Connections: In the Time of Electronics

Somewhere out there in cyberspace purchases I consider inconceivable are apparently listed as likely by the gurus of the electronic marketing industry

   Perhaps it can be said that I have a handicap where computers are concerned. After all, I started using them in what might, depending on the actuarial tables, be considered the second half of life. No matter. I keep trying to catch up, to learn more and get better at it. But I am not sure I am getting a passing grade.
    Take, for example, the fact that I continue to be bombarded by e-mails offering goods and services I don’t want. Somewhere out there in cyberspace purchases I consider inconceivable are apparently listed as likely by the gurus of the electronic marketing industry. What data is being collected? What did I buy to put me on these lists?
    Macs are supposed to move the e-mails you mark as junk a given number of times directly into the junk bin. I took a look at that folder on my Mac the other morning and found 1,320 entries. But that doesn’t mean I am off the hook. I no longer get sales pitches for drugs from Canada that purport to enhance male prowess, but instead receive come-ons destined for over-the-hill consumers — arthritis cures, stair lifts, walk-in bathtubs, and reverse mortgages among them. Somewhere in cyberspace I have been categorized.
    It is general knowledge that vendors of all kinds have got our number (or think they do). Commercial surveillance is obviously an industry of its own; I bet you can even get a degree in it. But in comparison to the National Security Administration’s massive surveillance of ordinary citizens, you can’t take the gathering of commercial information about what we do electronically too seriously, I suppose.
    Did you know that sales of the George Orwell novel “1984” increased by an astronomical percentage after Edward Snowden passed along information about the N.S.A.’s prying? It also has been reported that Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” Shrugged” had a tremendous circulation boost when the Great Recession fell upon us in 2008.
    That there are real comparisons between the totalitarian state Orwell described and our own is subject to doubt, although the Obama administration’s pursuit of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and its concurrent attempt to criminalize journalists who have written about leaked information is alarming.
    There is something consoling about the public’s turning to the written word to make sense of what is going on (even if you can read electronically). I just hope “Brave New World” isn’t on its way.