When I fill out forms for applications, registrations and user profiles, I’m usually honest about my birthdate and gender. But I’m learning there are times online when it’s to my advantage to remain anonymous. More than that, remaining anonymous is a way to protect my sanity. Internet zombies want to take over my brain.
Unfortunately, I gave my age and gender when I registered for a music streaming service that was free because it played commercials. Then listening to music during dinner, sometime between the arugula and the roast chicken, I heard an ad for adult diapers. My first reaction was to be offended. Does anybody really want to hear about adult diapers? During dinner?
Of course, algorithms don’t have ears, they aren’t people trying to give me a better life, they don’t know me, and they don’t care to. An algorithm crawls over my user profile and registers me as a female born in 1954. Then it matches those two stats with an advertiser’s product profile that specifies women of a certain age, and bingo! — She needs diapers. No one says, “May I help you?”
Once I’m statistically pegged by age and gender, the content I see online is a reflection of social stereotypes and I’m stuck in a hall of mirrors. What I see becomes more and more repetitive, same news stories, same advertisements, same emotional tenor. Wherever I go, I’m followed by clones of my previous interests. This is the real zombie apocalypse. It’s not a messy splatter of blood and guts. It’s the hypnotic repetition of cloned content brainwashing me into putting money in the machine.
I bought a rug on Amazon once. Now everywhere I go online I see ads for rugs, as though rugs are like shoes and I can never have too many. I know I should fear an algorithm that doesn’t know the difference between rugs and shoes, but I’m addicted to eye candy. Soon I won’t even have to click on a link. When my retina is tracked following a pair of Italian leather shoes they’ll be automatically charged to my credit card and shipped.
In my worst nightmare, I looked at a rug too long and a thousand 8×10 Turkish rugs were delivered to my apartment while I was in the shower. Noooo! The bathroom door was blocked by piles of rugs and I couldn’t get out. Noooo! I could hear my Patsy Cline ringtone in the kitchen announcing a thousand text messages. Your order has been delivered. Your order has been delivered. Noooo! I gripped my cheeks in horror as she sang the same line over and over again. Stand by your man. Stand by your man. Stand by your man. I put my hands over my ears to stop the madness. Noooo! Then after a few hundred notifications, silence. I yelled for help. “Siri! Siri, call 911.” But she was dead, just another casualty of the zombie apocalypse.