“Baleful” courtesy of Debbie Kovacs:
Editor. Adventurer. Pioneer of the possibilities (and risks) of software-meets-storytelling.
STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, GO SEE WHAT GOOGLE THINKS IT KNOWS ABOUT YOU screamed across the social stratosphere, a link to access your Google profile, the basis of their vaunted ad-serving model. I was curious. Or procrastinating. I clicked: Male, 27-34 years old, two kids, New York City.
Only one of these characterizations is true.
LOOK BACK Facebook commanded, celebrated “our” Decade of Sharing — their platform on which we shared our lives and they in turn shared our data with others, minting money in the process — with a slideshow retrospective of selected status updates. The one foisted upon me opened and closed with my former Significant Other, framed in curiously wan achromatic balloon GIFs and set to tinny orchestral flourishes. My abruptly Dead Ex who eschewed social media entirely, those snapshots I uploaded in our first heady years — Argentine wine country vacation, Newcastle castle wedding — the only digitized photos posted of him anywhere, ever, buried so deep in my feed I had nearly, gratefully, forgotten. Until this self-congratulatory commemoration sprung from some brand marketing brainstorm, executed in code jockey sprints overseen by a ship-date sweating product manager, dredged up these superlative-seeming moments along with more benign memories, a randomized montage, a haphazard mash-up that aspired to curated mix-tape cult status.
What fairy tales an algorithm can spin.
Makes you reconsider all these multi-billion dollar market capitalizations, ostensibly tech valuations, but essentially based on you, us. We fickle, fragile, willful, capricious creatures who click and surf and post and swipe and comment and stream and purchase. And, occasionally, exist offscreen.
Code once referenced human principles, beliefs, morality, ethics. Is there a Code of Code? Code blazes new trails, hack roadblocks, lays waste to legacies, indiscriminate. Almighty Code with the omniscient view of everything — words, music, images static and moving — as a string of symbols, discrete functions, modules to be stacked, optimized, scaled. Enter the Money Men, the Marketeers, the stock market subsidized drive to classify consumer intent, divine meaning, derive a measurable, monetizable outcome from every pixelated interaction. Our fingertip actions dissected, decrypted, patterned post-facto, fed into the formula that is the price of free.
Social conversations systematically analyzed, categorized. Searches whittled to Google AdWords, Key Words, words ripped out of context,solitary soldiers in the War for Attention, pitted against each other in popularity contest, hashtag death matches. Language stripped of nuance, parsed past the point of poetry.
What wonders technology has wrought, this Golden Age of human connectivity, accessibility, participation. This personalized, on-demand world of virtually limitless information, content abundance. But as the once-upon-a-time stories forewarned, all magic comes with a price.
We chortle over predictive text misfires, tell cautionary tales of posting ill-advised photos, consider less the ramifications the ubiquitous login, the accesses to access, or an idle click, a gratuitous like-heart-pin, an inadvertent swipe. Our real-world usage — not to be confused with “user stories”, the scenarios run by UX specialists — recorded, reported, data to populate the databases. Presumed preferences purchased via programmatic advertising auctions, or stored in a pixilated equivalent of cryogenic freezer, banked for birthing the next generation of advertising, sponsorship, branding.
Our lives every increasingly mitigated by behind-the-screen processes fueled by great gushes of data twinned with market capitalization zeal in pursuit of the Holy Grail, a dizzying ever-upward market trajectory, a perpetual motion machine, the Algorithm of Everything.
Ruminating on a word with such powerful connotations, I opted to write at in spots helmed by folks I know from their previous establishments where I spent many an hour writing WordBowl pieces. For cocktails, I headed down to The Up & Up, the West Village subterranean spot from the former owner/operator of dearly beloved, lavishly awarded, much missed The Beagle. For caffeine, I visited Spreadhouse Coffee, a chill spot on the Lower East Side run by one of my go-to coffee gurus, offering vegan goodies baked by the uproariously creative @CakeTheivesBakery.
Do you have a favorite word? A word begging to tell a story? Send it along: