I don't know whether what just happened is laughable or scary. Whichever it is, it takes a bit of explanation. So here goes:
I'm still, among other things, one of those "Mad Men." (An actual, well-fossilized leftover from the "Mad Men" era of advertising.) My professional interests put me on the mailing lists for several e-mail advertising trade publications related to the business.
That's how I noticed mention of a book title called, "QR Codes Kill Kittens: How To Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business Into the Ground."
In case you were reared in a cave by people wearing bearskins back in the same era they reared me, let me briefly explain what a QR Code is. (You more advanced life forms can skip ahead to the next paragraph.) A QR code is one of those weirdly-patterned rectangular things you see on ads and in other places. Take a picture of one with your smartphone (personally, I could barely overcome my ingrained Luddite instincts enough to finally buy a "dumb" cell phone, but that's another story) and the advertiser will automatically send you various kinds of obnoxious things. He'll send you "white papers" and "reports" peddling his product. He'll fill your e-mail inbox with spam, give your phone number out to an assortment of real estate, insurance and cheese salesmen, keep your local letter carrier employed delivering junk mail to you, meanwhile "enhancing" your life in various other ways.
QR codes are a hot advertising topic these days, so I surfed over to Amazon.com to get a gander at the book about killing kittens and QR codes. I read a few pages, to see if this appeared to be a book I can learn from. I can, and I planned to order the book. And then it hit me.
The second I went to that book's Amazon page, various electronic bots, or whatever the hell they are, took note of what I did and added scads of erroneous crap to the database on me that somebody maintains on some cloud somewhere, meanwhile affiliating me with various causes, scams, schemes, and subversive plots.
The computer bot sees me shopping for a book that has the word "kittens" in the title and a picture of a kitten on the cover.
"Ah hah, Crank!" declares the bot, "Now I know all about you!" And then, for my edification, the bot shows me something I can click on to purchase flea medicine. Presumably for my cat.
Uh, Mr. Bot? Or is it you, Mr. Bezos? Or is it Mr. Bozo? Listen to me carefully please: I don't don't have no stinkin' cat or kitten! I don't even want no stinking cat or kitten!
I tried keeping a cat, maybe 45 years ago. The arrangement lasted two weeks. I got rid of it after it refused to use its pristinely-clean kitty litter box and instead crapped each day in my bath tub while I was at the office. You say I should have discouraged the cat by filling the tub with water? I did that. The tub drain had a very, very slow leak. The cat would sit patiently, all day, on the edge of the tub, and when the tub had finally emptied, the cat would leave another package there for me.
Then there was the woman I was dating who slept with cats. (This was some time before the Crank's late Beautiful Girlfriend entered my life.) Whenever I shared a bed with this cat lady, the cat got furious. The first time, it simply waited until I left the room and then pooped on my pillow. The second time, it peed directly on me. I got the message and checked out of the woman's life, leaving her to her stinking beloved cat. I hope they're very happy together.
I bring this up because the booboo that Mr. Bezos' committed by sending me a flea treatment ad is an indication of something far more ominous. It reveals how forces greater than you or me are collecting inordinate amounts of data about us and then inadvertently misusing the data. They add 2 + 2 and decide it adds up to 7, which in turn equals Worldwide Terrorist Conspiracy.
Think about it. If Jeff Bezos wants to send me flea medicine for cats because I ordered an advertising textbook with the word "kittens" in the title, what kind of mistakes do you think that the government is making about you when you browse a left-handed golf glove and the FBI decides you're a dangerous radical leftist?
Or what if you decide to look for tickets to the next concert by Cherri Bomb and the NSA decides you're a radical seeking to blow up a concert crowd – and sends in a SWAT team to get you on American soil? Or if it gets a drone to blow you up abroad? This could be all the more likely if, say, your kid is looking up his favorite girl punk band heroines while your wife goes here, shopping for something for the kitchen. Dude, stick a fork in yourself. You, your family, your house and your car are as done as a roasted Chechen.
The truth of the matter is, collecting so-called metadata on Americans willy-nilly isn't making us safer. Quite the contrary, it's imperiling us by making us targets for maurauding drones, set off by mindless computers, programmed by equally mindless morons.
What's that? You went to Google trying to figure out whatever became of your old high school budy, Alan Kwada?
If that's the case, it was nice knowing you, pal. Make sure your life insurance is paid up.