I’m not a Bill Maher homie, but I watch his show. Last night’s New Rules piece was good.
As the late David Carr wrote in this piece, “my frame of reference is as neither a Luddite nor a curmudgeon”. Tech has been my entire career, I love it. But I speak about what’s wrong with tech.
For example. When I go to a website and check out a product, the website places a cookie in my browser. From that point on, I see ads pop-up for the product I just viewed on every other site I visit – on any device. It’s like going to Macys to look for a shirt, then the shirt salesperson follows me around for days — in my car, in my home, everywhere. It’s dirty pool.
My wife is at a conference for special education. She was telling me about a conversation she had with a parent who’s child suffered a brain injury while skiing. The parent was telling my wife how much of a difference the iPad has made for kids like hers and so many others with brain injuries. Of course it has. Tech is wonderful in this in so many other ways. What’s not wonderful, is how we’ve traded our privacy and some freedom (a trade that wasn’t disclosed) to share pictures, do email, and interact with others anywhere.
Right now I’m following a great story about James Lawrence, aka The Ironcowboy. James has a public social profile and I’m clicking on the pictures and scanning the feeds. Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to follow James’s story. Yes, many will change their lives because of what he’s up to. Yes, people are learning about James and will take action in their lives all because of social.
But I shouldn’t have to trade my privacy to follow James. When I’m clicking on James’ social feed a trade goes on behind the scenes. All the sudden on all my devices, I’m getting bombarded with ads about running shoes. Not only that, the ad server knows everywhere I go on the Internet. This is progress? I’d rather pay a few cents to see the pictures and be left alone.
Before the Internet, when I read a story in the newspaper, the ads didn’t follow me around after I put the paper down and the publisher didn’t track my every move. When I go to a store and shop, the salesperson isn’t following me around for days.
I’m not suggesting we go back to the printing press. But Bill’s overarching rant is right on. I thought what happened to Sterling was a sad commentary on our society. Shaming, has now become vogue. It seems like so many are angling for YouTube fame — “maybe I can go viral!?”? The facts are that mistakes are forever on the Internet, because what you say and do is forever digitized. A person’s life can be ruined forever in one wrong Tweet or misguided post. This is progress? No, it’s North Korea.
What’s great about tech is that it’s still possible for a couple of kids to go big. It’s also what’s great about America. Somewhere, entrepreneurs see the problems I write about and are up to something. My experience has been that people, not the government, make the big difference. People are helping others to lead healthier lives. Each day, more and more people are waking up and starting to see what’s happening with the environment.
Renee and I just watched Selma. While the credits rolled we were sitting on the couch in awe, deeply moved. I asked Renee, “Where’s the next MLK”?. Maybe he’s already here? Maybe MLK’s spirit is being felt by the entrepreneurs I imagine, the people I speak of, and in James? Man, I hope so. If so, I hope it doesn’t take two hundred years to walk across the bridge.