January 30, 2023

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about who I am and why I’m that person. While it would be nice to say that I was born the person I am and nothing would have changed that – I don’t believe that is the whole truth. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into a ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate here. I’m firmly in both camps. I believe that we are who we are from the moment of conception but that how we express that is determined by our early influences to a great degree and by our later influences to a lessor degree.

So, it makes sense that when you know the early influences of a person, you will more accurately be able to determine how that person will behave in a given circumstance. I have a relative who grew up in a very racist household where the N-word was used frequently. His father was an abusive alcoholic and his mother was an abusive religionist.As a child, he was cruel to animals (often killing them) and he liked to light fires and destroy things (on a disturbing note, he was also a bed-wetter. The combo of animal cruelty, fire setting, and bed wetting according to many sources are three common traits of serial killers.) So, you might guess that he is not the most pleasant person to be around. He’s a bully, a womanizer, and a sociopath. He’s also very successful at what he does and constantly has worshipful followers around him. Women love him and guys think he’s cool. Who would he have been with a different childhood?

He and I watched many of the same shows on Saturday mornings (He-Man, Bugs Bunny, Superfriends) but the shows we watched when our parents were around were quite different. And, today, we watch very different things too – I’m sure of that even though we have never compared notes.

I’ve kept journals through most of my life. So, I’m my own best case study. One of the amazing things I’ve discovered is that even though I’ve changed my jobs, my location, my education, my friends, my entire external world over and over – and even though I’ve grown and changed as a person as I’ve experienced new things, new people, new places, new ways of living – the core foundational structure of who I am is almost exactly the same as it was when I was ten or twenty or thirty or forty. I’m the exact same person I was but with new skills, knowledge, habits, and other external trappings that change the way I interact with the world…and so is my relative.

I’ve laid out all of this for a reason. My relative and I and the people that came before us and the people in the generation after us – we all have a very private core that was allowed to grow and develop in privacy. For the most part, there was no one cataloging our choices and determining who or what we were and then using that to build upon us – or sell to us. That last bit is the crux – think about a child today. On their electronic device in the home or in school or using the smart TV or watching streaming on-demand programs.

The child has a profile. Does the child like violence? Does the child like unicorns? Does the child like shows about boys or boys about girls? Does the child like superheroes? Does the child like animals? Nature programs? Which youtube toy videos does the child watch? And the list of choices the child makes gets larger and larger and feeds the core of that person or feeds the worst nature or the best nature of that person – not for any particular moral purpose – but simply to discover how to sell to that person and to make profits for the corporations that only want to sell to that person. These corporations rarely, if ever, have altruistic intentions – the child is a product and the client is the shareholder.

My journals are not public and cannot be used to sell me products or to shape my belief system – but the habits of our online profiles, our smart TV profiles, our digital radio choices, our Amazon browsing, our online vices or guilty pleasures, our online political donations or political reading habits – these are all owned by someone. This is how Cambridge Analytica handed the election to Donald Trump. They looked at the demographics of neighborhoods (because we tend to live in the vicinity of like-minded people) and they used that information to target ad campaigns which either encouraged people not to vote, encouraged people to vote for a certain candidate, or encouraged people to not vote for a certain candidate. The Russian ad campaigns, fake social news, and shady financial donations were an extension of all of this.

So, if the shadowy powers that exist on the other side of our computer screens were able to manipulate the adult population to such a degree – think what this means for the future. Think back to what I wrote above – they didn’t have all the information I gave about myself or my relative, only the information that we willingly revealed on social profiles – and yet – they managed to sway wide portions of the electorate. Imagine the power they will wield in ten years or twenty years – they will have all of the data about where we go, who we know, what we watched, what we read, where we shopped, who we worked with – and by we – I mean all of us – but for those who are going to become adults – they will also know which television program they watched when they were five and much much more.

The control mechanisms we have in place now are Orwellian and frightening. China’s new social credit schema, smart speakers, smart televisions, smart watches, smart phones. All of it is frightening. However, it is nothing compared to what is coming in the next decades.

Know thyself! This advice is perhaps more important than ever before. In fact, I think that this could easily become a multi-billion dollar business – to help people understand what their entire profile is and how it is interpreted. Knowing yourself is the only way that you will understand the difference between what you want and what you are being sold. It’s the difference between freedom and bondage.

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