Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rant: "Big Brother" is "Big Business"

     Today's rant has been brought to you by....  well, no one, no one is paying me to talk about their companies, so if anything, it's been brought to you by me, no paid sponsors and no reason but that the subject has been on my mind the last week or so since my last rant.
     In today's rant, I will be speaking of my opinions about "Big Brother" - the government, business, and other things that are constantly spying on us.  And also brushing into the fact that many of these "Big Brother (from here out referred to as BB)" businesses are also giant, crushing monopoly-like monsters.

     Now, to begin, I'll post a picture of a thoughtful gorilla.  This is your last chance before I go into this weird rant (which is actually pretty positive today even in a worrisome sort of way).  I'm not entirely sure the name of this gorilla at the Columbus Zoo (it may have been the one who died on her 60th a few months later, if so it would make a whole lot more sense that she was contemplating her life as a great-great-great-great?-grandmother.)  Either way I figured this might be a fitting photo.

     We thoughtful gorillas -ahem- humans (I really hate the idea of being distant cousins although I believe those evolutionists actually put us closer to chimpanzees rather than their larger gorilla cousins) have spent a very long time breeding, expanding, creating, and making our lives better for ourselves and the other creatures that live on this planet.  However, unlike those creatures on our planet who get by eating, breeding, sleeping and repeating; we use forms of currency to trade our labor for goods.  And when someone gets really good at trading that labor for goods, they no longer have to labor, they have others do it for them.  They still have the goods, they just don't have to work any more, and the current generation (some Millennials and a few of the newest generation which doesn't seem to have a name yet) seem to believe that money is just out there, and anything can be yours if you have a magic plastic card in your pocket.  They don't seem to question where that ability to use the plastic card came from (someone working to put money on it to use) they just use it until it's all used up and then they would get another one.

     Okay, maybe some of that trouble arose before the Millennials, because the biggest credit card debt problem actually arose back around the time before 9-11 and continued through the early 2000's until the recession in 2006/2008.  But I'm not here to talk about debt, even though it's a really good topic to get into at some later date.  What I am going to talk about is how those people who have grown up in a world where anything can be bought on the internet really has changed the way things work today.
     If you are currently reading this, you've participated in the grand internet advertising scheme that is out to get your money.  Not me, I don't ask for money and you won't find advertising on this page since I pay for you to see it without ads, but you most likely came here through Google or Facebook and those two companies are the biggest money grabs out there.  And yet, it's okay, right?  They don't charge anything to use them.  I won't go into the logistics of how they make their money because there are plenty of articles and YouTube (another one!) videos about it out there (advertising and games of course).  But I do want to make a note that they are definitely some of the closest things to a "Big Brother" that we have today.
     The BBs of today are mining information.  They are doing it at the most steady rate imaginable.  In fact, I don't think we can imagine the rate that they collect our information.  They know our names, our birthdays, things we like, people we talk to, work we do, vacations we take, places we live...well, you get the idea.  They have facial recognition to know what photos we are in; isn't that horrifying?  You could be in a background photo of someone and Facebook could know who you are, even if you weren't even supposed to be there.  It reminds me of when I was skipping out on a band concert in 6th grade and lied that I was sick when I actually was going to a bowling tournament award dinner, and I'd written it on the back of a paper which I'd accidentally left behind in the classroom...and my teacher found it.  It's like that, only so much worse.
     But, I digress because I'm sure the internet would know that at some point too if it tried to find that information.  The BBs also know what kinds of things we buy and advertise to us with websites we've visited and items we've viewed.
     If you've spent any time Google searching sponsored ads and then gone into Facebook a bit later, you'll find ads from those companies showing those exact items you just looked at.  I kid you not, it's creepy.  But you get used to it and move on because most likely if you didn't already buy the item, you aren't going to, and the ad isn't going to sway you either way.  And also those websites get it wrong sometime because maybe they think you're of that age and should be having babies so it'll start sending you ads for diapers and I'm like - heck no - you'd better stop THAT right now.  It's not perfect, but they're perfecting that advertising a little more every day.
     Then there's Amazon, and you can get just about anything from there, and if you can't get it there you can get it from one of China's copy-cat websites because there's sure to be a lead-soaked replica of whatever it is you wanted from there.  They advertise just as heavily and will pop up in your Facebook and Google feeds too, also in side-ads on websites that carry news and information.  Ever go to your favorite News website and see an ad for that thing you just looked at?'s everywhere, they feed off the "cookies" that your computer tracks and the history too.  It's all very invasive and sort of creepy.

     HOWEVER....  I'm okay with it.

     Why?  Why should I be okay with all of this invasion of my privacy?  Why should I be okay with Amazon and Google and YouTube and Facebook knowing about me at every moment of my life?

     Well, in part, it's so darn convenient.  And also because I sure as heck don't do anything bad that would cause that information to come back and bite me.  I don't look at porn, I rarely swear (unless I get really heated) and I don't engage in illegal activities - don't touch drugs, don't steal, haven't gotten a traffic ticket and there's probably a bunch of things I can't put on this list because I haven't done them to even think of them.
     And as for the convenience of it, isn't it nice to go on Amazon and suddenly there's an ad for the next book in a series you've been collecting?  Oh, it's out today?  Sweet, let me order it today.  Or oh look, Google is suggesting a new restaurant I haven't tried yet but all of these people who visited other restaurant I like also liked it.  Or oh look Facebook just showed me that I did the exact same thing 5 years ago that I did today...weird.
      Then there's things like the Amazon Echo where you can call up any music you want to listen to (for a monthly fee at least) or ask for a monthly news briefing.  And sure, the Echo is listening to everything that is being said in the room at all times - but what's it going to hear?  Nothing that will incriminate me of criminal activity, because I'm not doing anything like that.  And from what we've seen, so far, these large companies are keeping their information to themselves for the most part.
     We've already seen how Apple refused to unlock the I-Phone of a terrorist even though there could have been information on it.  And also that Amazon kept the recording of a home that had a murder happen within it to themselves.  Both eventually did get out (but I believe both didn't really have any information that helped in these cases) but all the same, these companies are protecting themselves from the government.

