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"Holy sh*t man," he came running back after a moment, papers flapping wildly in his hand. I was working another minimum wage job in an endless stream of minimum wage jobs, and I was still trying to fold a pizza box helplessly.
"What's up?" and I causally pushed the mangled box to the side, relieved for a distraction.
He was breathless and excited about something so I listened, "those solicitor guys, well they want to use like the WiFi—I mean when a customer comes in and signs into the free WiFi, they somehow like scoop up the data!"
"Wha-at that's crazy..." my mind was instantly trailing off to the recent scandal with Facebook. The one in which Facebook "accidentally" allowed a little company known as Cambridge Analytica to net users data in order to advertise their chosen candidate. The one in which we have all heard of over the news. The one in which is reminiscent of the NSA scrutinizing and collecting data from American citizens. Another one in which our rights and our privacy are rapidly grinding into dust. I need not speak further on the details of any of these instances. We know them well, we know which way the wheel seems to be turning.
"Jesus," I was beginning again more or less to myself, however he was still standing there with a pained and shocked expression tightening his face. "You know just because you turned them down," and he had, rather gracefully and rather hurriedly before he was even sure what they had been babbling on about, "they'll just go somewhere else, to some other business and solicit them the same proposition."
In other words, they will just wrap this dirty, greasy idea into a glossy business proposition that someone else may not shoo away.
So I did some digging.
Companies such as "Cheerfy" utilize a platform in which the customer signs into the establishment's WiFi through it. From here, from simply signing into an establishment's free internet access, you have been pinpointed, you have been tracked so targeted emails can be sent to you after you have left.
"Social WiFi" boasts on their website it allows you to:
"gather all the data you need in order to properly communicate with your customers and personalize their experience."
It targets areas such as demographics, network activity and user timeline, all of which enables the business to figure out just who really is using the internet connection. And how to solicit them all the better.
Email marketing allows the establishment to automatically target consumers and send annoying reminders to spend your pocket change. They also specifically craft appropriate advertisements based on age, on sex, on language and more.
There are even 'triggered' notifications which are sent automatically once a consumer completes a specific action.
My favorite on each of these websites is the repeated use of the word "capture." Capture your prey. Capture your fellows humans and sway them to spend more money on frivolous junk we could all use more of. Capture personal information in order to SELL SELL SELL.
This is not new news. This is something that has been going on, Nordstrom was one of the first to experiment with such a program and the New York Times has covered the topic as well.
The worrisome truth here is how far we have fallen into the category of "consumers." How much we have morphed into cattle, to be poked and prodded along in and out of stores and restaurants. Whether scrolling mindlessly through social media or aimlessly strolling down the street we are consistently bombarded with flashing neon signs screaming "BUY BUY BUY." We are targeted. And not for our hopes, our dreams, or our character, but simply targeted for the way we spend money; for our demographics and how likely we are to dole out more and more from our wasted pockets.
Perhaps shopping and cycling through restaurants day in and day out is in fact a pleasant distraction from our real lives; our genuine problems. Perhaps it is the perfect vacation from the troubles of others, of the world we live in. And yet we still seem to find, after the shopping binge has ended, after the plates and empty bottles have been cleared, it is but a momentary distraction. We find ourselves more empty and more isolated. And we find the world around us just as barren.
I spent some time on the beach a few days ago. It was a day that had left me feeling particularly poor, particularly inadequate. For the first few moments I was wholly distracted. Distracted with crunching numbers, with an attempt to calculate exactly how far I could stretch the sixty five dollars I had left. Fifteen dollars for a ride to work to make more money (hopefully), five towards laundry for I could no longer carry on without clean socks, twenty for two packs of cigarettes to last two days (at times such as these I found myself chain smoking, stubbing out a butt and relighting another immediately), and the remaining twenty five for single ply toilet paper, a loaf of shitty bread, bleached and chemically formed white sugar (for it is the cheapest), coffee, and cat food. I spent the very last dollar and sixty five cents on a burnt cup of coffee from 7-eleven; the only frivolous purchase I could make.
So I found myself at the beach, for all it requires is two legs. The wind was heavy.
I watched as the white crests crumbled against the soft white sand. Watched as fat gulls danced along the shoreline and the oil rigs ominously floated in the distance. I watched as others hung around the water, too frigid to enter. They arrived simply to sit, to stand, to watch and to wait for something. To look out over the water, is too look upon the edge of the world it seemed, and some unanswerable question began to rise within me. And as I weaved between clouds of insecurity about my present and my future, I wondered what it is we wait for? What is it that we desire to suddenly appear?
Is it something more we seek in the lively dark and rolling waves, something more for our time spent here? Do we perhaps crave something more than a race to the end, more than distractions? What it is we truly want, and not some "thing" we desire on the surface; something else that is buried deep within our wasted souls. Is this what we wanted; did we suddenly become conscious beings only to be viewed as consumers; persuaded to fill our bellies, our minds and homes with useless junk? To be constantly prodded along further into our consumerism and further into our avoidance?