Vicky Mochama is a columnist for the Globe and Mail.
I was surfing the web the other day and someone on that mailing list popped up saying, “We know you hate these, but you’re going to LOVE our newsletter!”
The offer I want more The newsletters in my inbox were terrible, but it was the exclamation mark that cracked me up. And just who are “we”?
I’ve been through enough. The Internet is already very familiar.
These days, the internet is the Wild West, and not in the fun-silly nonsense of the 1999 Will Smith movie. It’s more like Clint Eastwood’s Wild West Unforgivable: brutal, personal, crushing, dangerous for women of color.
It didn’t always feel so devastating. I remember that before school started, a young person with an internet connection and a dream could text friends from school and read Justine Musk’s LiveJournal page. (If you think Elon Musk is awful right now, you should try divorcing him.)
Every day was a feast for the eyes. Basically, I played as a virtual avatar who raised or owned a digital animal, effectively giving myself a pastoral job. If I hadn’t been cultivating my odd digital pasture, I would have been protected from Limewire viruses and sexual harassment in Bingo game chat rooms. They weren’t completely carefree days of digital surfing, but it was an era when you could surf online relatively anonymously if you wanted to, because the threats didn’t necessarily know your name.
Now, as you’d probably expect from something that’s now impressively owned by about six white male billionaires riding electric scooters, the internet is a nightmare. Now, the aunt who posted her oatmeal cookie recipe on Facebook thinks so [insert ethnicity] people steal babies from hospitals. The internet and every piece of technology around it is determined to keep it shut because it knows who it is and where it’s vulnerable.
This is because advertisers know how to sell us something by demanding an unprecedented amount of information. They even called it Big Data to emphasize how much they wanted it.
Look, no one puts “Big” before a noun, and it’s not meant to imply something sinister or conspiratorial. Try: The Big Spatula conjures up images of a family that owns all the spatula patents or something. A large toaster? Yes, it’s an international OPEC-like cabinet that makes sure no one understands why breadcrumbs are removable but non-sticky.
Advertisers became like Jabba the Hutt, all “I want Big Data, Solo”. And they got it.
In 2008, Google was said to process 20 petabytes of data per day; A petabyte is 1000 terabytes, one of which is 1000 megabytes. Today, Google doesn’t let you know how much data you have—let alone your data – processing.
Your fancy phone with 256GB storage? Puh-lease: we’re playing with the big boys now.
If the fact that Roomba vacuums can see you in the toilet isn’t disturbing enough, all this information is being used by tech companies to talk to me like a friend. As a journalist, this means that I am very concerned about people working on the social media app TikTok accessing journalists’ accounts. But as someone trying to buy dog food on a website, I worry about how socially intrusive the internet is. Every time I buy a piece of “smart” technology or subscribe to an Internet-based service, I have to worry about the knowledge it requires of me—my mother’s father’s name, what music I enjoy most, how much I walk that day. , when I like to turn up the heat – it means I’m in an emotional relationship with him right now.
For example, when I got my Spotify Wrapped list in December, which tells me what I listened to most last year, I remembered that this is how technology thinks it knows me—it can use my habits to talk to me in shameless tones. . Spotify might as well have just said, “Hey girl, remember that time you thought you were dying, but you made a funeral playlist because you were low on iron? This is a song that makes you think about death, my dear!”
Think about who you were before the COVID-19 pandemic. What loads have you dropped since then? Which ones are you more careful about sharing? And how badly do you want that person to hit you in the face?
Now before Parliament is legislation that would change how the internet works in Canada, aimed at regulating everything from artificial intelligence to how companies respond to security breaches. But none of the changes will return us to a less familiar web that doesn’t remind us how much is on you as a digital mobster.
They may be fast-tracking on us, storing loads of information about our personal tastes and preferences – but I still want machines to talk to me like they don’t even know me.