I laughed so hard I had trouble catching my breath.
I was watching Nick Offerman, portraying the character Ron on the TV show Parks and Recreation, grab his computer from his desk, storm outside in a rage and toss it into the dumpster. The next scene revealed Ron’s computer was replaced on the desk by an antique manual typewriter.
Prompting the computer dumpster toss was Ron’s frustration with a message that flashed on his monitor, obviously in response to his online searches. That angered him, and when another character came in and revealed to Ron just how much personal information on him was compiled online, the demise of the computer was sealed.
Although I love the features the computer offers me when writing and in researching projects, there are days I, too, long for a return to the manual typewriter. My old 1923 Underwood manual typewriter served me well through high school and college, but I will confess that it took me only a few hours of writing and editing on a computer as a student working at The Blade newspaper office to win me over to computerization.
Unfortunately the convenience of the computer comes at a very high cost, in the loss of privacy.
It disturbs me greatly to be hard at work on an internet search for my writing projects only to have an advertisement that I don’t want to see for something that I don’t want to buy pop up on the screen.
If you spend two minutes looking at a pocket watch on eBay, for instance, for the next several months you will be bombarded with ads for pocket watches old and new, big and small, silver and chrome, gold and brass, quartz and windup, Roman and standard numbers, with or without a date display, stop watch and non stop watch, with and without a chain or fob, buy it now and auction, free shipping or with a fee, and endless other variations and options.
Even more annoying is being overwhelmed with ads for things that don’t interest me at all. I have become the target of an endless barrage of offers for sound bars, crystal wine glasses, tools and a wide range of other assorted offers because of purchases of Christmas gifts for my sons, based on their wish lists.
When it comes to my online buying and browsing habits I swear that digital entities know far more about me than I know about myself. I find that beyond annoying – I consider it disturbing and alarmingly intrusive.
A couple of years ago I did an internet search on a disease contracted by a friend. Immediately after that I was inundated with ads and information related to that disease, and I’m pretty sure that in a database somewhere I am listed as having that disease.
I find social media to be especially troublesome in regard to loss of privacy. For instance, I was disturbed when I learned that Facebook apparently keeps copies of your messages between you and your friends. I don’t recall ever sending a message stating anything that would be a bid deal to be revealed, but it is an insidious invasion of privacy for Facebook to keep them.
Actually I don’t know that anything in my messages would be particularly embarrassing to me, but the information may well embarrass other people. It is sad that I even have to give thought to the possibility of such information being compromised.
In my mind the fact that Facebook’s business model involves collecting and selling users’ personal information really is a troubling sign of our times There is good in Facebook, in my case it is a great promotional tool for my writing, history and publishing endeavors, but the tradeoff in loss of privacy is indeed very real.
The sad part is, it would be very hard for me to make my living as a writer and publisher without the publicity reach that Facebook provides.
Perhaps a pop-up ad, email or message I receive will finally send me over the edge. If you should happen to drive by my house and see me slamming an armload of computer equipment into our recycling container, now you may well have a clue as to what is going on.
Fortunately for me I still have my old 1923 Underwood manual typewriter. With a good cleaning, a little bit of oil and a new ribbon, I could be right back in the writing saddle.
Don Allison is an author, columnist and retired editor of The Bryan Times.