Cyber Sales

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Around this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the fever of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” sales. Along with these two highly publicized annual events come some other aspects of the season that remain behind the scenes. In addition to being inundated with Black Friday/ Cyber Monday Sales [enter shop here], I also can’t help but think about price discrimination, targeted advertising, and customized sales & advertisements.

By now, I’m sure most people who use the internet and mobile devices have some idea that their actions are being tracked and monitored. Whenever this topic comes up in conversation, I’m always surprised at how many people shrug their shoulders and say, I’ve got nothing to hide. What are they going to find? Whether this is true or not, does it make it ok for companies to learn that much about us? To collect data every time we go somewhere or buy something to analyze our habits? To scan our interactions on social media and in email for keywords?

I’ve blogged about these issues before (here and here), but every year it seems that the apps and services get even better at tracking my movements. While I don’t have anything to “hide”, I do have something to protect. And therein lies the difference in the subtle shifts happening to us regarding how we interact with and perceive all these services. The tendency is to perceive tracking/monitoring as a way to catch illegal, criminal, or shady activities. And while this is one reason for tracking and monitoring, it’s also a way for companies to learn more about us. Once armed with this information, companies are then perfectly poised to exploit our vulnerabilities and target us with exactly the right formula to get us to spend money. They learn our spending tolerance (i.e., how much are we willing to spend for…) and then adjust the costs based on our individual price points (also known as “price discrimination”).

Many people enjoy getting customized coupons or advertisements exactly for the products (services) they want to acquire. And in some cases, it can be really useful if you’re waiting for a sale to purchase a particular item, for example. However, I can’t trust the “sale” price I’m seeing, even if it’s at my desired price point.

Convenience always comes with a compromise on control, and it’s important to consider who’s controlling what these days.

 

Put a Date on it!

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One of my biggest peeves is when information/documents/records don’t have a date. Dates can be incredibly useful on things such as cards (birthdays, events, holiday), notes, to-do lists, documents (paper and electronic), event posters, and notifications. When dealing with web content, the date is critical for information. How else will I know if what I’m looking at is relevant and timely?

My job often requires me to analyze documents and records retroactively. I encounter both printed and electronic documents without dates. Without a date, sometimes it’s really challenging to evaluate the validity of the information. The computer will automatically provide a create or a last-modify date, but many times this date can’t be trusted if documents (photos) were migrated (moved) from one machine, or system, to another one.  Often when this happens, the migration date becomes the “create” date making it almost impossible to know when the document was originally created. Unless somebody put the date on the actual document.

Why is this important?

A date is a quick way to provide context to content. It helps to create a timeline of what happened when. It’s invaluable for assessing if something is truly outdated, or if it still has some value. Or for identifying the most current version of something.

I’ve started adding the year to event promotions. The event date is usually for something happening in the near future, so the year isn’t necessary.  However, I find adding in the year makes it useful later, when I’m looking back to see what was done previously. For example, I run a workshop called “Tax Talks” every spring for small business owners. I find it helpful to have the month, day, and year on the promotionals so I can compare one year to the next.

When I cleaned out my childhood bedroom I went through boxes of old artwork. Since my artistic skills never progressed past a 2nd-grade level, I found it difficult to figure out what I made at a given age. Now I tell all my friends who have children to write a month/year on the back of the artwork. It seems insignificant now, but will provide valuable information later on.

Adding the date is easy, the hard part is making it a habit. I still forget sometimes, but I usually remember to write the date on everything, even post-it notes, to continually reinforce the habit.

 

Wearing Out the Wardrobe

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About a year ago, I had to move the bar in my closet. I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to try an experiment with my clothes and to see which ones were being worn. I can’t remember where I learned about the trick, but essentially you hang all the clothes in your closet with the hangers facing the opposite way. Every time you wear something, you flip the hanger around. At the end of a set time period, you review the hangers to see which pieces have never been worn.

Since I keep clothing for all four seasons in my closet, I let the experiment run for a full year. I started in September 2016. Throughout the year I occasionally went through the items to see which ones hadn’t been used yet. Every few months I donated a piece I knew I would never wear again, usually after buying a new garment.

This past weekend I finally took the time to go through each piece of clothing. I noticed a few items to donate. Many of the other pieces I hadn’t worn had a perfectly valid reason. Was I really going to give away my jungle print party dress with red trim just because we had a cold, rainy miserable summer? Or my crisp, white button-down shirt simply due to a casual summer dress code?

As for the other items that hadn’t been worn, but that I still like, I’m going to make an effort to wear them this year. Clothes require more than a 1-year cycle for me. Sometimes I have a “fat” year, or a “thin” year when certain items fit better. Or a particular style is back in fashion.

The only down side to having so many clothes is the time spent deciding what to wear. Usually it’s pretty easy, but there are mornings when I change my outfit several times before settling on one. I know it slows me down. On mornings like these, I can never tell if I would be better off with less options. Less choices means less decisions to be made, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be faster.

Going forward I’ve decided to donate what I know I won’t wear again and make a point to wear pieces that have been neglected for no good reason. And I’ll continue the annual review.

 

Technombie 5

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When we last left Gillian Bean, her lifeless form was rolling towards a viscous slurry of primordial bacteria, jellyfish, and brightly colored plastics. Read about it here.

Hanna adjusted her night vision scope. Even the pale green light of her goggles wasn’t enough for her imagination to transform the slimy ooze into an ocean. And it did nothing to eliminate the stench. But still, she was here on a rescue mission and had to remain focused.