     And that's really the biggest issue with BB.  In the book 1985 and Animal Farm and so many others, the government was really the bad guy.  They were monitoring everything that was going on and using it against people to keep them in line.  And yes, the government is monitoring us at every moment too.  They listen to our telephone conversations, they can dig into our internet histories, they know the things we were doing; but not to the extent these private companies are.  And these private companies are doing this for one reason: to advertise to you to buy stuff.
     We're probably going to buy that stuff anyway, right?, probably not.  Maybe at some point, but not to the extent we are at the moment.  And it's making them into huge monopoly-like giants.

     This is where things get sketchy in my mind.  Because I like shopping on Amazon a lot.  I like giving Google information about the restaurants I visit and I like using Facebook to share things about myself with my friends.  But they've all but killed their competition over the last ten years.  Before when you wanted to buy an item you typically went to that website of the item and bought it from there.  But now if you go to Amazon since they're so big they have lowered the price, so you get it from them instead.  The original company doesn't see direct profits from it, and eventually they lose out.  I do see a smaller sect of private business springing up and managing okay on their own until some bigger rip-off company selling on Amazon steals their designs or artwork and then they too get overwhelmed unless they decide to go the legal route to sue.  But that's darn costly in itself.  So now you've got Amazon and all of these big companies taking all of the money.
     The big companies of yesteryear are slowly falling into oblivion because they can't keep up with this powerful "monopoly".  I can't say they're exactly a monopoly, because that would imply that Amazon could stop others from doing what they do, and even though they can to some extent, they can't legally do it.  So I can't call them it straight out.  But there are a lot of other large companies out there right now that basically own everything.  And if they don't own it yet, then they don't see it as competition yet.  Google buys up everything they see as useful, Amazon, Facebook, and so too telephone providers, internet and cable providers and all of those food businesses like Tyson, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and General Mills...I could go on forever, but if you look up just about any big name you'll see dozens of businesses under them.

     My opinion on this is that as big as the government is, it's not the powerhouse these BB companies have become.  Is it something that effects me?  Sure it does.  I don't work directly for a big one, but it was bought by a bigger one that owns a few other larger chains.  I buy from huge chains and am watching as the little ones either get sucked up, or killed by those chains.  It hurts to see a store you once loved disappear.  But will I be able to find the same items I used to buy there?  Sure.  Maybe it won't be quite the same, but that's okay, we'll move on.

     What I really wonder, however, is what will this all mean for us in the long run?  I don't mind spending my money at Amazon, but I know that to an extent it killed my favorite bookstore Borders.  But that bookstore had killed my local Young & Welshan's which was a smaller, locally owned bookstore.  They'd moved into a new spot a few years before next to a coffee shop and had opened the wall between them only a year or so before.  It was the first bookstore/coffee shop I'd ever been in outside of the Borders I first visited in Maine a few year's before.  But then Borders came in across the street (almost literally, although about down a half mile) and suddenly Y&W was gone.  Then Amazon started taking over as well as Barnes and Noble (about a mile away) and both of them had an internet presence but Borders did not, so they were gone within ten years.  What do I do now?  I still visit B&N, although the closest one is 15 miles or more away, so usually I just order on Amazon.  I don't even have a smaller local bookstore to go to because the few we did have also have closed in the past five or so years.  The ones that still exist are even a further drive.
     What does that mean to me?  It means that I'll continue to participate in buying stuff from these larger companies.  Why?  Because there's not much of a choice.  And it's convenient.  Do I wish I could go back in time and wish that those bookstores would come back?  Sure I do.  But would they?  Probably not.
     Why don't I hate businesses more that drive other businesses out?  Maybe because I know that change is definitely inevitable.  If we don't keep up with it we'll be swallowed by it like those little businesses do.  BUT...I won't refuse to participate in helping smaller businesses either.  I don't refuse to going to the privately owned places, but I really do hate getting attached to them.  Even if my $20 a month helps them out, I can't be the only one otherwise they'll disappear like so many others have.  It's really depressing to get attached to a business only to see it fold over time and then I have to still seek business elsewhere.  I'm not sure what the answer is to that.
     Maybe the only real answer is if these larger businesses start helping the little ones.  I'm not sure how that would work, but I could totally see Amazon going "okay, we want an extension business so we want to help you do what you do..."  And even though I have seen that with smaller businesses using Amazon Marketplace...I'm not entirely sure if it's really helping or harming these businesses.  I just don't know enough to speculate.

     So, in conclusion... Well, there really isn't a conclusion.  I think it's O-K to buy things from the big stores.  They do give a lot of people jobs, even if those jobs might be terrible.  They do make things convenient even if it costs other smaller companies their business.  And I think that to a lesser-extent some businesses do benefit from them because there's advertising and if I can't find said item on Amazon (for instance) but it's right here at this little store (or maybe it's cheaper here or the same price and I can have it now) I'll buy it there.  And it's hard to tell what the future will bring and how much all of this information gathering will effect us in the future.  But I don't think it's all that bad, so I'm not just going to start boycotting because as a middle-class American, I really can't afford to spend my time on it.  Gotta work to pay for the goodies I'm buying, even if that is a whole other matter that may need to be blogged about in the future as well.

TL;DR:  I think it's okay to shop at Amazon and use Google even though they might know more about me than I do myself and sell me stuff that's killing smaller businesses.

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