I don’t watch a lot of network TV, and my online reading is limited to a few news sources so I was surprised to find myself gripped by an urge to go nutso along with the rest of ‘Merica this Black Friday and ‘Buy. All. The. Things’.
In fact, such was the urge to suddenly buy things which I’d not previously registered as ‘necessary’ or even ‘essential’ (‘I need a 40 inch flat-screen TV for $99. I do. I do. I really really need that’) that I found myself putting on my shoes before I’d actually registered what I was doing. I decided to take off my shoes and have another cup of tea (it was after all only 7am and I’d not even brushed my teeth), in order to take a grip of my sanity and figure out what the hell was going on with my psyche.
After all, waking up and suddenly wanting a 40 inch tv isn’t the behavior of sane and normal person. Shoes – yes- but a TV? (I’ve had the same 32 inch one since 2007 and it works just fine. Its never crossed my mind to replace it with something 8 inches bigger for no reason). But the urge.. where did it come from? I mean I need a new mattress. I want new motorcycle boots. I need to fix my car bumper.. but a TV? WTF? Left field doesn’t begin to describe it.
I did wonder if I had been watching more TV than usual and perhaps had been catching one too many Best Buy ads, but upon examination, it’s been pretty much a menu of Nurse Jackie and AMC movies for the last few weeks. None of which feature advertisements. (though Nurse Jackie has got me rethinking my haircut)
Was it the magazines I read? I checked, but the closest The New Yorker gets to ads is a placement for a ‘Genuine Men’s French Beret’ that’s been running for about 50 years, and retirement communities in Kiwah Island. No TVs shouting at me from those pages.
I scanned my weekly New York Magazine, but their ads consist mainly of Broadway shows (safe-I hate musicals) and apartment porn that is neither a) within my financial reach or b) daily commutable to Colorado. Sure, the apartments all had TVs, but the photos mainly focus on designer kitchen’s, 14 foot ceilings and windows. Non of which do I wake up yearning for.
I wondering how I’d got this ‘must have new TV or may expire’ desire from. Has my Kindle been subliminally sending me messages when I’m nodding off to sleep? Has my Phone started dialing Best Buy…
From which I check Facebook and Google…
I opened Facebook and there is was. The right hand ad column.
I opened my latest Google search.. again, the right hand column.
TVs, TVs and oh, more TVs.
Apparently while I’ve not ever searched for TVs, considered a new TV or even shopped at some of the stores who were advertising, Facebook and Google decided I needed one. TODAY.
Which got me thinking at the frighteningly awesome control that subliminal, cursory advertising can have on your sub conscious mind, even though I know for sure, I’ve never actually looked at these ads before. I thought I was looking at everyone’s Thanksgiving pics and sending messages to family, but nope.. I was actually being bombarded with messages about my TV inadequacy. I can only assume that in the days leading up to Black Friday, these ads have been silently going about their work, planting the seeds of desire until today when the first leaves poked through, and I had an overwhelming desire to head down to Walmart (I know. The Shame) and snag myself one of those super cheap TVs that I don’t need or want.
Now I understand that Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail and the rest have to make money, but I’d really like to request that they at least sent subliminal messages based on my shopping habits and previously expressed desires. Those, I’m willing to be tugged along by. Yes, I really really want those shearling lined Frye boots and I’m ok with you reminding me for the next month and a half, but I resent being bombarded with ads for shit I don’t need or want, from companies I loathe and actively boycott.
What I found strange however was the ads that I don’t see on my Facebook page or my Hotmail inbox. Those new shocks for my motorcycle I was Googling? Never seen those again. Yoga pants and haircuts? Nada. Merino wool sweaters and lingerie from UK stores? What about vitamins and dog toys? Clearly some companies don’t have the bucks to sponsor ongoing taunting. But Walmart… never shopped there.. never will… has the money. And is determined to make me a consumer.
So what’s the solution? I clearly should stop using Facebook but my day needs some distractions and there are only so much actual news I want to read. I like knowing that my sister is running again and that I missed a really tough WOD (though those people playing Candy Crush really should get a life. Yes I’m talking to you Mum). I like feeling connected to my friends back in the UK and all over the world.. so I guess that’s out.
I could stop using the internet to research products and services that I need or want to buy, but then I loathe shopping and Denver isn’t an ‘epic’ retail center unless you’re in the market for yoga pants, hiking boots or really hip fashions from 1992. Unfortunately online shopping is a part of life (especially since I decided to ditch REI as my main source for clothing) so I guess I need to figure something else out.
Which takes me to the source. The origin of all this data and information about me that seems to be shared with advertisers so quickly and efficiently.
I need to stop using Google.
After all, they are the most efficient and profitable search engine based on their ability to collect and sell my data to advertisers. If I don’t use Google, I won’t stop the sharing of my searches, but I sure can slow them down or limit them. (After all, there is a reason Bing is #2 and Yahoo pretty much obsolete. Their big data manipulation sucks).
Why should you care? This site explains it in cartoon stylin’ and a lovely example (herpes anyone?). Now I know some of my searches I don’t ever want popping up when someone’s looking over my shoulder (my CEO caught me bra shopping a few months back and my company has since explicitly banned all lingerie sites via our firewall), plus Google is just a bit too smug for my taste these days. ‘Don’t be Evil’ might be their mantra, but having me wake up yearning for a TV because Walmart paid them a butt load of money to push the idea onto every site I access, isn’t my idea of a ‘ethical’.
Unfortunately I had to use Google to find alternatives as I pretty much ran out of options once I’d typed Bing (irony), but there’s a surprising number of engines out there who don’t track, store or sell your data.
- DuckduckGo.com is not only cute, fun to say and clean to use (plus its figure head Ducky makes me smile), they don’t track or sell your data.
- ixquick.com results look freakishly like Google (they even had the same order of links), but again, the don’t track or store your searches.
And if you’re not that bothered about your data, how about doing some good with your searching and using one of the charitable search engines (shop AND donate by searching)?
- Goodsearch.com tells you how much money has been raised by people who are using the search engine, plus you can choose the charity that you want your pennies to be sent to
- EveryClick.com same deal but targets UK charitable organizations specifically
You might decide that stepping away from Google, (and the lure of 40 inches of plasma awesomeness) isn’t the effort or the time, but don’t say you haven’t been warned. If you wake up with a yen for a new Xbox One or an Surface Pro 2 in two weeks, you have only yourself to blame.