She crested a sand dune following the coordinates to the last place Gillian Bean’s feed had emitted a signal. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a flash of human flesh, a calf and part of a foot to be exact. One blink later, the limb had been obscured by thousands of gelatinous tentacles, sliding over the flesh, sinking it even deeper into the goo.

Dang. Hanna cursed silently. She looked away. Rescue was out.

She brought her forearm to her mouth and shook it once.

“Hanna, here,” she said.

“Speak,” a gruff voice barked back, amplified through her skin.

“She’s gone. I watched the last of her disappear into the ocean. No sign of the feed. Over.”

“Why didn’t you pull her out? Over,” the voice replied in a critical tone.

Double dang, thought Hanna. She had to carefully control every reaction now, even physiological ones so they wouldn’t be broadcast through her feed. Truthfully, she hadn’t wanted to wrestle Bean’s body from the sludge of faceless, invertebrate organisms.

This was her first “rescue” mission. The training had been extensive, but now confronted with reality, she was unclear what exactly was supposed to have happened. Surely Bean’s body would have been…something…

“I was too far away. It was by chance I even saw that much of her before she was gone.” Even as she said the words, Hanna knew she should have made more of an effort, or at least made some effort, instead of watching in petrified horror.

“Is that so? Interesting thing, #0076382,” the voice replied, referring to Hanna by her rank number. “Your feed is projecting a rise in body temperature and an accelerated heartbeat. It’s not a hot night. Over.”

“Check. I was moving fast to get here. Moving to phase 2 of the mission. I’ll check in from Bean’s residence,” Hanna replied quickly, hoping that would be enough to end the conversation.

“OK #0076382. We’ll be waiting. Over and out.” The transmission went dead. She took a deep, shaky breath, and started to follow the coordinates towards Bean’s home.

 

**Read previous segments of the story here:

Technombie

In the Mayor’s Chambers

Jellyfish

Jellyfish

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The bell rang signaling the end of the school day. Finally! At last Pilton was free. He could stop learning about this “fake news” business. As if there was any real way for him to discern the difference. Every headline that flashed in his brain, or appeared across his SmartScreen, was already customized for him and only him. He had discovered this accidentally one day when a similar headline popped onto his SmartScreen and his friend’s simultaneously.

Food Engineer Discovers New Method to Clear Invasive Jellies from the Oceans (Pilton)

Food Engineer Discovers New Method to Turn Jellies into Sustenance (friend)

The two friends had noticed the subtle differences. Pilton, a staunch environmentalist, always had stories and “news” running through his feed about the latest threat to the outside world, even if they rarely got to be in it anymore. His friend was on track to be an engineer and often had a more scientific slant on his feed. The content of the two stories had been similar, though the focus of Pilton’s story was on the environmental effects of cleaning jellyfish from the oceans. And his friend’s story emphasized the method and new technology invented to harvest jellies to transform them into a food source.

Same story, different approach.  How was Pilton supposed to know which one, if any, was fake? Even if Pilton did have suspicions about the validity of this story, or any other one, it would have been nearly impossible for him to discover on his own. Pilton had the forearm implant which meant anything, and everything, he looked at or searched for was automatically designed for him.

Pilton had heard rumors of others who had figured out how to dampen the feed’s effects and confuse the system. The effects, once minimized, meant those people received a jumble of stuff through their feeds and SmartScreens. A never-ending stream of news, advertisements, gossip, images, etc. And hardly anything was targeted to their specific needs.

Part of Pilton was interested to investigate these rumors, but the other part of him cringed thinking of the effort involved to scroll through all that useless junk in his feed everyday. He knew what he liked, so why would he care to learn about anything else?

At any rate, Pilton was grateful the day was over so he could go home, snack on jellies, and read the news, just for him.

Social Media and Fake News

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For over a year, I’ve been reading about the proliferation of fake news on social media. My interest was first piqued when I read articles about people/companies using “chatbots” to automatically create and disseminate messages on social media channels (e.g., Twitter). Essentially a chatbot is a computer program that can reply to, or create, messages and disseminate them automatically. They can produce one message or thousands. Dissemination and broadcast takes seconds.

Last week I read an article in the New York Times called “In Italian Schools, Reading, Writing and Recognizing Fake News.” The article describes a new program being taught to school children in Italy about how to recognize fake news stories on the internet and social media. The students are taught how to verify resources and spot propaganda, to prevent the spread of damaging messages and news stories.

It’s great that the Italians have decided to start this program, educating their students on how to spot fake news and assess resources. But these skills are nothing new. Ask any librarian, or decent journalist, professions that have specialized in this very thing since their inception. Somewhere along the way, we lost these skills and the desire to have them.

I’m not sure what’s changed since I was a student, but I was always taught to vet my resources, even before becoming a librarian. What is it about the internet, and especially social media, that makes us so willing to believe everything we read without using our judgment?

Three factors exacerbate this problem.

  1. People are inundated with information and “cool” things to read on the internet (and social media) 24/7. It’s only natural this would cause some fatigue when trying to vet every resource.
  2. Social media is the perfect medium for spreading news, including fake news, fast. It doesn’t take long for bad information to become part of the main stream.
  3. The methods used to disseminate fake news are clever. Sometimes fake news can imitate almost perfectly a reputable news source, making it difficult to spot.

The internet has opened up an infinite number of options for receiving and disseminating information. To my librarian sensibilities this means having the skills to discern and evaluate resources are even more critical than before. And yet, it’s all too easy to get what you need from a Google search, without any regard to the credibility and reliability of the resources.