So, I Hear You Like to Google

“The Truth Is Out There” A seemingly benign sentiment that speaks to both the simplest of wonders and most esoteric dialogue a person can muster. In 1993, The X-Files had us believing that what was out there was aliens. Then The Matrix happened. Now, the Internet has asserted that it is instead “Inside There” and I’m inclined to believe. I mean, either the net’s just a really smooth talker or this is the real thing.

In an era where people are willing to listen to music through their teeth, having our personalized digital news feeds fed directly into our brain can’t be far away. Assuming that you are one who might one day enjoy this form of augmentation, gaining access to any information you want to with a thought, what would you expect to give in return?

The Internet grew exponentially because we were told that we could do anything on it. While it took a couple decades for that to actually be true, we invested in it. We set out into the great unknown looking to expand our minds by answering questions as soon as they formed, send messages to friends, family and strangers in an instant, and see what our favourite celebrities looked like in the buff. If something wasn’t already there, we had the power to put it there, which is what has made the experiment so grand.

Its current evolution has even culled the need to pay for physical newspapers and given anyone with the slightest technical know-how the ability to freely and illegally acquire, well, anything.

With all we seek from this network of domains, isn’t it a little strange that we don’t want to give our own information back? Anonymous polices everything (particularly corporations and the church), Wikileaks challenges the state, yet when an individual is monitored and tracked using the web it’s apparently outrageous. It makes us uncomfortable when Google Ads genuinely speak to our interests because marketing has never had the ability to be so directly targeted.

Seamus - Anonymous-Seal

In principle, it’s easy to understand that people would be concerned that their information may not be secure online. Forgetting altogether that in many cases it may be our own faults for not setting truly ambiguous passwords for ourselves or leaving our information open assuming that no one shadey would just happen to stumble upon it, even the most prominent internet juggernauts have been hacked recently. Though, when the issue of privacy is raised in regards to the internet, it is rarely in referring to the potential of our credit card numbers being stolen or profile pics being ogled by strangers. There’s insurance for the former and you probably look really good in the latter. When people get up in arms about changes to internet freedoms, it is because we are about to be told that we cannot do absolutely anything we want on the world wide web.

The US and the UK recently introduced provisions to attempt to curb citizens’ proclivity for downloading media illegally. While both countries claim that this will be a relatively anonymous activity and no one’s internet will be cut off completely, users access speeds may be throttled and/or they will redirected to a splash page attempting to convince them that digital piracy is bad. This is the exact kind of internet censorship that we in the West cannot seem to stand for. We built the Internet and are entitled to everything on it, no matter how it got there.

This feeling of disdain comes largely from the fact that copyright holders are being prioritized over the individual, which in concept is quite an understandable reason to protest. However, a serious issue is being overlooked in this argument. How are media and production companies supposed to make the money they “deserve” if anyone with high speed can access any movie, show or album for free and without consequence? How do writers, directors, and crew get the proper acknowledgement for their masterpieces/artless crap if ratings and movie attendance are skewed by the fact that people found what they wanted to watch on the Pirate Bay? How does any recording artist make money anymore?

illegal-music-downloading-is-a-big-problem-in-indonesia
Pic via Life Would “B Flat” (Click to open in new tab)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much against the idea of Corporations As People but I am also aware that the virtual world we inhabit doesn’t allow for traditional forms of revenue to thrive. This is very much due to the slow-as-molasses adaptation of major media empires to use the internet to their advantage; instead seeking to prosecute those it feels are responsible for potential lost income. Although, it is certainly clear to everyone, people and quasi-megapeople, that this shall not be the case for long.

Marketing cannot exist as it once did. Advertisers aren’t going to shell out the same kind of dough for television spots as more and more of us leave cable for Netflix (and more nefarious streaming establishments); not to mention that there’s a serious divide in not only the attention spans of younger generations but our receptiveness to traditional forms of marketing.

In order for the old world of media to make it into the new, marketing will need to be geared directly to the viewer. Engagement strategies will have to be based on the most minute of details about a person/user, corporate language will need to shift into a more sophisticated and direct conversation about their wares and we, the untouchable individuals of the virtual world, will have to get more comfortable with sitting through 30 seconds of something we didn’t ask for before getting to what we want for free.

To boil it down to basics, the Internet is amazing but limited to the shallow nature of three dimensional existence. There’s only so much information we can retain, even if it’s being fed straight into our brains (perhaps even moreso). We use it, and many of us love it; but it’s still just a tool. A tool meant to serve our purposes, not an organ we need to live. The worst part of censorship is *&%*(#*(&$(*#*, but regulating and monitoring activity online isn’t the same thing; assuming we can trust who’s doing it. If you’re reading this from China, first of all I’m surprised they allow this site, and secondly, I’m obviously not talking about you.

To keep the net as adaptive and lively as we want it to be, users need to become less concerned that Google is tracking their search results and that Facebook probably knows exactly what websites we visit even if we’re not signed in. These measures, much like government interference in legitimately illegal online activity, only serve to form the tool we cannot now live without into a viable place for all people, incorporated and not, to find everything we might want.

About Seamus Gearin

Séamus once found a $100 bill and gave it to the first person who passed by. He's regretted it ever since.