What does it take for someone to go off the grid?
When does someone decide they have had enough, and they reduce their cyber presence to nothing more than a flip phone or a land line?
A few years ago, if you had told me someone was always listening to me or watching me, I would have politely said you were crazy. I would have told you what I do and what I talk about in the privacy of my home is what I do and what I talk about in the privacy of my home.
But last weekend as I was supervising my grandsons playing with playdough, and I handed one of them a rolling pin to roll out the dough. Exactly one minute later I received an email from Amazon with a suggested purchase of a set of rolling pins. I experienced the feeling of somebody looking over my shoulder – somebody I did not invite.
This was not the first time for such an occurrence.
Did I say the words “rolling pin” as I handed it to my grandson? I don’t recall, but it would make me feel some better if I knew I had. I am a little more OK knowing they hear me than to think they see me too – whoever “they” are.
Are such experiences enough to cause me to abandon my iPhone? Hardly. I have become more dependent on it than I ever planned to be. Thank you, Apple.
Last year I reviewed “Digital Minimalism” in this space, an excellent book by Cal Newport about the infiltration of technology into our lives and his suggestions for dialing it back. While he doesn’t necessarily advocate an off-the-grid lifestyle, he gives some good suggestions for not letting the cyber world dominate our lives.
Compared to many, I’m not in that category. But after reading his book, I took some steps of my own to hopefully insulate myself from some of the intrusion.
Apparently, however, because I own a smartphone, I am subject to all kinds of privacy violation risks, as illustrated by the earlier example of playdough and the rolling pin.
A regular reader who occasionally sends me an email recently shared how he thought he and I have some similarities, including the way we have both “embraced technology at a pace which is comfortable.” He went on to say, “grudgingly, we have to admit some of it is really helpful.”
He is on point. Although I still complain about technology, I am as reliant on it as anyone else. I could scarcely imagine not having, at my fingertips, answers to such burning questions as how to correctly hard boil an egg or the age of Nick Saban.
I have even become almost competent at basic household chores (something that would make my late father and father-in-law proud, although they would no doubt emphasize the word almost) through the dumbed-down tutorials on YouTube.
But this business of seeing pop-up ads and getting emails about products I mention in passing (or, God forbid, observe with my eyes) only a few minutes earlier is starting to creep me out.
You can be assured there is no Alexa or other type of Artificial Intelligence-powered personage in my home to whom I can give commands or have speak to me. I am putting a limit on the voyeurism.
I’ve heard from a few folks who are skeptical of getting the COVID vaccine because they think it will attach to their DNA and somebody somewhere will be able to keep track of them.
While I don’t believe it, I’m inclined to respond that this is nothing new, that if you carry a handheld device, somebody somewhere is already following you.
I fully intend to get the vaccine, and I’m going to keep my phone, but my first New Year’s resolution is to further minimize my digital life. Reader suggestions for doing so are welcome.
A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. It still blows my mind that you read what I write, and I am grateful. See you in 2021. (It can’t get here soon enough, can it?)
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].