There are few things that will endear you more to me than turning me on to new music that I really like. I think this explains why I wasn’t so eager to complain about online tracking and such, because a fair percentage of the music I listen to in any good month was initially recommended to me by computer algorithms, starting with Musicmatch Jukebox back in the day, and continuing on through my rare dalliances with Pandora. It wasn’t that I didn’t see why people were concerned with this technology — I was concerned myself — but I could point to more than a couple of tangible benefits I was gaining from this stuff. Maybe I just wanted to wait and see how the technology would evolve. Maybe I thought that I was wise enough to defeat any games that these technologies would try to play with me. Whatever the case, as the years have gone on, I’ve become more and more regretful that I ever trusted this stuff.
It doesn’t help that the technology itself, for as powerful as it’s getting, is often befuddlingly awful at its purported job. Ever since I moved to Wisconsin over five years ago, Facebook has steadily been sticking posts from various Green Bay Packers official and fan pages into my feed. despite the fact that I only follow Detroit sports teams on the service (and most of my Facebook checks were done literally a few miles south of the Michigan border, back when I was living in Toledo). Getting a few posts about the Packers every now and then would be baffling enough, but I can literally close two posts from the exact same account within seconds of one another, scroll down the page, and have it load up a third post from the same page. I don’t want to block the pages because they’re not doing anything bad, and maybe one of my friends on the service might repost an actually-interesting thing from them, but it feels like Facebook is leaving me no other choice. Either they’re going to make me do that, or they’re expecting me to follow the Detroit Lions on there, which I’m not going to do because they’re going to lose their playoff game this weekend and I’ve already got enough disappointment in my life.
At times, though, this technology creates real difficulties for me. I can’t advertise my book on many platforms (and I’m even banned from all advertising on at least one of them) because the title of my first novel includes the word “prostitutes,” and this fact tends to get the book immediately flagged as erotica (which it is not), and apparently also gets me labeled as a degenerate in at least some circles. This isn’t such a serious issue for me now, but before I got hired here in Wisconsin, when I was dependent on book sales for a serious percentage of my income, this was seriously affecting my ability to pay my bills on time, and I know that I’m far from the only author/artist to get stuck dealing with this sort of thing.
Now it seems to be getting even worse. There is an app that I’m pretty much forced to use given the work that I do, and I’ve never liked the trackers in it, in part because the app pushes its tracking right in your face on the app’s home screen. For a time, the app gave you the ability to turn this off, but now that option is no longer there, and nearly every time I open the app up, it forces me to look at what it thinks I “need” based on my previous use of the app. This would be messed up on its own, but the fact that the tracker is also very bad just makes me want to rip that information off the app’s home screen.
Since my music tastes are all over the place, I doubt any tracker could figure out anything about me, and I gush about music all the time anyway (both online and offline), so it’s not like my music-listening habits are some privileged information that I don’t want gigantic tech corporations knowing about. More and more, though, I’m seeing stuff that I don’t want associated with me (again, mostly because these trackers are bad and make very bad assumptions about me) in the apps I use, and the emails I read, and the fact that companies aren’t even giving me the option to not have them thrown in my face is becoming genuinely aggravating.
I still see the benefit in this technology, but only if it used in appropriate, responsible, and most importantly, consensual ways. I’ll probably hop on Pandora again sometime in the next few weeks, and maybe it will turn me on to some musician, new or old, whose works I’m not yet familiar with. With the way things have been going, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if even Pandora starts becoming too burdensome for me. The notion of an electronic “big brother” watching all of us is bad enough, but when it can act with such impunity in terms of how it operates, when it basically gloats over its power and dares people to become full-blown Luddites in order to escape it, that’s when the dangers of this technology, especially the psychological, come into stark relief.