As we rely more and more on the internet to chat, shop and inform ourselves we leave behind a trail of our hobbies, ruminations, desires, contacts and, bizarrely, information about what makes us tick. Information we wouldn’t want our mothers to know but is readily available to any greedy salesman for the right cash. They can find out whether you have children, how many and what their interests are; whether you’re single, married or ‘looking’; if you’re a night owl and like to party or prefer sitting in and reading with a glass of wine and a good/racy book. How do they know this? Extrapolation. Once they get hold of information of which sites you visited, what queries you made, at what times during the day/week/month/year they can build a picture of a faceless you (in fact, they can colour you in if you buy cosmetics). The Sunday Times did a piece on it but it didn’t reveal the extent to which technology is being used to identify lifestyles. There was one revealing paragraph:
Last week Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced tha they would ban some services available on Blackberry smartphones. The problem was that the encryption on the phones was so good that it made it very difficult for the government to spy on people’s email messages.
There, do you understand now how exposed you are on the internet? There is a reference to the film Minority Report when the hero is bombarded with sales pitches as he wanders around a shopping centre. We are so very, very close to that stage. As an Amazon shopper are you not informed of the latest titles that would be of interest to you? Be as safe as you can be. Lock down your privacy settings and ensure your browser deletes all cookies when you exit. If you leave the door open you cannot complain too loudly about being victimised. Remember: do not give anyone the opportunity to disppoint you.
My children are what is termed mixed race. That is to say my husband and I are from different races. He is English and I am Indian. We are both British but there is an obvious physical colour difference when you look at us. Our children are both English and Indian, race-wise, and completely British. I once spoke to another parent of mixed race children and he referred to his offspring as being ‘neither one nor the other’ which I thought was particularly negative; luckily his children are not of the same opinion. I tell my children they are lucky, they have the best of both worlds and, like every other child in the world, have both been born with the best parts of their parents. What they b ecome from then on is all them, not their colour, not their cultures, not their schools, not their friends but the result of the choices they make and their attitudes. If they have negative attitudes they will become negative people. We try again and again to explain that the true measure of a person is in the way they react to difficult situations. It is easy to be light, jovial and carefree when things are going great, but when you are presented with problems and criticisms it is then that you are given the opportunity to learn and excel. As I am a grump (especially in the mornings) it is an extremely hypocritical statement but I hope they listen to what I say rather than as I do! One of the most difficult things they have found, and which I never grasped at their age, is the lying. People lie all the time, to everyone, in every situation. They know adults who dislike each other intensely yet are nice as pie to each other. They also dislike certain people yet I insist they be courteous because it is socially unacceptable to ignore people; I tell them it is rude to be completely frank when asked your opinion (especially on the meal they’ve just tried to consume). After years of telling them they must not lie I am now teaching them the subtleties of evasive conversation, white lies, half-truths and basically being devious. I try to explain that it is not exactly lying (and in doing so I an lying myself) but a social grace so as not to offend the other person, but even that goes against the grain. I had a situation once where, despite my every effort, I could not understand why a particular person was standoffish. I found out by chance that he just didn’t like my colour, the fact that I was Indian. Having spent months trying harder and harder it came as a shock when I understood that the idiot was blinded by his own ignorance and prejudice. It may sound strange but I was not offended by his bigotry, I was, rather, offended that he had watched me flounder to ingratiate myself. It was humiliating that I had tried so hard for someone who had decided to never like me anyway. I decided there and then I would never again do that. If someone had a problem with me I would ask them outright whether it was a race issue or something I’d done. That vow lasted for all of a week because, strangely enough, it is apparently even more offensive to ask someone if they are racist. The person that didn’t like me for being an Indian, the one I mentioned earlier? Well, once I’d confronted him with the fact and he’d turned red in embarrassment (and I have to admit I was impressed that he didn’t try to bluster his way out of it), we were able to bypass his prejudice and get the job done with surprisingly less friction and even a laugh or two. Some of you may be asking why I would continue working/liaising with such a person, but you have to understand that the problem was his. I disliked his racism but I was not going to let it stop me doing my job. I hope that I left him with the impression that I am more than my colour just as he is more than his bigoted attitude, but I doubt it. So you see, I would much rather I knew when someone didn’t like me because I was Indian, short, frizzy-haired, vegetarian, etc. But not even I could be that bold and while the wheel of political correctness turns ever faster towards silence and blank walls we can expect to be even more restrained in our responses. It will make liars of us all.
So, now let me link these two disparate themes together – the internet spying and the lying. I propose that when next we go online we bombard shopping sites and search engines with bogus requests and information. For example I tend not to buy puddings and prefer savoury foods so this morning I wasted 4 minutes searching for recipes on apple pies, the price of ready-made apple pies, books on apples and pies and… you get the picture. Tomorrow I may do the same with Arran jumpers. Lie to the spies. It’s all the rage in the real world.