The whole world seems to know that I am trying to finish moving into another home in another jurisdiction. It’s not that I’m important, or that the paparazzi has gathered at my doorstep, but because today’s technology allows the internet to almost effortlessly keep track of all of us. For example, when I signed on my browser yesterday a news story jumped out giving me a listing of activities coming up in my new neighborhood. This made me wonder how the computer knew I’d maybe be interested. After all, this new location is more than an hour from the old and is in a rural area, so how did they know? It turns out that I told them when I updated my driver’s license, and my voting registration. I had also been on-line checking out some of the demographics in this new area, including churches, parks, and County services available. In short, they learned of my interest in these areas. They had my profile.
Common uses of personal computers is much more than bookkeeping and other business concerns. We have personal interests that include attempts to discover our roots and ancestries. Singles use this system to arrange dates in hope of discovering the love of their life. I wonder about on-line dating because it is risky, but then so is ‘bar-hopping’ and most other methods used to meet others. We use the internet to do on-line shopping, find the definition of a new word or to research health questions. YouTube helps us with ‘how to’ changing tail lights, fix the plumbing, or even bake some outstanding muffins. On-line interest groups can be very worthwhile, but once you join a group, expect the world to see and take advantage of your new interest.
The name of the game today is ‘cookies.’ We all know that this term doesn’t refer to the sweet little wafers we love when we have the munchies. Instead they are a collection of our internet interests and preferences. Yes, such could be used for ill-gain, but most are relatively friendly used primarily to give us a hand or to market products that fit in our recent web-activities. Marketers know that we tend to have common interests so while helping us they also help themselves. It’s smart marketing.
There are reasonable objections from some that police may profile them when seeking out perpetrators known to fit certain descriptions. While it may be unfair to the segment of people matching a ‘description’ or profile, it may ultimately result in a higher number of solved crimes. It’s logical to ‘profile’ when there’s a high chance that a given crime is committed by someone belonging to a particular population set. It can cause charges of discrimination and may very well cause major problems for the innocent. In fairness, why waste time looking at those who don’t fit the profile? The real problem is those who have a mindset that can negatively affect the innocent.
I cannot say whether all the profiling began with investigations of crime, or the building of a data-base to sell products. The net result will provide items at better prices so that certainly ought not to draw objections.
So, what does this have to do with growing up? It’s this: As we have grown older there have been some very significant changes in how people communicate. Many, if indeed not most, use electronic media networks. That process is as different as using horses and wagons compared to using motor vehicles. It is too difficult compare one generation with another when this basic need to transfer information is concerned.
Consider the farmers of our day who had to fix things when they broke because frankly, it was very expensive to purchase another. Parts were not always locally available and could take weeks or longer to get them. For many generations, heavy steel plows were pulled by horses, mules or oxen and were made of materials the farmer, or a blacksmith could duplicate. If something broke it became time to weld, hammer and reshape. In my day tractors had replaced the need for draft animals, but the farmer still had to repair whatever might be damaged or worn out. Many times the tractor or attachment was already a generation or two old, so the service manuals were long lost. Contrast that with today when a manual and repair instructions are on your handheld device. YouTube is one of the first places we should check out. Just remember, that when you do make an inquiry, your web-profile will capture that information and may result in a ‘snowstorm’ of ads.
Another obvious example that I’ve written about before is the difference of how the wall-phone of our childhood enabled us to call for help, to reach love ones, or trade the latest news. That was a miracle to generations that got their news by pony express, or ‘Paul Revere.’ It wasn’t long before designs changed with dial phones models and then push button replacing the old crank box devices. Then arrived the cute little princess phones that were so cute and perfect for the bedroom. Instead of one telephone we had several stationed around our house. When I was finally an adult, I had a phone installed in my bathroom! That meant I was no longer temporarily out of touch and I wouldn’t miss those calls.
Kids today don’t comprehend people running frantically through the house to answer the phone. After all, today, it’s right there in their hip pocket. During my growing up years we were tied to the landlines and many of those were party-lines, too. It would be another generation that would finally have phones in their cars or fixed to their person. Over time they constructed more cell towers that have given us near universal reception. Cell phones have become smaller, lost their extendable antennas, and began to store ‘quick-dial’ numbers that are regularly used. The next generation required us to ‘flip’ them open, which was a cool move for the hip.
