From time to time I have to remind myself that the Internet is more than just a wonderful way to waste time. It isn’t just a free-for-all of cat videos and vitriol. No, the Internet is corporate data-mining on a scale far more sinister than Big Brother. Things you search, things you like, things you buy, all reveal something about you.
Advertisers are very interested in getting to know the real you so they can target you with ads tailored to your likes and interests. You see it in the ads that show up that are eerily based on your most recent searches and web page visits or in the email recommendations you get from retailers from whom you’ve purchased in the past.
I understand someone has to pay for all of the content online. Cat videos are expensive. And I wouldn’t have a problem with it if the recommendations for me were – well – cooler.
And it’s funny, because when you walk into a traditional store (Remember the mall? People got into cars and drove to places to shop? With other people?), salespeople get you to buy things all the time you’ll never need. They flatter you into thinking that you’re something you’re not – lure you in with romance and thoughts of clinking glasses, soft talks on faraway shores – and suddenly you’ve got a Vilebrequin swimsuit in the Bengal Tiger print, complete with oversized sunglasses that may look good on Pitbull, but not necessarily an accountant with college-aged children.
I offer as an example my vintage Ralph Lauren motorcycle pants complete with leather trim on the pockets with matching straps and buckles. I recently rediscovered them after they’d been in my closet for at least five years, tags intact. Five years from now I’m confident they’ll still be there in the same condition.
Half of my closet seems to be waiting for a costume party that I will never attend.
Computer-based recommendations, on the other hand, have a certain unsentimental brutality about them. They’re not trying to sell you on a fantasy version of yourself, they’re selling you on what you already are based on your online activity.
Amazon and iTunes are great at this.
Instead of notifying me about a trendy new energy drink, Amazon wants Richard to know it has “new arrivals in tea.”
Couldn’t Amazon at least pretend that based on my recent purchases, I need a survival knife, a field repair manual for a 1953 MG and a can of wildebeest repellent?
iTunes seems to have the most attitude. Maybe they don’t say it this way, but the message is clear: “based on other crappy music you’ve bought, here’s some equally crappy music you and your crappy music loving friends may like to consider.”
I try to argue back with the iTunes “genius” recommendations: “No wait, I’m cool! Look at my library! Look at the Social Distortion! What about the String Cheese Incident? I bought Sleater-Kinney before they broke up! ‘Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train’ was just a gift! Don’t send me into some pitiful Adult Contemporary category!”
Recommendations are what got me into law school, now recommendations are offering to Bounce my Body Beautiful. I’m not sure which is worse. (But don’t worry: if I must bounce, I do so in private, lest I violate my own Rule Against Public Jiggling.)
Maybe I’m taking this whole aging out of the most desirable demographic of 18-49 way too seriously. Perhaps I should just brew a fine pot of Darjeeling and relax.
Maybe I’m so far removed from cool that if an online recommendation arrived for the hottest new event I wouldn’t even know to go to it.
But if I do, I have the pants.