To me, Google is miraculous but monstrous. I can’t at all picture in my mind the amount of code that must have been written to construct all of Google. The owners and founders were exceedingly crafty as they built their giant. They fooled me with their publicized slogan “Don’t Be Evil.” What a nice idea, I thought, deluding myself. Now I have a better impression of the juggernaut nature of Google. I have learned how it has bought out other companies and added things to itself, offering it all to us for free, and, just like television in the old days, adding in all that customized advertising and marketing research. I have been baited and drawn in.
I use Google a lot. If you have an inquiring mind at all, it’s just impossible not to reach for it. I think it has some interesting weak spots. I will recall something from the fifties or sixties and search for pictures in Images or writing from general web search and come up empty. I must then remind myself that contrary to its perceived image, Google is not omnipotent. It can only be productive to the extent of the online universe it searches. I need to remember that Google was not constructed and put out there to serve my need for niggling historical cultural factoids. It was created to make money for its founders and shareholders, and in that way it has done spectacularly well. It looks everywhere it can online to find what we ask it for. If it comes up short it is online’s fault, not Google’s. I do get annoyed sometimes with how much its algorithms track me. One day a few years ago on Gmail, I was typing an e-mail to a friend when a dialogue box opened suddenly and asked me something like “don’t you want to add [a name from my address list] to this message you’re writing?” I said “No” out loud to the screen and immediately fired off an e-mail to Google’s webmaster detailing the dialogue box and adding a comment: “I find this exceedingly creepy.” I have not received such a dialogue again. Now they post suggested ads for products I have already ordered through online retail sites or have recently searched. I don’t think they’re trying subliminal suggestions yet, although I can’t be completely sure. While on Google, I have so far not had weird cravings for foods or other goods. For the moment, my political, religious and personal preferences all still seem to be my own.
Google (and the entire Web experience actually) has moments of absolute magic. They tend to pop up when I don’t expect them, but suddenly three days later, I realize I am burrowing ferociously into Google or Wikipedia searching for details about something intriguing I’ve stumbled across. I get ideas for pieces I want to write that I feel I can approach and begin to create, because I will find most of the information I need somewhere on Google or Wikipedia, sometimes on Facebook. On You Tube, I find scores of videos about subjects that interest me or lectures by people who can give me more information. I found out about the Fibonacci sequence on Google. For a story I was writing, I looked up and found information I needed about Jewish funerary and burial rites. I found out that snails stick darts into other snails when they want to mate. I never knew this until I consulted Google and then Wikipedia about whether a snail has a tentacle. Wikipedia confirms that snails do, but they also have this sadistic-seeming spiky come-on for attracting lover snails.
I occasionally do freelance legal support work for a Los Angeles attorney. Over a span of two years, I did a number of projects for him where I had to research porn sites. Contrary to what you might think, this research was some of the dreariest and most difficult of any I had been asked to do. My employer represented several people who had lawyered up and filed charges because they were cyber-bullied in various ways on public online forums. At the time I did my work, the #MeToo movement did not yet exist. People had some limited legal recourse for cyber-harassment, so at my boss’ request, I did a lot of Google and site research to support ownership enforcement of images and brands or to procure evidence for court actions.
The thing that I remember most about researching porn sites was how sad the people looked in the still images and films. I can imagine that each photographer or videographer was trying to get their subjects to show lustful desire, but at my first sight of a lot of the images, I was struck by the number of cowed, defenseless and very young women they contained. I was much more shocked by the degradation than I was by the sex. I mean, sex is sex. I am way older than voting age and therefore have lived long enough to have some idea of the many things a human body can do with another human body. My legal assignments never required me to cover bestiality, porn use of children or any homosexual porn, but I’m quite confident sites for them are all prolifically out there and are probably as drably dehumanized as the hetero porn I did research. Yes, I was looking at numerous ways to perform sexual acts, but I didn’t get a feeling of observing sex. The images kept making me think about what people will do for a living; what people might believe would be fun until they try it; or what people could be persuaded to do through flattery or threats.
In the beginning, each time I researched, I took the list of sites I either created through a Google search or that had been sent to me by my boss or his client. I would begin to click on links and look for whatever stills or videos I was supposed to find. There were image location details that were needed for further use by others in the legal process. The web page addresses all had to be carefully noted. If I copied and pasted a link into a document, it took more time, but it meant a much higher degree of accuracy. I would work on these things until my desktop locked up from malicious adware. Then I would have to stop and free up my computer.
One thing about porn sites puzzles me. How can they get and keep users when the site pages are studded with tons of click-on links to malware, adware both benign and malicious and dead ends? Even if I had loved porn and wanted to buy it, after visiting those sites I would never purchase their products online. After I started out doing research assignments, I had to stop at least a half dozen times and remove pop-up adware that locked my computer. This involved pulling the plug, waiting, safe-starting the computer back up then clearing the browser history. Finally, one night I reminded myself I had a brain and should use it. I went online to the App Store to buy a malware and adware-cleaning program. I still had to crash and restart the computer and clear the history, but now I had software that could do much more than just empty the cache. The app was a smart purchase. Porn-land is the country of viruses. The sites themselves are rife with ads, animations, flashing banners and links all leading to mysterious paths you do not want trippingly to follow.
I researched the porn and did not complain to my boss about my assignments but mentioned that I worried I might damage my computer. I also warned him that my longer hours reports were because I repeatedly had to stop and take a lot of time to clear my computer of malicious adware before I could continue to work. There was one problem ad in particular that popped up on nearly every site I visited. Over time I evolved a set routine to clear my computer whenever the thing appeared. After about a year, I commented in an e-mail report that viewing so much joyless sex got depressing after a while. At that time, my lawyer friend continued to request further research for a couple of still-active cases. Now over the past year I have noticed he has not given me any more assignments. This could be because he has resolved those particular matters, but maybe he just took pity on my mental state. Since I know Google’s enormous tracking system notes and keeps records of my searches, I wonder what kind of metrics do they keep on me specifically about porn? What category have they put me into? I have noticed I get a lot of advertisements for men, mostly for clothing and shoes. Is this a problem? Google knows I’m female and well over age 65. In the context of my porn search history, I wonder what its marketing algorithms make of this?
August 24, 2018
© 2018 Raun MacKinnon Burnham