Thursday, September 15, 2011
My Electronic Lover
Advertising, which, by the way, is my trade, first violated my privacy when I was in my early forties. I had a miscarriage and I took it really hard. Exactly a month before what would have been my due date, a FREE carton of Similac was delivered to my door. It was a mind fuck I did not need as I was just getting over the initial event when the mail man dropped off my FREE formula.
Target marketing, of course, is not exactly news. I remember when I first started out in advertising, back in the late 80s, I learned, to my horror, that I was a" Volvo-White-Wine-And-Brie." That was an early inkling that I wasn't nearly as special as I'd like to think.
Fast forward to the golden age of electronic marketing. Now, the targeting isn't just more precise, it's instantaneous. Recently, I googled a mental illness because I was worried about a loved one (who thankfully is fine). For the next month, every time I went online, I was greeted with ads for brain drugs to treat the condition.
I work at home and am on Facebook and Linked In quite a bit. Since I am naturally gregarious, I must take my mind out for the occasional walk. As a result, the entire web knows my business. Lets say I recommend a book on Linked In. The next time I go on Amazon, that book is in my face, along with others featuring similar subject matter, or by the same author. "Buy me, buy me!" they scream. But I am so creeped out, I'm not buying any of it. (And like most people waiting for the other economic Doc Martin to fall, I'm not buying much of anything).
Sometimes, the targeting doesn't work because it equates curiosity with sustained interest. Like when I went to Sarah Palin's Facebook page, out of sheer voyeurism. I got my comeuppance. For days, I was bombarded with mega churches and right wing political stuff. It was as though my computer were possessed by demons. Finally, I got smart and started clicking offensive.
Most of the time, the spiders do their job with graceful diligence. I sign every lefty-environmento-human-rights'ish petition that comes across my mailbox. And I admit, I have been lured into buying a concert ticket or two – my enthusiasm for music trumps the creep out factor. But damned if those bloody algorithms don't know me better than my husband does. The roots folk music, the spas I'll never frequent but like to read about. Never in a million years would the dear man send me a link to that dramatic Canadian Inn on a forlorn spit of rock overlooking the Pacific. You can almost hear the crash of the surf. " I am so there," I call out to my nameless, faceless electronic lover.
But whether it's through intrusive advertising, or whether we are willful participants in helping Pandora suss out our exact musical tastes, having one's mind mined on a regular basis, and being fed so many spot-on bits of bait, does bring up questions of identity. Certainly, it's disturbing to think that one's personal take on life could be reduced to an algorithm.Our tastes and opinions are why we dress and look the way we do, have the friends, romantic partners and careers we have. They are one of the filters through which we view the world.
My husband always says I'm so predictable. My electronic lover thinks so too.