Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Three ways in which the internet is terrifying

Only three?

Obviously the internet is terrifying in a wide variety of ways, not least of which is the ease with which one stumbles into frothing loons, conspiracy theorists and Trump-supporters. Frequently all three rolled into one. However, those are not the dark and daunting corners of the internet that I'm talking about. There are three recent experiences I've had that have left me alarmed, terrified and depressed in turn.

You have no privacy

Before Christmas, I ordered something online. And in my haste to type my address into the delivery information box, I swapped the digits in my house number. And since number YX HomeRoad has the same postcode as number XY HomeRoad, the address was accepted and off the package went. Time passed and I wondered where it had gone. I checked and double-checked the order and the predicted delivery date. I was just warming up to send an irate email when I triple-checked and spotted my typo. So, I went round to the wrong house to ask if they'd had my parcel. Except I never got as far as asking... the man in the house opened the door, took one look at me, and said, "Ah, I've got your parcel here." Not unnaturally, I asked how he knew it was for me... and it turned out he'd looked up my name on the internet and found my profile picture on Facebook, so he knew what I looked like. He'd also discovered where I worked in WorkTown, and what I did there. To say I was perturbed was an understatement. On the other hand, he hadn't found out where I lived, so I guess I should be grateful for small mercies.

They ARE watching you

I've just recently signed up to LinkedIn, and am in the process of piecing together a professional network. Partly I'm doing this because it vaguely feels like it might be a good idea one day. Mostly I'm doing it so I can check out potential interview candidates when they send us their CVs. When I first logged in and signed up, I was astonished that the list of "people you may know" did indeed include vast swathes of people I do know. I hadn't handed over my address book, or social media identity to LinkedIn, so how did it know? More worrying, among the suggested contacts were TheEx, and his best friend (our Best Man). I don't even want to know why LinkedIn thinks we should be connected, but that is right out. And as if that weren't bad enough, ExBestMan has sent me a "connect" request, asking to join my professional network. Given he hasn't spoken a single word to me since TheEx walked out the door 11 years ago, and in that inaction hurt me very badly, this is also right out.

Having freaked me out completely with whatever algorithm allowed it to know who all my friends are from the get go, LinkedIn went another step into the Dark Side a few days later. I phoned the plumber, from my mobile, to arrange to have the boiler serviced. The next morning, LinkedIn suggested I should add the plumber to my network. How did they know? (I'm assuming I'm in the plumber's address book now, and he's set his address book to link to his LinkedIn profile. When I say "assuming", what I actually mean is "hoping", because the alternative is just a bit too terrifying.)


GOMI appears to be a website dedicated solely to be being bitchy and foul to other people. A site fuelled entirely by negativity and criticism. More specifically, it stands for Get Off My Internet, and is set up to mock and humiliate other bloggers. Some of it has, apparently, got really personal, and just reeks of the kind of bullying and unpleasantness that the anonymity of the internet has given free rein to. Now, I'm as happy as the next person to mock the absurd, point fingers at pretension and smirk at stupidity, but running an entire website dedicated to sneering and abuse seems to be taking it all a bit far*. They even give awards for the blog they hate the most. How unpleasant does your mindset have to be that you think it's "fun" to launch unprovoked attacks on members of the public and tell them you hate them/their lives/their writing? Because that's what most bloggers are - just people. Not famous people, not influential people, not publicity whores, not important, wealthy or dangerous people. Just people. And there's quite a simple solution when interacting with people - if someone writes a blog that you don't like, and isn't actually harming anyone, then you can just not read it.

I've read plenty of blogs. Blogs of smug motherhood with perfect, lentil-curry-eating, Boden-wearing children. Blogs of how hard it is to sell your four-bedroom Islington house and self-build an organic yurt in Copenhagen. Blogs that have become successful and started to have more and more adverts "sponsored content" and less and less witty, engaging, honest content. Blogs that seem to be sensible rational human beings right up until they launch off into an anti-vaccination rant**. And all of them I've given up on when they ceased to be interesting, or entertaining, or have anything whatsoever in common with my own life and outlook. It was quite easy, I just stopped reading them. And astonishingly, I had absolutely no desire to go online and declare that the authors of these blogs were horrible people.

You might think that I'm concerned about GOMI in case someone decides to lay into me for my bad parenting, or my terrible writing, or my smug bragging about LittleBear. But given that, at an ambitious estimate, I think there are about 40 of you regularly reading this, I don't think there's any risk I'm going to crop up on their radar. It does give me pause for thought about considering spreading the word about the existence of my blog though. The world is full of self-righteous, superior arses who think that they have carte blanche to rip apart the writings of anyone they don't happen to enjoy reading, just for fun. I don't think I want to be part of a world like that. I think I prefer the other 50% of the internet, where people post pictures of cute kittens.

And since one of our suppliers of precision vacuum equipment has decided to make a calendar with pictures of kittens on scientific instrumentation, here's the happy side of the internet:

Vacgen's kittens on a vacuum manipulator

Happy Internets to you all.

* Yes, I know GOMI isn't the only website that exists solely to be unpleasant about other people's endeavours, but it's my current example. 

** Or pro-disease as I like to think of the anti-vaccination brigade.

1 comment:

  1. Only YOU can prevent measles' eradication! (Obscure American reference: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wayne/landmanagement/?cid=fsm9_006052)