We’re losing control of our lives in insidious, creeping ways.
But, then, we already knew that, right?
For instance, various unwanted ads have started spontaneously popping up on my desktop computer screen in the same exact place every time, lower right edge.
They automatically run, with annoying sound, for 10 seconds (I know, because there’s a counter). Then, the sound ends, the ad’s images disappear but its frame remains, and a little “x” appears where the countdown numbers were, allowing you to click away the ad altogether.
For me, the problem is that I have zero say in any of it and no clue why it started or how to stop it. Who do I call? No idea. What are my remedial options? Search me. It’s not as if the ads helpfully say, “Click here if you want to discontinue these annoying, unwanted ads.”
That’s the point, apparently. The ads seem designed to beat you into submission by repetition beyond your control and by a lack of any apparent resolution, so that eventually you just capitulate — as I have, not seeing another option — and simply click on the “x” as soon as it appears. But, while waiting, I cannot ignore the thing, although a little speaker icon allows me to mute it, but that takes several seconds and is hardly even worth the effort, because by then the ad is practically over.
Who decided this?
So why is this happening, I ask myself? No answer. But it’s clear that someone, somewhere in some corporate decision room in the dim past calculated, correctly it would seem, that if they could put ads on people’s computers, bypassing not only their will but their knowledge, they could endlessly force their commercial messages on them without consequence or accountability.
And, to be able to do this, the internet gods, whoever and wherever they may be, had to agree it was OK, or the advertisers wouldn’t be able to gain access to personal internet spaces.
This is how the situation appears to me: People I don’t know are able to violate my personal space anonymously to say and show me anything they want, and I am too ignorant and helpless to stop them. And someone — Mark Zuckerburg, say — is not only agreeing to it, but actively accommodating their encroachments on my privacy.
I’m all for encouraging commerce and all that, but only if I can voluntarily opt-out, a button on every ad saying, “Please do not show these ads on my computer again.” You click on it and they disappear forever, similar to no-call lists that phone customers can add their number to to avoid telemarketing hucksters at bay, and “no solicitation” signs next to your driveway.
Apparently, the net-advertising industry or government oversight are still behind the curve on this just yet. I humbly ask, “Please step it up.”
Another disconcerting example of this kind of technological encroachment on my private internet experience is some stowaway security software that somehow found its way into my machine and onto my computer screen. I’m a bit wary of uninstalling it because it may have come with the computer and, if I try to erase it, could destabilize my system.
Anyway, it routinely pops a promo onto my screen warning me of “risks” it has found and sternly advising me to clear them. But to do that, I need to subscribe to the software for a year. If you try to “x”-out of the promos, they keep popping back up, like a blow-up punching bag. I have to “x”-out eight times for it to completely disappear, but only temporarily, until it reincarnates later in the day with the same rigamarole.I think I may uninstall, hold my breath, and brace for any unforeseen consequences.
Still, no idea what to do about the insidious Energizer Bunny ads I told you about before.
The most aggravating, if impressive, stealth ad I’ve encountered on my computer I first encountered several years ago. Happily, it hasn’t happened again. But, I have to admit, it was genius, if diabolically so. These slippery little devils, which covered up essential content on my screen, had an “x” to click on, but when I tried to move my cursor to delete them, they moved, always just out of reach. When I moved my cursor away, the ads went right back to covering up what they were covering up before.
Ads, ads, more ads
Lately, my computer desktop space has become cluttered with diverse random ads constantly popping into view. Most of them I can easily close out, but it’s time I don’t want to spend on peripheral stuff, and it’s maddeningly distracting from far more essential labor and an imposed waste of my time. And when we click on a work link, we first get an ad we have to deal with before any work can be done. And I never asked for any of it. At least in newspapers and magazines, ads are courteously silent and unobtrusive beside the text I am trying to read, becoming relevant and part of my consciousness only if I choose to notice them.
I’m the first to be in awe of American technology but also the first to be apprehensive about where it is heading. With bots and bot ads and an expanding array of AI (artificial intelligence) automatons invading American life, we risk being buried under anonymous people’s choices about how we spend our lives.
At the heart of it is the very essential issue of what’s real and what isn’t, and, thus, what matters and what doesn’t.
Already, we find ourselves ruled by a government whose disingenuous quasi-bot memes and truncated reality are leading us by the nose to a place where all information is suspect (except theirs). Where we accept, even embrace, dangerous propaganda as fact. Where ideas popping out of nowhere into our field of vision are seen as a normal, necessary part of life.
And already, we have no idea who to contact to fix it.
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FYI, my newly published memoir — 3,001 Arabian Days — is now available in paperback on Amazon, here (and soon in digital format). It’s the story of growing up in an American oil camp in the Saudi Arabian desert from 1953-1962. Hope you enjoy my memories of a fascinating and foundational experience.