Camp is away with Muriel this week on a road trip to the interior. I’ve volunteered to shop-sit the bookstore for him, since after Easter it’s a pretty slow time of year. I actually enjoy it and get to chat to all kinds of interesting customers. And I get to sit and read for hours while at the same time feeling useful and engaged. Not such a bad life. The bills and ads I just file away for Camp to deal with.
A dear friend included me in an email of an online Ted-Talk by Carole Cadwalladr about Facebook’s role in Brexit and the threat to democracy. Disturbing and frightening.
Neither Camp nor myself indulge in social media platforms. We don’t subscribe to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Snapchat, Pinterin, Tumblr or any others. I have an Instagram page and follow about a dozen others, my blog, which is my proverbial drawer and repository for my ramblings and stories – with Camp’s invaluable input – and I use Whatsapp and email and I talk and text on the phone. I do subscribe to a couple of news outlets like my Swiss paper – Tagesanzeiger– the Guardianand the Economist. I also frequently scan and read our good old CBC web page and once in a while I look in at CNN or MSNBC or Aljazeera. I’m a bit of a ‘news junkie’ and consume my daily news quota usually first thing in the morning with my coffee. Since the world news are seldom good I have developed a pretty solid emotional filter and can skip over disasters, murders, accidents, war and atrocities without too much adverse effects; on over to the sports page and I usually end with the current and local (Canadian) political commentary and opinion pieces. I feel I’m informed and somewhat engaged because I can discuss current affairs with friends and strangers and my wife counts on me to inform her of the trending highlights since she has no time herself to indulge and disseminate the daily onslaught of information. How much time do I spend each and every day on my computer or smart phone reading and scanning? I get a weekly reminder on my iPhone and it tells me my daily on-screen time is 20 min average. Add to that probably a couple of hours on the computer.
The question that bothers me is how much advertising is smuggled into my mind on the side of all the pertinent info? It’s out of my control. All the news feeds feature sidebars, headers and footers with unsolicited ads – mostly for goods and services. But the real nuisance comes in the form of pseudo political ads or reporting that have no base in facts but aim to infiltrate and manipulate unsuspecting minds and affect political outcomes like referendums and votes. We’ve seen the evidence in the Brexit vote and the Trump election (see video). Both were tipped to the right by a few thousand votes and I suspect that without Facebook and Twitter, or without Cambridge Analytica, we would have Hillary as president of the US and no Brexit chaos. What’s really frightening is how none of this advertising can be tracked and researched because they leave no trace and there is no archive or record on line. Only the platforms themselves have this information and they’re very reluctant to release the sponsors and individuals or groups behind these ‘fake news’ ads. I call it an invasive mind-fuck and a good reason to stay away from on-line platforms.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become powerful corporations and have amassed vast databanks of personal information, which they use to manipulate and target. They are disguised as social and interactive forums but for me they replace dialogue and personal communication.
I can’t wait for Camp to get back so he can straighten me out and correct me when I’m wrong. It’s not nearly as much fun drinking by myself as Vicky pointed out when I declined a refill.
‘Do you use Facebook?’ I asked her.
‘I used to but not anymore. I mostly text or use Whatsapp.’
‘Just like me,’ I said. ‘Now I don’t feel like such a bore.’
‘You’re not a bore. You’re just older than most people I know.’
‘Oh, thanks Vicky, maybe I’ll have that second pint after all.’