Is Big Brother bothering anyone else? I know most law abiding citizens think: who cares if someone’s watching me, I’m not doing anything illegal.
Although I can’t exactly call myself a law abiding citizen, I’m such a low level offender that getting busted is not my main worry. My rule is never to do three illegal things at the same time. So, if the baby’s out of the car seat and there’s a lingering aroma of weed, don’t anyone open a beer. Thus far, this guiding principle – or sheer luck, or being white – has kept me out of any serious trouble.
No, it’s not the specter of the slammer that bothers me. Nor do I worry, much, about being dispatched via drone, although let’s be real: it happens all the time in other countries and could easily be done by a guy in Nevada with a remote control.
No, what bugs me is the presence of something bigger than myself that could at any moment – or rather, does at all moments – spy on me, compel me to tithe my income in order to buy something I don’t need, steal my identity and/or buy electronic cigarettes in my name. Life is short, and each few minutes eaten up by these scams inspires in me, depending on my mood and what activity has been interrupted, something on the spectrum between annoyance and full-blown rage.
The thing is that Big Brother is not just the government anymore. He’s morphed into a headless beast whose tentacles are made up of a worldwide army of meagerly paid hackers (I envision anemic teenagers in fluorescent-lit warehouses in Russia or China), meth addicts, marketing witches and wiccans, and the government. Today email@example.com has changed my Gmail password via Google Chrome. I clicked a button that said, no, I’m not raymondguytone, and wondered if that were two names or three. My problem is, I can’t tune out all this chatter.
My sensitivity to stimulus, my tendency to fall in love with one person or dog every five blocks, is probably why I moved away from the city. It’s why I don’t have a connected TV in my house or a smartphone on my hip. But Big Brother will find me one way or another. He shows up uninvited through any and every portal – and without my laptop, I really could not be employed.
I can’t help but be curious about the characters trying to hack their way into my life. Whether they be real or fictional does not stop my thoughts from wandering down their wormholes. The first time it happened, I actually picked up the phone to inform someone in India employed by Cheaptickets.com that someone named Rebecca Tucker was to board a flight in mere hours, a flight she had apparently booked using my email, from Anchorage to Phoenix, from Phoenix to Orlando, and a few weeks later from Orlando to Miami, Miami to San Jose.
“I don’t know if it’s a hoax or what,” I told my Indian Jennifer, sounding 108 years old.
Then I started getting email confirmations that another Rebecca Tucker in London was ordering beauty products and electronic cigarettes up the wazoo. Amazon Prime customer service assured me that I was not being billed and the mix-up was accidental and they’d fix it, but I continue to get confirmations for size 12 ribbed trousers ordered by this unfortunate doppleganger living on 32 Rowlands Close. I don’t understand what’s going on, and none of it strikes me as benign.
Then there’s this Rebecca Tucker, who isn’t as immune to an increasingly sticky spider web of marketing ploys as she thought. It’s spooky how well they know you now. On Facebook, an ad for free running sneakers for women over 30 caught me at a vulnerable, nearing-the-end-of-work-day moment (no doubt they’ve got the timing worked out to the second). That’s me! I thought, and revealed all sorts of personal information including my (brand new) mailing address. My reward turned out not to be those sweet Nikes, but a free sample of shampoo. We will now be getting mountains of junk mail for the rest of our lives.
To live in this world without being driven to distraction, you’ve got to be able to tune out the chatter. For me, because I don’t seem to have a mental spam button, that means cutting myself off in ways that increasingly isolate me from my friends – whom I can’t pay via Venmo or chat with over GroupMe. Not that I yearn to chat on GroupMe, but I wouldn’t mind knowing when one of us has had a baby or lost a parent. Someone’s usually nice enough to text me the news, but I can feel eyes roll. I don’t blame them: it’s like having to phone your grandmother. They didn’t bother to tell me about their new book club, but I found out when they were all reading the same book on a recent trip, and barged my way in.
I’m becoming an anachronism in my own time, and still, Big Brother is finding ways to waste my time and piss me off. Even the new stupid credit card with that chip that wants to stay in the machine, recording who knows what data, until you just can’t take it anymore and yank it, though it’s never actually done? Its Shininess takes like twice as long as my old card. Tick, tock, goes the secondhand marking my allotted time on earth.
The Amish way of life – where nothing from the outside world, not even electricity, is allowed to come into the house – is looking better every day.
Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite who lives on a farm upstate and writes about rural life.