We’ve all heard the speculation about how Google and Facebook and other worthies are hoarding our personal data and will sell it with highly profitable, and perhaps sinister, results. These are nervous times.
I’m like most people: I use free services, while begrudging the prospect of being used by them. Sure, I want to have it both ways. Don’t you?
That’s why I’ve recently embraced personal sabotage: I deliberately use search engines and click links to articles and products that don’t interest me, that I don’t like, and that never, in a thousand years, would I ever buy. God, no!
Why do this?
To screw up the statistics. To compromise the data. To make myself something other than a passive partner to some faraway stranger getting rich.
For instance, I don’t like accordions. That’s putting it mildly. Mind you, I have nothing against the performers as individuals — a respected friend of mine loves playing her accordion, and as far as I know, every accordionist is the salt of the earth — but I am positively allergic to the music. If hell exists, and if I go there, the soundtrack will be accordions.
But, only minutes ago, I ran a Facebook search for accordion music and clicked promiscuously on the subject for 40 seconds. Maybe an entire minute. I racked up some dubious statistics and queered my cyber profile. After stumbling across a spirited five-minute accordion solo of “Through the Eyes of Love,” I turned off the sound (of course!) and then went to the kitchen and made myself a cup of coffee.
Some people will say that they don’t have time for such foolery. They are too busy, their daily demands are too serious. To which I reply: Uh huh. How many regular internet users can honestly say, “Today, I didn’t waste a minute!” Please.
And the good news is, personal sabotage is amazingly easy. If you fit it around your phone calls and emails and toilet breaks and other interruptions, you can leave an almost effortless trail of Fake Consumer Data without inconveniencing your necessary business.
Today, in addition to accordions, I’ve run searches on Tai Chi and Tim Burton and Nascar and quinoa — all subjects that I don’t give a damn about. If these searches result in banner or sidebar ads on my screen, it makes no difference, because I’ve developed a tunnel vision that leads me to block out them out. Putting something in front of my face doesn’t mean that I’ll see it. I suspect that I’m typical in this regard. Most internet users have acquired this selective focus. We expose ourselves, but we still want to be left alone.
I have no illusions. Of course, my cyber gestures are not going to change the larger economy. But my personal sabotage does have the immediate short-term benefit of challenging the most complacent, demeaning and powerful forces at work to make me something less than an individual, and something more like a Consumer Profile.
Sentimental? Maybe… but maybe not! It wouldn’t surprise me if other people were privately doing the same thing, or would warm to the idea, once they heard about it.
What if the millions — no, the hundreds of millions — of Facebook and other social media users began celebrating a similar reluctance to be used? What if they planted beautiful nonsense and their personal sabotage became a new leisure activity?
Unlike hacking, you’re not intruding where you’re uninvited. Remember, it’s all about you.
Paradoxically, by clicking wildly and promiscuously and counter-intuitively — by lying about yourself — you’ll reclaim some autonomy and become more your own master. That’s today’s world.
Let serendipity roar.