Do you ever feel like the internet knows too much? You sign into your Gmail account, Facebook, et cetera, and bam! Ads for movies, television, jobs, restaurants, and clothing that interest you are floating on your screen. How did Facebook know that I’d be interested in a 1950’s vintage inspired dress from ModCloth or want to see the trailer for next week’s episode of The Borgias? Well, the idea is simple enough. Companies pay good money to have their ads seen by the right people and, thus, websites simply scan your profile for hot words that stick out and match subject tags on ads or remember clicks and navigation moves you make to other groups and websites on or from their website. Of course, the algorithms behind the IT magic is more complicated than my simplification here, but that is the general gist of how it works.
Sometimes it seems like the computer knows me or can read my mind, which frankly is a bit frightening. I know that a lot of the ads and spam I get are based on my net-surfing behaviors and appear because I have things listed in my profiles on social networking sites that are common knowledge for the website marketers. Sometimes even the way these things work is predictive. I like The Borgias, so therefore I might reasonably enjoy other period dramas such as Camelot or Spartacus (which I do).
These cases usually don’t bother me because they are innocuous, if slightly unnerving, knowing that I have enough information out there about myself that a machine can predict my behavior. It is only recently, with my Gmail account, that I’ve begun to get quite peeved.
Over the past year or more, I have persistently received at least one e-mail of the spam variety pertaining to online dating per day. I decided, for the sake of very informal research, to see how many of these kinds of e-mails I get in about a month and to share with you all my ire.
Look for example, below, at exhibit A: August-September. This is a snapshot of my very own Gmail account, in the spam section. Look at all of that dating service junk mail, literally from everywhere! I am neither Indian nor Black, but at least it’s nice to know that these websites don’t discriminate. We have a representative sampling from eHarmony, Match, BlackPeopleMeet, and a generic Indian dating directory site. Really, over 20 e-mails in about a month!
What about me or my online presence says that I am desperate? I realize that online dating is a common arena in which to meet new people and to find a future spouse, but I get the impression that the internet “cloud” is trying to tell me something. Maybe I have visited too many Romance authors’ websites or SmartBitches one too many times and the big ol’ machine thinks I am obsessed with romance and need help finding a date. Who knows?
All I’m saying is that although I believe people can find meaningful relationships online (my cousin and her husband met via one of these harassing sites), it is totally not for me. And furthermore, I don’t need my computer telling me how and who to date. It’s like he knows how poor my dating skills are and, like a nosy family member, has to butt in, give his advice, and set me up with a less-than-desirable candidate.
Thank you spam, I really feel the love you’re trying to throw at me, laced with your judgment and know-it-all opinions. Please stop sending me e-mails about my love-life. I’ll do things my way and on my own time. I get the hint.