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Connections: 2019 Is the New 1984

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 11:43

Thirty-seven emails arrived over­night on Monday, but I wasn’t able to access them because I had mislaid my computer. Left it at work, actually. I like to think of myself as fairly up to date, but my iPhone has never been set up to sync with my work email account — betraying me, I guess, as a relic from a dark, pre-computer age, untutored in technology as well as suspicious of it.

Zipping back and forth from the North Fork so frequently these days probably means that it is propitious, I suppose, that I am cut off from email when I am behind the wheel. How often do we look askance at other drivers who hold phones to their ears of just below windshield height, while they chat or look at text or check a map, or whatever it is that’s so urgent?

I could benefit from the installation of a proper, non-handheld, global positioning system in my car, but for some reason (see above, re: relic from a dark, pre-computer age), I just can’t bring myself to buy a GPS.

Anyway, I am indeed so reliant on being plugged in that I was nonplused and unhappy to have left my computer at the Star office. It wasn’t even 24 hours — only about 17 — but you would have thought it was a year. I was in quite a tizzy having to go cold turkey. A co-worker offered to bring it to me at the end of his workday, but I wasn’t even willing to take advantage of his generosity. I had to get to my email!

Twenty of the 37 new emails in my in-box this morning were spam; the other 17 were from personal contacts or organizations I am at least familiar with. I know you can click “unsubscribe” to stop those you don’t want, and I’ve done so innumerable times with many of the newsletters and email blasts and such that I really don’t want to read, but, in my case — because I am a relic? Or for darker reasons? — my clicking sometimes has the opposite effect. For example, I truly believe that when I clicked on emails from some of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, wanting to learn more about them, every other Democratic candidate in the United States was apprised of my interest. Yes, I am interested in politics; no, I do not need to be kept abreast of county-level elections in Ohio.

I am told that this is the result not of black magic, gremlins, or evil spirits, but of algorithms, which I am not going to try to define but can say are smarter and have better memories than you and me.

Harking back to the omniscient totalitarian state in George Orwell’s “1984,” in which we belatedly find ourselves living, algorithms are the real-world electronic Big Brother. And therein lies the trouble with our online life.

Perhaps we’d all be better off leaving our computers somewhere or other and not remembering where to find them.


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