Another Word Spoiled By Modernity

Woke up and was delighted to discover that the international day of happiness wasn’t even trending on Twitter. Instead, the wide world is talking about Facebook behaving so badly, the snowpocalypse bearing down on the northeast, and some other subjects I know nothing about. I’m sure you’re happy to have these Daily Twitter Reports so that you yourself don’t have to actually go to Twitter.

Anyway, I have a new least favorite word. In its traditional usage, it was a quite nice word, but the way I’m seeing it all over the wide internet world I find it repulsive. It’s the word Harvest.

You know, The Harvest, that gently spoken, or best yet, sung word that used to conjure up the golden, light dancing image of heads of grain spread out across the majestic and purple fields of wealth and, cough, happiness. Or your mind might leap to the more stooped and arduous vision of women bent over, laboriously picking one leaf after another. The point, though, is that harvesting is something about life, the way that we continue to live and order our lives, by eating food and being grateful for another day of breath.

Whereas, á la internet habit, now the word conjures up images of death, corruption, and even horror. I mean, if you hear the word “harvest,” and you don’t actually live on a farm and are not planting a garden, you might, like I, instantly supply the word “organs” next to it. That’s another thing you can harvest, people’s organs. Not so you can see it, of course, but in those hidden and secret places of the world, the same places where child sex traffickers meet each other, where the lowest of humanity prey off of the innocent and unprotected.

And then, fairly recently, although we’ve probably all forgotten, there’s been the scandalous and horrifying harvesting of aborted baby parts to ship off to places that need them. Planned Parenthood was agreeable to deliver up its unpreposessing packages to anybody with cash on hand, anybody who could sign for the box and take all the bits and shove them in a deep freeze, turning away from the gruesome horror to the bright screen of another online shipment tracking form. “Need” being the word one might shy away from. Nobody needs baby parts for any reason. Just as there’s no need to abort a down syndrome or otherwise disabled child, or any child.

So I was sort of alarmed to see the word, again this week, only this time being used for information. Cambridge Analytics, Facebook, and the Trump Campaign harvested data and used it for purposes of their own. But really, as so many people pointed out on Twitter, if you are on the internet and own a phone, your personal information is always being harvested, gathered in, stacked and stored into the great computer granaries that feed and fuel our modern economy. You need wheat for that sandwich, Google needs to know your internet proclivities in order to advertise in order to make money in order to more quickly bring you the fifteen different kinds of wheat you prefer, and a silky, gorgeous recipe for mayonnaise. It’s symbiotic. We all need each other. The earth, the grain, the body, the microscopic bits of data, all gathered into one corrupting, twisted, peculiarly human, tainted by death, muddle.

The joy, delight and relief of the harvest points directly to the terrifying need that every human needs to stave off the encroaching reality of death. I have to eat. I have to. The harvest ensures that I do for one more year. But that need has metastasized to every corner of my reality. I also need to buy Easter Basket trinkets off Amazon. And I need my smartphone because I need human contact with other people. And so, of course, I give Facebook what they need, my personal data. And so they are able to buy the cup of coffee they need, and a billion-dollar contract with companies that require all that data.

Seriously, they should find a different word. How about “Collect.” Works just as well and it doesn’t make my soul shudder.

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