Predictions on the internet, 20 years ago…
Scarily, it’s nearly 20 years since I started my first full-time job (at McKinsey). To check the actual date (8th March 1999 as it turns out), I had a rare leaf back through my old journal, and came across a rather intriguing passage...
Gulp, I used to write SO MUCH… (before smartphones)
But I was surprised to find a lengthy treatise on the perils, as I saw them, of the internet age to come, including this passage:
And that leads me to the third implication: these [internet] companies will have unprecedented capacities to glean information about us. They will know not only what we like and what we buy but also how we decide to buy — how we move through websites, what types of messages appeal to us — in short, how we think. As a psychologist, I should be thrilled either at the new opportunities to enhance knowledge or to prove the human brain as much too complex to understand…
But the end-game here really terrifies me.
Leading internet companies will have the power to ensure that I am only ever presented with things that interest me: by knowing everything about me, they will try to make sure that I never leave an affiliated site of theirs.
For my fear is, how complex are we really? Are we really spirited enough, unpredictable enough, “human” enough that we can’t be channelled in exactly the direction a company wants to push us?
And the answer may well be “no”: we make stupid marketing-inspired decisions all the time; much of what we do can be predicted: we’re relatively simple. There are countless historical examples of whole nations being taken over by a dictator who understands only a notion of their ideals and fears, and using them to make everyone do exactly his objectives. So think how much your life might be ruled by a company that knows every purchase, every transaction, every holiday, every album, every news item and every related decision you’ve made, bought or read in the last few years.
People of the world, rise up! Prove that you are a person, not a consumer! Be unpredictable, be alive, be human! Log off now!
Ignoring the revolutionary rhetoric to an audience of one, it reminds me how predictable/obvious it was, even pre-Google, pre-Facebook, pre-Cambridge Analytica, that the surveillance society would lead to frightening consequences for humanity.
The irony that I now find myself as a Venture Capitalist is not lost on me.
Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
— Alanis Morissette