Is this useful to me? Or I am more useful to it?

There’s a saying you’ll find on the Internet about “free” services: if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. That article is over seven years old, and the saying at this point is almost a cliche. But look closely enough, and you’ll realize it’s as accurate today as it was then. It’s commonplace to do a search for something online, then find small ads scattered across the Internet showing you that very thing. Check your email and you’ll find ads suggesting that or similar items, just a click away for purchase. If you like this, you might also like…

A recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts investigates if facebook might even be listening to what you say through the microphone on your phone. Their findings are, to my mind, inconclusive, but there are plenty of privacy issues discussed along the way. Gizmodo has quite a breakdown of some of the ways facebook can track you. A sampling: where you’re going, websites you visit, your financial status, status updates you almost post, your emotional state, and more. And heck, while they may not own your photos, facebook grants themselves permission to use your photos however they like in their terms of service. (This is true of other social networks as well.)

Some former employees are speaking out, too, and saying we can’t trust these companies to regulate themselves. With the streams of information, and the constant need to always have new information ready to be consumed, it’s a wonder we can make sense of anything today. We’re shouting into the void, and we’re only making a bigger mess for ourselves as a result. To return again to Reply All, their recent story on conspiracy theories in Mexico strike a frighteningly similar chord to our own US elections both in 2016 and 2017 in how social media played a crucial role in the outcomes.

We can’t seem to tear ourselves away, and the use of automation and the interconnected nature of these networks is amplifying everything to degrees I think we’re only just beginning to realize. The desire to be connected was exploited for profit, and big data (engagement, clicks, and more) is the consequence. Considering how to unplug might be a great start to finding our way back to reason.