It’s interesting what we let into our homes and our lives and what we keep out. It’s interesting what we consider dangerous or a threat. Rarely do we know our neighbors anymore. We don’t let our kids walk home by themselves from school or play unsupervised in our neighborhoods. We tend to lock up our houses, deadbolt on the doors, and bar the windows. We keep out tangible, understandable threats but often leave ourselves wide open to the other kinds of dangers.
Technology is a connection point. it is the way we reach out and connect – to information, to services, to other people. It is also a way for other people to connect to us, whether we desire it or not. Technology grants us access to a vast array of information, but it also allows others access to our private lives and personal details. It bypasses our locked doors and windows, our security systems and guard dogs, because we allow it into our most intimate spaces. Our computers, our phones, and our connection points can pose more danger and be more problematic to us than anything we imagine lurking in the bushes outside our homes. If we fail to see the risks, we leave ourselves and those we love wide open.
When you put yourself out there on the Internet, you’re establishing connection; you’re opening up an access point. Every connection is a two-way conversation, whether you mean it to be or not. For example, you may simply use Google to search for something interesting, but in the process Google has recorded your interests, where you’ve been, and what you like. You think your information is private because you didn’t log on and provide a user name, but Google records the Internet address you used, and all the previous addresses too. It records your location, the kind of device you’re using, your favorite browser, and more. And if you’ve ever signed in to Google, all of that information can be correlated.
When you use the Internet to discover things, you invariably reveal more than you know – it’s unavoidable. Have you ever noticed when you go online that many of the ads sprinkled around websites are tailored to your location, gender, age, previously visited websites, and even searches you’ve performed? If you use an online webmail service like Gmail, the ads are even tailored to the contents of the messages you read. This isn’t coincidental; you’re being targeted, and you provided the information, the ammunition, yourself.
Today it’s automatically targeted advertising, but what will it be tomorrow? I ran across an interesting statement from Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, from a couple of years ago. While speaking to students at Cambridge University, he said, “So while the Internet has in some ways an ability to let us know to an unprecedented level what government is doing…it is also the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen.” Technology results in us both knowing and being known.
I don’t mean to sound like a neo-Luddite or a conspiracy theorist, but this knowledge does lead me to approach what I can do on the Internet with a certain amount of care. Technology allows us to personalize our world to an amazing degree, to tailor what we see, hear, and say. This customization gives us the illusion of total control and makes it ever more difficult to see and admit how technology could be controlling and changing us.
Write down all the ways you interact with technology during your day, from cell phones to smartphones, from computers to laptops, from game consoles to Internet access: list them all. Next, put a dollar figure beside each item. Add it up. How much money has technology cost you? Finally, put time spent per day beside each item. Add up the time for the week, the month, the year. What do you think of your totals? Is it time for a change?
The above is excerpted from #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking by Dr. Gregory Jantz.