I always wondered what happened to Rockwell. Back in 1984, Rockwell had this hit song at age 20 – “Somebody’s watching me”. You couldn’t escape it on the airwaves – especially since Michael Jackson (pre-fall) was singing backup. Remember?
Turns out Rockwell was actually the son of Berry Gordy, Motown president and starmaker. Supposedly he got the contract without his father’s knowledge ….. hmm. His other hit single which I don’t remember is “Obscene phone caller”, and according to Wikipedia, he was last in the news for beating an “associate” at the Hollywood Magic Castle in 2018. Ah, stardom.
But I do remember that song when I think about our world today, one he never imagined – maybe Arthur C. Clarke did, in a way, and Asimov, and other visionaries. Somebody is indeed watching me, and you, and us all – the question is, what are they doing with what they learn?
I have been on a little break from writing here, in many ways because of the ongoing challenges in my life, our life together, and our community. But, something did change, or at least move towards change, since my last post – our election was held, the ballots counted and disputed, the name calling and finger pointing continues but there is movement. Where it leads, I doubt anyone can fully predict; certainly the polls and the surveys again did not capture all that our country feels or believes, and many sense that even now a full understanding of our collective temperature is difficult to grasp. Why does anyone even listen to surveys anymore? Speaking of which …
So I have been waiting for that process to end, because I was one of probably a very large number of people invited to participate in a kind of political experiment, perhaps – one I don’t fully understand, and whose results will not be known for several months. Data from that experiment is being processed and analyzed by those who specialize in that kind of thing – they may or may not have an “agenda” that will spin it towards a predetermined result, but from my little observation point as a participant, I found it – intriguing.
If you take a glance at this story from USA today way way back around Labor Day in early September, it describes the project as a joint study between various think tank institutions to determine how Facebook and Instagram affect the 2020 election. Somehow, by surveying users who opt out of those services for several weeks, through the election – 200,000 to 400,000 participants. Well, I was invited to join them. Here are some photos of the messages I received – and I accepted. Leaving Facebook during the election seemed like a godsend!
I received instructions about how to temporarily disable my Facebook account, posted my plans (to varying degrees of disinterest) and awaited the first survey. I took photos of some of those pages, as shown here on September 15 (before I provided my responses, naturally). Note, this is just a few of the screens, not all – they wanted to know my attitude about various issues, groups, and more – plus, an exciting offer to get even more “Gift card” payments by participating in “additional studies” by allowing them to somehow monitor ALL my internet activity for the period through the election.
I declined. I may like gift cards, but I am sure that Google, Facebook, and heck probably even Disney know more about my web usage than I can imagine. That’s the price of today’s technology – information about us is being sold to direct marketing, campaigns, and more. I can live with that – but, sorry, not going to make my internet browsing history public!! Would you??
About a month later, on October 10, the second more extensive survey arrived (again, these are just selected screen shots, not the full survey). Of course I expected to be asked about my thoughts on candidates and issues. But I found the choice of other questions to be fascinating – what are they trying to determine with these questions? More importantly, why these questions and not others? Note the last shot, a question more than a month before the election as to whether violence would be justified if one candidate refuses to accept the outcome … hmmm..
The final survey received in early November, just prior to the election, had some interesting questions as well. I particularly enjoyed the “fake news” questions asking whether certain statements were factual or otherwise – I thought I would be certain in every case, but there were stories there that I hadn’t heard. We certainly live in a time when just about anyone can write just about anything and it takes off, and the “disproving” doesn’t always get the same attention as the assertion. And, of course, there were questions about my emotional state, how COVID was being addressed, Black Lives Matter, and more.
A day or two after the election, I was “released” from Facebook isolation – I signed in, and scrolled through what I had “missed” with family and friends. I did, initially, really feel “left out” of knowing what was going on without my FB fix – I realized that in some ways I was addicted. But the question that I still can’t come up with a good answer for is – why was I off FB (and other services, although I don’t use those). Was there a “still on” control group that they compare our answers to? If not, how can they determine what impact “leaving” had on anyone? Perhaps when, probably in 2021, some report comes out proclaiming the amazing truths that were learned from this study, I will understand – or, perhaps I will at least be in a better position to question than most how those conclusions could possibly have been reached.
We need one another so much now – Facebook, other services, are a mixed blessing. I didn’t miss the vitriol, name calling – I did feel a little more alone, asking Bob who commented on some pictures he posted of a little outing we took one Sunday, whose birthday I missed, etc. But online connecting can’t replace real life touching, hugging, laughter (and yes, the forbidden singing). For now, I will take what I can get – we all just are doing what we can to “get through this” (whatever “this” includes for you, but right now, COVID and the election continue to hammer at our consciousness).
So if you see me on Facebook, well, now you know why I was invisible. A week from now, many around the world, but especially here in the USA, will sit down and give thanks – I will write about that next time – but without being able to be near the loved ones, or strangers, that normally fill our lives. I think, in the days ahead, I have some phone calls to make – or, zooms, facetimes, whatever. More than texts; certainly more than Facebook posts. Reach out, reach out and hold someone’s hand, if only virtually – to remind one another, we will meet again.
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