A Not So Happy New Year Prediction

I don’t know which is worse, fracking or data-mining.  They’re both about the same thing – penetration.  Only with fracking, it’s the earth that’s being penetrated, with data mining, it’s me.

I won’t go into the feminist hackles this raises or the privacy issues or the fact that, as British cosmologist Sir Martin Rees put it: “An entire generation is growing up accustomed to being surveilled.”  (I especially won’t bring up that because 1) I’m not sure that’s the exact quote and 2) when I met Sir Martin Rees and told him how much I liked the quote, he said, “Yes, and I meant it as a good thing.”)

Also, tempting as it is, I won’t write about how prescient French philosopher Michel Foucalt now seems, his PanOpticon – a sort of Santa Claus device that knows when we’ve been naughty and knows when we’ve been nice – realized as the Cloud.

But, as I said, forget all that.  What’s on my mind now is, well, my mind.  The one the people targeting their ads want a share of.  Talk about invasive – they’re invading my consciousness.  They’re always there at the edges, lurking around like a pesky little brother following his older sister and her friends: Superfriendly – “hey, my financial interests align with your social interests!” – but blind to the social cues that say “Leave us alone.”

Here’s my problem:  I have trouble enough focusing; I don’t need to have my attention misdirected from my To-Do list to a semiotics quandary.  I don’t even have time to look up “semiotics” to make sure that’s the right word.  But that’s just what happened last month when I emailed my doctor for the name of a good gastroenterologist.  An ad for a book popped up:  “Colonoscopy for Dummies.”  That set off a whole chain of semiotic decoding, ending in a paranoid vision of Obamacare being replaced by DIY Care.  It was hours before I could get back to work.

But now – and I literally mean ten minutes ago – something just happened that really freaked me out.   I finished talking to a friend on the phone and went to check my gmail on my laptop. Immediately an ad for a hotel in the Cotswalds popped up.  Okay, I know that doesn’t sound weird but… I hadn’t used “the Cotswalds” in a gmail.  Or on FB or Twitter.  I hadn’t done a search.  I hadn’t Googled it.  I’d only used it on the phone with my friend.

I don’t think it takes an Oracle to see what’s happening: They’re mining our phone conversations.  They’ve discovered some gizmo or algorithm or leprechaun that transmits data from your iPhone to your MacBook.   They haven’t told us yet because they haven’t figured out a way to make it sound like it’s something we’ve been clamoring for, but as soon as they do – and to make this prediction, you probably do have to be an Oracle…or crazy – they’ll not only recast it as a service, but we’ll pay more for it.