July 24, 2012

Internet History

I recently read The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser (formerly of MoveOn.org) which details how so much of our lives is held in the cookies of our browsers, and how companies all over the world can have access to the data we store in those cookies. We're moving towards a more personalized world, and our private information is quickly becoming commoditized.

While I felt the book was somewhat fear-mongering and extreme in some places, the basic gist I did agree with: we're seeing an internet where each of us can go about our days without having to see anything we don't want to see. That's a little scary as a concept, right? A world where nothing upsets us or forces us to reconsider our notions?

At the same time, a world where I can find exactly what I need, based on who I am and what I'm likely to be looking for, is immeasurably useful. Google wants to become a company that will run the search for me that I don't even realize I want to run, finding me information and data that I want or need the very moment the thought occurs to me.

As something of a research junkie, this would be amazing. I'd never have to struggle for information that I wanted or needed ever again. On the other hand, I often serve as a research aide to my novelist and author friend(s). My search history spans topics as diverse as East Asian organized crime, piloting jet planes and small aircraft, Rocky Horror Picture Show traditions, Indian wedding traditions, the manufacture and contents of methamphetamines, and hockey. (Yes, hockey.) So who I am to the internet is kind of a mixed bag, though apparently there's a strong emphasis on crime and criminality. Though, I could just be a mystery novelist.

Still, this does raise the question: who does the internet think we are? And what about those of us who have been using the space for extended periods of time? I've been online since I was twelve, and there's no such thing as a total delete online. So, who does the internet -- or Google, or Yahoo, or Acxiom -- think I really am?

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