Did I Say That? Beware 'big data'
Every morning I go through my emails, separating the wheat from the chaff, and there’s a lot of chaff. I get notifications and promotions from Brooks Brothers, the New York Times, the New York Post (my favorite), AP, PBS, NPR, MTA, the National Audubon Society, the National Weather Service, my college, my high school and my nursery school, which has been asking for donations since I graduated at 5-years-old.
They all know what I want ... and need. I feel like the main character in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” I’m being watched, categorized and profiled by people like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. They know more about us than we know about ourselves. It’s not Big Brother ... it’s Big Data.
I’ve heard about how Amazon, Facebook and Google burrow into our minds and wallets, even when we’re asleep. Plus every telemarketer, charity and pollster out there has my mailing address, my email address, my landline number and my cellphone number. Our lives aren’t our own. I used to enjoy giving, but now I take perverse delight in saying no.
I recently received a notification from Netflix, that venerable institution of American entertainment which I occasionally watch on my iPad since I don’t own a TV. Netflix developed a user profile on me. They probably have my bank account information, too, so I hope they’d get me a higher interest rate on my CDs than 1.25%.
Their computer sent an email that said: “Joe, how you doing? How’s the family? We just added a movie we know you’ll like.”
What would I like? “The Decline and Fall of Hollywood”? “The Life and Times of St. Thomas Aquinas”? “Stormy Daniels dishes on Plato’s Republic”?
I took the bait and went to the website to learn about a movie for people like me. It was titled, “Bird Box,” and the description read, “Stay silent. Stay alert. Stay blindfolded. As a terrifying force lies in wait, a mother leads her blindfolded children on a harrowing journey. Five years after an ominous unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, a survivor and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety.”
Now, folks, my hunch is the “ominous presence” is Hollywood, which is probably the only force known to man, besides the U.S. political system, that could provoke societal suicide. They’ve lost their marbles and now they’re trying to take ours.
Yes, I know the movie is a thriller about a strange and sinister force. And yes, I know Stephen King said he loved it. However, I think I’d be more entertained by watching my crazy barking Maltese chase the blindfolded UPS man across the lawn.
It troubled me to think I was the target audience for a movie where everybody is killing themselves. Who dreams up this insanity? The sad part was the film starred Sandra Bullock, and what’s not to like about Sandra Bullock?
Beware of being profiled. The less they know about you the better. Back in the ’60s, everyone was trying to “find” themselves. We don’t have to do that anymore because Google, Amazon and Facebook do it with the precision of an FBI criminal psychologist. Every infinitesimal bit of personal information goes into a large computerized cauldron they share with the Thought Police, not to mention the advertising department. Even Mr. Rogers can’t save us now.
I hope this isn’t my kind of movie, but they want to convince me it’s my kind of movie. As Orwell said, “Power is tearing human minds to pieces and putting them back together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” I’m afraid my epitaph will be “He loved Big Data.”
A few days later, I started watching another movie ... and everyone was committing suicide. That seems to be a popular theme. I turned it off and picked up Plato’s Republic. Plato wanted a Philosopher King, but in America, we want a Entertainer King. No one’s safe. Not even Stormy Daniels, blindfolded.
Joe Pisani can be reached at email@example.com.