I was showing my mom my new dress yesterday, which is covered in dinosaurs (because I aspire to be Ms. Frizzle), and she asked how on earth I found such gloriousness.
“The internet, of course!” I replied, because let’s all be honest here: the information age is a pretty sweet one if you aspire to be a craze-balls eccentric, but don’t have the time to devote days pawing through thrift stores.
Insert obligatory White Person Rapping here, because dammit, even if it does show my inner bourgeoisie, I love this song.
Anyway, she wanted more details than, “The entire internet,” since that’s a little like say, “I bought this on planet earth;” technically true, but not actually informative. So I told her how, for the first time in my life, I actually bought an item I saw in a targeted online ad. Finally, the internet really understands me.
There’s a lot of discussion around how much corporations know about you based on your online activities, and don’t get me wrong, I’m horrified by the political implications, but I also worked in the online ad industry for years, so it’s kind of hard for me to get worked up about Google keeping track of the fact that I did a search for “dinosaur clothes” a few weeks ago for a post. Maybe it’s because I work pretty hard to keep as much personal information offline as I can, maybe it’s because I welcome our inevitable Google Overlords and just hope they will be merciful with me, but probably it’s because I honestly don’t care who knows that I want more dinosaur clothes. I do, in fact, want more dinosaur clothes! Gimme!
But that got me thinking about how much the internet really does know who I am as a person. Sure, Facebook probably knows an alarming amount about my political and social leanings, but I think the average Joe on the street could also figure that out pretty fast, so I’m not that terrified on that front.
What does scare me? What internet algorithms keep me up at night, wondering how I can protect my identity? What innoccuous “suggestions” from websites fill me with a dark sense of foreboding?
Okay, none of them, but I do get awfully confused when I see a list of Things That Might Interest You, and it looks like this:
Let’s address this, shall we? Pinterest thinks that, more than anything else in the world, I desperately want to know more about postcards. No, not the fun front bit with a picture of the Grand Canyon or whatever. The design on the back. Where it’s intentionally left minimal and blank. You know, for the writing. Is Pinterest implying I’m such a boring human being that I can’t even be bothered with the part of a postcard with a picture on it??
Obviously not, because it also thinks I’m obsessed with circus freaks. Obsessed. Like, 66% of its recommendations are basically, “You’re a creeper and a weirdo, and you will probably enjoy finding out how others of your kind spend their time, eating stale popcorn and displaying disfigurements for profit.” ARE YOU IMPLYING I WOULD MAKE A GOOD BEARDED WOMAN, PINTEREST? BECAUSE I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW I’M SOMEWHAT GOOD AT PLUCKING ANY STRAY WITCH HAIRS THAT POP ON MY CHIN ON A SEMI-ANNUAL BASIS.
To be fair, there was that one time when I was a human dress form/seamstress lacky for my roommate, who was, in fact, designing costumes for an entire circus. But Pinterest doesn’t know that! Nobody on the internet knows that!
Pinterest is psychic.
All right, but the last one? Cow Tattoo? Why? Why why why? First off, why would I want a tattoo of livestock of any variety, but more importantly, why would anyone? Unless a cow saved your life once, I can’t see this being a good plan.
So of course I had to click on it, confirming Pinterest’s algorithm and sending ripples across the internet, informing every ad network that I’m totally into cow tattoos. Curiosity killed the… bovine?
Yeah, that metaphor didn’t work at all.
Back to the story! This is what I was presented with, upon clicking the link:
I have some notes.
- Okay, to be fair, it turns out that cow tattoos aren’t necessarily hideously ugly. Well played, people with an unhealthy interest in the dairy industry.
- There are enough cow tattoos out there in the world that someone compiled a list. And found at least 25 examples.
- Cow skulls look weirdly like the human female reproductive system. Maybe the bovine reproductive system too; I have no idea.
The point here is that yes, maybe we’re already living in a Big Brother society, with all our interactions and information obsessively tracked by faceless corporations, but I’m still not all that worried. Because even if the internet did figure out that I am a person who will buy a dress covered in dinosaurs, no questions asked, it also thinks I’m an extremely dull bearded lady with a penchant for permanent reminders of the steak I had for dinner.
I dare any nefarious political organizations to put that to good use. I dare you.