Posted tagged ‘Google’

Corporate Creepiness in Post-(Pre-) HAL Days (Gmail Scans)

October 21, 2010

HALcyon Days?

Everyone finds Big Government creepy these days.  When I think of some of those likely to be elected soon, I share this feeling.

But lately I’ve been finding a lot of corporate conduct creepy too.  (I’m not going to even get into the huge bonuses for executives of the TARP banks.  Or the News Corporation taking advantage of the Citizens United ruling to make large donations to Republican coffers.)

What I’m thinking of are the more subtle corporate practices, things which make my skin crawl–

1. Google. Do you have a Gmail account?  Have you noticed that when you write a friend about a sale on bagels and cream cheese, the margin of your next email is covered with ads for bakeries and the “happy cow” online cheese company?

Or that when your daughter writes you about a risque costume she is ordering for a play she is directing, the side of your in-box is plastered with lingerie proposals?

Did you happen to mention to anyone that your car has died?  Lo, and behold, the replacement that you are considering is available all over the side of your computer screen.

Coincidence?  Magic?  Nope.  Google scans your mail to customize your advertisements.

Google assures subscribers that no human reads the mail, but in these post-(or should I say pre-) HAL days, I’m not sure whether that’s more or less creepy.  (I’m also not sure that I believe it.)

2. UPS. I love UPS guys. (And gals, I suppose, though I don’t see so many of them.)    They tend to be in good-enough shape to look strong, and yet not buffed, in their cozy brown shorts.  And they smile.  And they bring packages!  All under an aura that’s part  “Oh-uh the Wells Fargo Wagon,” part “Legally Blonde.”

But UPS has recently contaminated the underpass in the old Helmsley building on Park Avenue with a re-written version of the song “That’s Amore”, only now it’s “That’s Logistics.”

AIEEEEEEE!  I actually walk through this underpass, now a dizzying mix of Hollywood Amalfi and bureau-corporate speak– a couple of times a day.  Double AIIEEEEEEE!

3. Service Surveys! Every time you have any corporate interchange, you receive a frigging questionnaire–a little proto-SAT just because you paid a bill online.

Then the margin of your Gmail account is filled with offers for credit services.

And speaking of corporate exchanges and HAL, I really do hate that bright voice.  “I didn’t understand your response!” it says perkily.  (Five times.)

4.  Spam. How did I get on a list for commercial real estate in Karachi?  (I never even write gmails about it.)


From Rat Race to Rat Rut

August 18, 2009

In the Science Times section of today’s New York Times (August 18, 2009), is a great article about the effects of stress on brain circuitry.  (“Brain is a Co-Conspirator in a Vicious Stress Loop” by Natalie Angier.)

Ms. Angier reports a study by Nuno Sousa of the Life and Health Sciences Research Institute in Portugal which described how chronically stressed rats succumbed to habitual and seemingly compulsive routines (like repeatedly pressing a bar for food pellets that they had no intention of eating).  The study found that underlying changes had actually taken place in the brains of these rats, with decision-making and goal-oriented areas of the brain shrinking, and areas related to habit-formation swelling.

As Ms. Angier writes, the stressed rodents “were now cognitively predisposed to keep doing the same things over and over, to run laps in the same dead-ended rat race, rather than seek a pipeline to greener sewers.”

In other words, the stressed rats got into a rut, dug, in part, by their own brains.

There’s no clear answer to why the stressed brain is so prone to habit formation.  One possibility posited in the article is that the brain in crisis may try to shunt activities to automatic pilot simply to free up space for  bigger questions.  Which, because of the concomitant weakening of the ability to make decisions, the stressed brain just can’t deal with.


This syndrome sounds familiar.   Especially the compulsively pressing the lever part.  (Although it’s a bit hard to imagine any kind of food pellet I wouldn’t eat when under stress.)

Still, after reading the article, I came up with the following list.

Ten Signs That You May Be A Rat in a Rut.   (Or How To Know If Your Brain’s In Stress.)

1.   When you are not sitting at a computer, you check your blackberry every few minutes, even on an underground subway train.

2.   You check your blackberry when stepping out of the subway just to see how long it takes to get service back.  You study the little flashing arrows as you climb the subway stairs, conscious of your breath.

3.   If, after a while, no one’s written, you start to open spam.  Just to clear it out.  Just in case there’s something that’s not spam.  You even open some of the messages for p*n*s enl*rg*m*nt.   (Yes, you’re a woman, but you’re only checking those to see how they managed to get through your spam filter.)

4.   When someone on the phone talks of an article they’ve read, you find it online before they finish their sentence.   (At least you think they haven’t finished their sentence.  You were doing a Google search so you’re not really sure.)

5.   You convince yourself that your interest in Robert Pattinson is a sociological study of our media/youth culture.  (Oh that RPatz!  Oh those Paparazzi!)  You are alternatively amazed at how little and how much is on Google News in the articles posted on Pattinson during the “Last Hour.”

6.   You peruse the sales of online retailers even though you have no money, and (thankfully) no pressing needs.  When you buy something, you congratulate yourself on how much you saved.

7.   You check all the stocks that have gone up dramatically in the last few months but that you did not buy.  (You studiously avoid checking stocks you own, hoping that you can not check those long enough to forget what they were.)

8.   You find yourself reading the same books again and again.  These books are fantasies in which unreal things happen to unreal people, ending happily.  You don’t find the books especially satisfying after the tenth read, but, on the other hand, they are also not disturbing.

9.   Your eyes are sore at night.  When you wake up the next morning, they are still sore.  Even so, you reach for your laptop and/or blackberry first thing.  You decide that a glare screen is the only solution, and shop for one online, looking for sales.

10. Your daughter shouts from the other room at about 9:45 p.m, “are we going to have dinner soon?”   You are working on a computer that has no glare screen.  “Just a minute,” you tell her some time later.

(Wait, what did they say about food pellets?)

If you are more interested in elephants swimming than rats racing, check out 1 Mississippi at the link above or on Amazon.