Contrariwise, today’s phones are ‘smart,’ flatter and provide larger screens to allow easy internet browsing. Cameras are also part of the package allowing us to take ‘selfies’ throughout the day. To us old codgers, it is like magic to text, talk, do research, or get detailed directions to the nearest pizzeria. Why we can even find out what all those acronyms mean, LOL. Answers for questions are available at our fingertips. No longer do we have to consult an encyclopedia. (Do they still publish them?) Today, if we what to listen to any song, watch any movie or see live action at the ball park, there’s sure to be an app you can download for almost anything. We can even order in our groceries online and have them delivered!
So, what about today’s farmer with a broken part? He is likely to stop his tractor, look at the damage and order a new part while still standing in the field. Next day delivery directly to the farm is likely. It may even come with a video to show how to install the new part. Thrifty famers may look around for the best price, or buy a used or reconditioned part when deciding on the better value.
Yes, today we email, text, and twitter people we don’t even know. It isn’t the same as when we pulled up a stool, cranked the phone handle, asked Maude to ring a friend’s phone so we could lean back and enjoy a rare conversation on the phone. We should also remember that previously long distance calls meant an additional charge on our phone bill. Neither could we ‘Skype’ but we joked about those who insisted on combing their hair and getting presentable before making that important phone call.
Many of us will remember those times when we’d had to find a phone or borrow a land-line in an emergency. Girls carried ‘mad money,’ usually a dime, to call home if the date went bad. Why today kids may never have seen people drop coins in a pay phone or use a phone booth. How long has it been since you’ve seen a phone booth? A generation or two before I was born college kids crowded to see how many people could get into a phone booth. I wonder how Superman could change clothes today considering they are less common.
We used to joke or complain about nosy people who listened in on party lines calls, and maybe even broke in to give us unsolicited advice. While we thought that escaping party lines would mean we would have more privacy. Maybe that isn’t true. Calls can be hacked and may be even less private now. Our calls can be accessed from all around the world by people with varying motives. Someone in China, Russia, or Africa, may have downloaded your profile. It’s not always to steal your identity, but that certainly isn’t difficult for those who make their living behind the scenes. Many make an ‘honest’ living sending out offers for products or services that fit your profile. That can be helpful, but of course others may use this data to concoct a scam.
So, what is next? Simple. Those who have ill-intentions will ‘hack’ into our system now that everything is on line. It is possible that our ‘Smart’ appliances will betray us and allow access to our private networks. They might shut down making it impossible to get ice from our icemaker, or cook on our stovetop. Electrical grids can be attacked and crash. We have already seen that our elections can be compromised. Air Traffic can be interrupted and maybe our defense system disarmed.
Computers and technology are wonderful, but the more dependent we become on technology more at risk we are through the Internet of Things (IOT). Meant to be a good thing, and helpful to society, it can be turned against us as well. You see, we no longer have blacksmithing skills or the mentality to fix and make do. After a cyber-attack, life could become much like the dark ages. That’s scary, but to offset or block that event a lot of good people are hard at work trying to build anti-malware software to save us from what we have created.
Like most any progressive change, technology is both a blessing and a curse. Life is more complex and creates new risks as we move more and more into the digital age. We are exposed to profiling for sure, but we are at risk of more than mere marketing analytics. We can now discover our past through DNA analysis, and can find out all about your interests, strengths and weaknesses through computer forensics.
The farmer used to consult the Farmer’s Almanac about when to plow, what to plant, and how to insure his equipment was working. It’s always been argued whether this helped, but either way it wasn’t something that should cause harm. Today, things have changed for even the smallest of farms. Crank phones are a thing of the past. Now, your profile is out there. Be careful and don’t be shocked when you discover someone else knows your business. As for me, I have lived in both worlds. I still value a nap on the front porch, a face-to-face chat with a friend, and maybe even writing an article for the electronic media. I might consult the county agent for advice, but just as likely, I may Google. Thanks for reading this but watch out for the cookies. firstname.lastname@example.org