Privacy, Personalization, and Predictions

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

As I reflect on my learning experience thus far in my Media, Culture, and Technology class, I am at the same time enlightened, riveted, and jarred by how integral technology has become in our society. From the predictions made by Asimov in the 1964 New York Times all the way to fictional futuristic societies of Spike Jonze’s Her and Dave Egger’s The Circle, the evolution of technology, and the media, is an interesting one.

At the end of his article, Asimov made the prediction that 2014 would bring about a “society of forced leisure” in which “the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!” (Asimov). When this prediction is examined, particularly with regards to The Circle, it becomes a completely feasible future. Dave Eggers’s fictional novel about a media company’s eventual takeover of the entire democratic system (along with everything else) paints a picture of a society where everything is monitored and nothing is private. The company’s motto actually becomes: “Secrets are lies. Sharing is Caring. Privacy is theft” (Eggers, 303). The employees of The Circle are forced to constantly be in tune with the goings on of the company, including the social gatherings of the over 10,000 employees. By the end of the novel, six different screens take over the main character’s desk.

While many people today, including myself, consider social networking to be a leisure activity conducted in times of boredom or procrastination, Eggers suggest that a heavy dependence on social networking can potentially become a full-time job, plus overtime. This not only suggests that Asimov’s prediction may come true but also shows that this growing dependency on technology is taking over our lives, and in the process becoming very confusing. I’m often reminded of a scene in He’s Just Not That Into You (Ken Kwapis, 2009), where Drew Barrymore tries to make sense of it all. Courtesy of Youtube.

Our deep reliance on social media also raises very important questions about privacy. Before taking this class, I felt relatively comfortable with the information I was giving away on various social media sites. Name. Date of Birth. Email address. Maybe my physical address or phone number. But then I started thinking about the fact that almost all of my online profiles are linked together through Facebook or Amazon, which are in turn linked back to Google through my email address. The idea that hacking into one of my online profiles could potentially lead to the takeover of everything was a very scary thought.

What was worse, however, was the fact that I freely gave up this information. As Freedman says in a chapter in Misunderstanding the Internet: “Google and Facebook, with their ‘instant personalization’ facilities are vast storage containers of personal information that users ‘freely’ provide” (CFF, 82). I am not being forced to hand over any of this personal information—I am giving it to these companies on my own. While this seems harmless, and for the most part it is, this data that I am willingly providing is now giving marketers the exact information they need to adequately advertise to someone like me. Rather than the generic and one-size-fits-all ads we used to get on websites, now everything is traced back to your last Google search or Amazon purchase to create a “personalized” ad. Is privacy really the price we have to pay for personalization?

This semester is only halfway over, and I have already learned so much about how our culture and society interacts with technology. I have become more wary about sharing information online, I always crosscheck sources, and I’ve tried to limit the time I spend on social media and technology. Don’t get me wrong; technology is great. But if there is one thing this class has taught me, it’s that we are all at risk of falling in love with our operating systems while Google and Facebook quietly take over democracy right under our noses. Just kidding.

Maybe.

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2 thoughts on “Privacy, Personalization, and Predictions

  1. Pingback: The End of the World | Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey

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