GETTING FREAKED OUT
Watching Black Mirror last night, I noted that the last three episodes have had this creepy theme of consciousness transfer. The show uses this small round button like gadget that is inserted into the character’s temple and this is how the mind shift happens. Kind of like the mind meld from the original Star Trek episodes, but scarier and incredibly realistic. The brilliance of Black Mirror is its ability to drag you into its vortex like you are actually in the show. There is this uncanny realism to this series and like a train wreck I am finding it hard to look away. Unsettling for sure and I am surprised that I find myself wanting to watch another one because I generally like more zen happy tv or more often, no tv.
I am from the generation who read the required reading of George Orwell’s 1984 before 1984. I was in high school between 1979–1983 so the clear memories of waiting for the themes of 1984 to happen were joked about often among my peers. When I was in high school Intro to Computers was brand new and the glossy Windows program was nowhere in site. The theme was computer programming that taught the old school Dos program, a lackluster and colorless behind the scenes I don’t think it even exists anymore program. The class was filled with the stereotypical nerdy boys and even if it had been something I was interested in, this was discouraged because it wasn’t “for girls.” This wasn’t something that was said aloud, but there was an undercurrent of silent understanding of knowing our place in the choosing of classes we mostly white middle class girls should be taking. Like shop, wood working and mechanics, all available in the curriculum in North Kingstown High School in the late seventies, we understood that those programs were for the kids (aka boys) who needed skill sets other than the automatic track to college most of us were on. Vocational programs and skill set training were available, but not really encouraged unless we wanted to take Home Economics, (yes that was available) and yes it was filled with mostly girls. The only boys that took the class were the ones who cleverly understood there would be cooking which equaled free food coupled with lots of girls. They didn’t realize there would also be lessons on sewing, child rearing and diaper changing, but the food and girl theme was enough to have them overlook the other “girl duties being taught to us.”
It doesn’t seem like much has changed as my son is majoring in computer science and cyber security in his second year of college and everyone’s eyes light up when I reply to their question, “what is your son majoring in?” He told me that the classes are mostly boys still. And he is likely in on the early stages of where cyber security is really headed as we find our worlds and its privacy aligning itself more and more with the Orwelian plot of 1984. I used to shrug my shoulders at “all of the talk on privacy” when George Bush’s polices post 911 were rapidly changing to give the government more and more control over ours.
“I have nothing to hide, so why is all of this even a topic,” I would find myself saying in conversations. “They (being the government as my reference at this naïve filled time) are looking for terrorists, not me.” The privacy alarmists back then were screaming from the rooftops and my simple brain wasn’t hearing or listening as I continued to buy Apple product after Apple product choosing Google as my go to search engine and Firefox as my preferred web browser. Taking photo after photo, video after video, getting excited when every social media site linked with one another so I could save time for my business when I made a post never thinking about the I Agree box I was forced to check each time to proceed. After all who reads the sixty five page document, I have work to do, photos to take, tweets to make and questions to ask Google, my new best friend.
Little did I realize that while all of the privacy advocates were screaming about government interference, the people who were really controlling our privacy were silently commanding our attention and our wallets with app after app. And they were doing it under the banners of the greatest places to work as we got to sneak peaks at their enviable work environments filled with workout rooms, free food at their self contained on site organic restaurants, game rooms filled with pool tables and vintage pacmen machines and lunchtime basketball courts.
“My Brita filter needs to be changed,” my partner, Michael happily told me as he got up from the couch this morning and immediately headed to the kitchen to change the filter. “I love it when they let me know,” he said so matter of factly. He had just sat down on the couch to read the paper and when the text came in to remind him, like Pavlov’s dog, he and his just seconds ago unplanned behavior responded promptly. “How do they know?” I asked. “You have to set it up on the Brita page,” he responded. This is what is happening; we are feeding the companies all of our information and they are making our lives ‘easier,’ ‘more convenient,’ and we keep feeding more and more into the cyber machine. What an appropriate segue into the privacy topic. I sound like I am turning into a conspiracy theorist, more like an awarist, and I am fully aware this is not a word… yet. Maybe if I write it in the Google search bar, Google will make it so in their online dictionary. And while I am at that, let me get sidetracked on the Oscar awards so they know where I click and it can be recorded for future sidetracks. No wonder no one has any time anymore.
This past year I began noticing how much automatic linking is happening in all of my devices. I began getting the summaries of my life in the friendversaries that Facebook coordinates to remind me of the “good times,” and I just started getting these summaries from Iphoto too. I didn’t ask for this. Face and location recognition in the photos I take are a great tracking device for not only where I am, where I was, but how I spend. (and where our children are and what they are spending because ultimately “they” don’t really care about 53 year old alayne, they care about the up and coming 12–20 year olds). This is the brilliance of technology. It is all happening because we are feeding it our information because “we are not doing anything wrong.”
There are so many controls on our phones that we could turn off if we wanted to spend about a day trying to find the buttons beneath the layers. Who has the time when we are so busy taking photos of our most recent breakfast and sharing it with the world? And as we do this, these companies are happily and easily getting our information because we tell it every single day in our Iclouds our entire thought processes so they can remind us to change the Brita filter when we had no intention to do so five seconds before.
I have loved technology in some moments. Certainly as I type away on my thousand dollar mac laptop and upload this piece into the Medium site that brilliantly collects writings from aspiring writers allowing us a space to self publish for free (allowing them to have their site with all of the free writing they could ever dream of). All of our words are being fed into the machine, I am guessing and thought patterns are being analyzed, studied and regurgitated back to us in the ads to buy the brands and the items we just texted or emailed or spoke of. Right?
I mean this can’t all be coincidental that I had just been literally thinking about a turquoise kitchen aid mixer that I have coveted since I spotted one right after I had purchased my pink one. Even me who loves turquoise couldn’t justify two kitchen aid mixers, but when my pink one broke I contemplated buying the turquoise one instead of repairing the pink one. It seemed like in a nanosecond, I started seeing ads on Wayfair that actually had the turquoise kitchen aid mixer in them, custom algorythym ad campaigning in its truest form or pure coincidence? I don’t know. (By the way, I repaired old school style the pink one so fuck Wayfair, you didn’t get me this time.)
Technology has been a mixed bag of love and disgust among my peer of women as we have tried to maintain some semblance of order in our lives and our families by keeping the cell phones away from the dinner tables. Sometimes it feels like the world is spinning out of control, but this didn’t start with technology really. It started with the invention of the printing press (hold on, let me check with Google to find out the date for accuracy because everything you search for is the truth, right, especially medical informationJ) Ironically as I typed in my question “npr interview with a guy who wrote about the invention of the printing press.” Because I heard a fabulous interview with an author going back in time to explain how this simple invention we take for granted changed the course of history. Instead what came up was an interview with the writer and creator of Black Mirror. Mmmm is this a coincidence or a mind meld?