it. Privacy is starting to not matter, especially to young people, based on my observations. Because of this, we do nothing to prevent its theft, and then we get upset when someone gathers info that we don't want him to have.

So, don't fear technology, fear the way it allows you to become, as old Bilbo says, in The Lord of the Rings, (although with a different slant) "like butter spread over too much bread." Elements of your identity are being spread all over the Internet. Are you controlling them? Do you care? Do you care, but too late?

Things to consider not doing:

Putting all kinds of information in your profile on Facebook.

A year ago, everyone on Facebook was up in arms about a site that published personal information. I checked my name. They only had a few bits of info, including my wife's name (that's on Facebook) and, apparently, my other wife's name. (It seems the site thought I was married to a second woman named Phyllis. Which, I feel I must add, is not true, though I'm sure Phyllis is a wonderful woman.) Religious affiliation? Question mark. Political philosophy? Question mark. Job? Question mark. Why? I won't put it on Facebook. They had no info to gather.

If I want people to know these things, I will write about them -- I will volunteer the information in open discussion. I will stand up proudly and say what I think. But I will be damned if I am going to allow automated searches to get at this stuff easily. It is my call if I want to say, on Facebook, that I love bass fishing (which I don't) and, then, within minutes, get ads for fishing poles on the page's advertising column.

This is not baseless paranoia: you are being watched. Your habits and interests are being tracked.You see that, right? You even get watched on Amazon when you look for books or music. As long as you see it, it is your obligation to control your Internet dissemination or shut up about it when you don't like what happens.

"Liking" things on Facebook

"Like" pages, I imagine, are used for market research and who knows what other kind of delving. I will not "like" any page on Facebook unless I am willing to have myself profiled for having done so. I do support other musicians and other writers in hopes that they will some day support me. But if I support a page with political or social sentiments, I am labeling myself to the electronic watchers. I have mentioned this to my friends a few times on Facebook: I will not support any Facebook cause no matter how much I might agree with it. I might donate anonymously with a check in the mail, but I won't "like" a page so others think I am a nice guy. The trade off, if I do? My friends will think I am nice and the electronic watchers know I think a particular scumball should go to prison or that a particular animal should be saved. If I want the watchers to know that, I will publish it here or on another site. I will stand up and shout it all over the electronic world. But I will not be interpreted against my will.


Do we really want to make a catalogue of what we are reading for the watchers to see, like many do on Goodreads? I used to learn, in school, about the revolutionaries of history who were jailed for possessing certain books. Are we really that safe from this sort of thing? You know, it has happened and could again. Is this paranoia or healthy respect for the history of a morally vacillating species? Actually, I guess I am being ridiculous here. It's not like there are crazed religious factions in the world who are trying to force their beliefs on others and then killing them if they don't comply. Sorry. People like that would never use electronic information in insidious ways, even if they really did exist -- which, clearly, they don't.


And now this: an NPR report entitled "Is Your E-book Reading Up On You?" From the article, which you should really read in its entirety:

Most e-readers, like Amazon's Kindle, have an antenna that lets users instantly download new books. But the technology also makes it possible for the device to transmit information back to the manufacturer.
"They know how fast you read because you have to click to turn the page," says Cindy Cohn, legal director at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It knows if you skip to the end to read how it turns out."
The article goes on to point out the possible uses of this information, from market research to the checking of courtroom alibis. Seriously? Everyone is okay with this?

I'm drawing the line here. I'm an analog kid who has become, to some extent, a digital man (to borrow from Neil Peart's lyrics on Signals), but I draw the line here. I will sit in my little library and turn my paper pages without the watcher peering over my shoulder. I know they can access electronic purchase records and figure out what I have bought, but they sure as hell are not going to read over my shoulder.

We all are "plugged in" to some extent, these days, but we need to control how much. Technology has made my life better in many ways, but if I can throw sand in the eyes of the watchers, in any way, I will.

Stephen King says, in the NPR article:

"Ultimately, this sort of thing scares the hell out of me. But it is the way that things are."
I will gladly sail along the tides of change, but I will defend my ship and no one is coming on board without either my consent or a hard fight.

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