ON LEARNING OF the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data scandal,
my first response was abject smugness. ‘ Well, I’ve never been on Facebook,’ I preened, like some kind of vegan. ‘I am untouched by the icky fingers of digital shadiness! I am pure! I’m also jolly clever. The reason I avoided Facebook in the first place was because I foresaw something deeply dodgy exactly like this happening.’ That last bit ( in particular) is utter balls.
The real reason I never went on Facebook was so that people with whom I’d deliberately lost touch couldn’t track me down and make me look at pictures of their kids on World Book Day.
Once I’d overcome that little delusional outburst, I started wondering in what ways the internet and its dastardly algorithms had done me a mischief. While I’m not on Facebook, I am on Twitter and Insta, and I have, on occasion (/every 11 waking minutes or so), googled stuff. What impact does such online noodling have on an offline life?
On the one hand, I’d say bugger all. Mostly, it’s like the internet’s never even met me. My Amazon recommendations are insulting, the internet having missed my ferocious intelligence, possibly because it doesn’t realise my obsession with The
Real Housewives Of Cheshire is based on a profound anthropological interest and not, say, a mindless desire to copy everything Dawn Ward has ever thought, said or worn. As for my Twitter Follow recommendations, well! The internet clearly has no appreciation of how many people I hate. No knowledge of the blood feuds, the intellectual fatwas I harbour. ‘ Why not follow Xxxx Xxxxxx?’ it says, gaily, when what I actually want to do to Xxxx Xxxxxx is smack her in her inexplicably pleased-with-herself chops, only Twitter doesn’t have a click-through option on physical violence.
At the same time: oh! Our digital overlord really knows how to make me buy clothes! ‘Hey, babe!’ it says – via the medium of a pop-up ad, each time I pretend I haven’t just pulled up the Mail Online homepage again – ‘Remember the boots you loved on Net, but couldn’t afford? Here they are again! Aren’t they purdy?’ And again, when I take a whirl round Whowhatwear; and again, on Gmail (‘ You still have these in your basket, Polly Vernon!’)… Until, following a war of pop-up ad attrition, I give in to what suddenly feels like a fashion inevitability… I buy the damned boots. If the internet hasn’t quite got the hang of my personality, it really knows its way to my wallet. I have a sneaky feeling that’s where its interests truly lie.