Somebody’s Watching You? The Virtual Reality

Assumed you’re always being watched. I know there are those bristling at the thought. From my 7th floor balcony I can see people in a parking garage 3 blocks away, see housekeeping enter and exit rooms at a hotel a block away and see inside which restaurants have a line before I go out to eat. Yes, I was still a little surprised when my neighbor said she sees me walking to yoga from the window in the gym, but it reenforced, assume you’re being watched. I wondered if she noted the times I crossed the street to avoid the sketchier side of the underpass on the my half mile walk. The real concern is avoiding the“harmful” watch. Those who are watching to potentially do us harm, or exploit us. That’s the creepy, icky, criminal watcher we want to be mindful of. Consider there is another “watcher” that’s just a click away.

Have you experienced getting online and somehow, 90 minutes have gone by? You’ve probably slipped into the darkness of algorithmically delivered content based on your likes, dislikes, previous searches, subscriptions, online shopping patterns, etc. The content is customized to fit your world view. I heard Jeff Bezos speak at a commonwealth club event in the Silicon Valley three years after the launch of Amazon. He talked about overcoming the difficulties of a start up, from the first name, a take on abracadabra which sounded too much like cadaver, to the necessity of kneepads in packing boxes. But it was his vision that sold me. He perfectly articulated my feeling after reading a great book. The exhilaration, the need to tell someone and the desire to find another book as good. The challenge was using data to make this happen. Revolutionary! As an avid reader,the possibility of buying and reading a book I absolutely love sounded like reader nirvana.

Fast forward and we’re in the era of big data. Technology today makes it possible to gather, analyze and predict behaviors based on data. This is collecting our clicks, the amount of time we spend on sites, what triggers a tweet, a text, an email, a social media post to determine patterns and predict our behavior. We listen to podcasts and similar ones are recommended.We read a post and there are 5 related links that follow. This is stealthily customized content, readily evident with a simple Google. Two people can put in the same search in Google and get different search results. You can delete cookies, clear history and it’s not going to change this. We’re being watched and we’re in an echo chamber. ¹ What we see and hear on-line reflects our world view. Here is the danger.

In the real world analogy, you’re looking for a place to park. There is a big event, you’ve circled the block slowly three times and it’s clear people are trying to find places to park. A stranger knocks on your window and says, I’ll park your car for you, just give me $20 and your keys. This seems like to perfect solution to meet your needs, right? In this scenario, would you even roll down your window, let alone pay $20.00 and hand over your keys?  Is it time to bring more discernment to your online experience? In an echo chamber there this is the absence of competing views, those get censored out, are ridiculed, discounted or underrepresented. Your beliefs now have point of views, masquerading as facts, to prove your intellectual superiority in being right. This cycle circumvents the questioning the validity of the source, there is no fact checking. Delusional is characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument. Your echo chamber has the potential to render you virtually delusional.

You’re always virtually watched. Your content feed can be informative and entertaining, but, needs to be balanced with reality to avoid the malady of virtual delusion. This week, what happens if you approach online as unfamiliar? Question each link as you would a new neighborhood at night, who told me to go here and why am I going here. As you review content, consider, is the source reliable, is this fact or opinion, what might the competing view be. You’re not necessarily changing what you do; you’re just bringing a new awareness of where you are. I haven’t changed my route to yoga in the last 6 months, but I have an awareness of when I need to be more alert. Be virtually aware, Big Data is watching you.


¹An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system.

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