Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spies Like Us

Technology is a grand thing.  It has brought us 2000 almost entirely useless television stations in near perfect clarity (with the exception of the always relevant and timely Wealth TV, a very important channel to keep our morale up in these trying economic times).  Just surfing through all the channels takes me the hour I used to use to watch a show, thus saving me the hassle of getting stuck watching another episode of Friends I've already seen 27 times.

Technology has brought us the wonders of the Internet, complete with web sites delivering every type of porn you can think of.  Women in wet jeans?  Yeah, we got that!  Or how about transsexual little people singing Liza Manelli tunes while wearing pink tutus?  Yeah, we... well... ok, maybe not so much, but I'm sure someone will eventually think of it.

We've had some discussions now about every Who as a content creator, utilizing the Internet to spread the gospel of Who.  What the Internet also does is give every Who the ability to track every other Who.  I'm not talking about Facebook, or Twitter, with their entirely meaningless update fields that almost never tell you anything useful.  Really, who cares if some person in Wichita Kansas that you're following on Twitter just had a great bowel movement (this is humor, folks, I actually LOVE reading your updates every day... really... I do!!!).  What I'm talking about is entirely more devious, subtle, insidious, and thus a hell of a joy to play around with.

When I started this blog, the idea was to create something for class.  I assumed no one would ever read it, and jokingly made reference to that fact in a few posts.  However, I can now report that on Saturday I had two unique visitors.  On Sunday I had two.  By Monday that number had risen to three, and on Tuesday (the day of the angry and very emotional My Own Private Idaho post) the number of unique visitors shot up to 5, with 1 returning visitor.  Yesterday I had 8 unique visitors, 3 returning, from such geographically diverse locations as Scarborough, ME, and Boise, ID.  I use a site called Statcounter, which uses my listed web site to track each unique hit on each page.  And it does oh so much more then that.

I can tell you a great deal about these people.  I can tell you which web sites they came to mine from (mostly my Facebook page... oh evil Facebook).  I can sometimes tell you what their exit page was if it linked off of my page (which of you went to read up on Pittsfield I wonder).  I can tell you that the most popular post on my page so far has been One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish.... You're a Nazi (my favorite as well).  I can even tell you that the majority of people spent less then 5 SECONDS reading my blog (what the hell did you bother checking it out for if'n you weren't gonna read it!).  Thank you to the 20% of the folks who have spent more then an hour stuck in my head, I'm sure there's an emotional support group somewhere for "People Who Got Sucked Into Jeffery Reynolds' Psychosis."

I can do all this because the Internet is technology, and technology is so easily bent and manipulated to our needs.  Every single one of you has a computer, each computer has to have a unique address provided by your Internet company, those addresses have to be visible so the world can be streamed down to you, and those companies have to report who they are, where they are, etc.  These simple facts make it easy for me to tell when Jason reads the blog, or when Jen from Boston has been here again.  If I can so easily do all that... what can people with lots of time, lots of money, and lots LOTS more technology then I have available do?   What does the F.B.I. do with such information (see:  Carnivore)?  What do big companies like Yahoo do when you visit their pages?

I turn all this into a game of course.  Isn't that what we do?  Turn all the tools and toys and the daily minutia of our lives into games, to help us get through them.  My game now is:  how can I increase my page views a little more each day so more and more people will log on, read my blog, and increase my stats.  This is exactly why we play games, to get us through our lives, to turn odious and difficult tasks into much more manageable and enjoyable activities.  I've worked a huge variety of jobs since high school, and with few exceptions I could break down the tasks into discreet segments that I counted or timed or did something with to make it all a game in my head to help me through the day.  "Ok, can I crush THIS rock faster then the last one...."   Yeah... I crushed rocks for a living for a year and a half.  Can you beat that?  I've also been a dishwasher (two weeks), chicken fryer (seven months), woodmill worker (a week), and a secretary (several years).  None of which is important to this conversation, I'm just saying.

You can bet that companies are doing the same thing as I am, but in much more detail.  How can we increase the eyes coming here to garner the limited amount of advertising money we get?  How can we better track and monitor our users?  How can we track cyber-criminals?  For them, the game is increasing their money  and making their shareholders happier, or making the world safer (so they say). They don't host Bejeweled because its the humanitarian thing to do, they host it because we'll play it, and we'll read the ads in the margin (or ignore the ads, like we do when we mute the tv).

So when you're out browsing the Internet, reading blogs and visiting various websites, just remember:  someone is always watching you.  They are using technology to check your location, your viewing habits, what appeals to you.  They are tailoring their presentation to your needs... unlike myself, who tailors these presentations towards a higher goal (primarily the satisfaction of my ego, but also the potential A I'd like to earn in my final semester of school).

Now I'm just going to go ahead and watch Television on my computer.  Another 20 million channels to go...

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