Librarians tried to save society, and failed

The other day I had a thought that so completely stunned me, that I just stood there with the shower water running down my face: librarians were so ahead of their time!

Librarians have been stalwart defenders of our information privacy before we even knew what information privacy or data mining was. Even in this digital age, libraries don’t keep records of what books you’ve checked out. This is not just poor record keeping, but a conscious effort to ensure people cannot use our own information against us. 70 years ago, librarians were already envisioning the case where someone could use the fact that you checked out a copy of Mein Kampf to blacklist you from getting a job.

Nowadays, companies like Google and Facebook keep track of every move we make online, correlating it, cross-referencing it, and (of course) selling it. If you search for a product, Amazon immediately sends you an email about similar products. Then it sends an email to your friends, who might also like products that you like. If you buy peanut butter, Yahoo puts you in touch with singles who have jelly. If you fart, Steve Ballmer bursts through your window with a can of deodorizer (the one that your best friend gave five stars on Yelp) (Yes, I know it doesn’t make any sense that your friend is rating fart deodorizer on Yelp, except that 1) your best friend is kind of crazy, and 2) this was the fart deodorizer sold by a special “beans only” restaurant. It’s downtown) (And by the way, that wasn’t exactly the craziest part of that sentence anyway, so lay off alright?).

We hardly exist as people anymore; we’re just chess pieces in the game of mass consumption. Our very existence generates money for other people. Every product we buy, every link we click on, ever celebrity we tweet about is stored in a database for later use. Employers are Googling job applicants and demanding access to their Facebook profiles before hiring them. All of a sudden, you’re wishing you hadn’t done that review of Mein Kampf on GoodReads.

And librarians saw the writing on the wall, tried to stop it, before it was even technically possible to do it.

Good job librarians. Sorry we didn’t listen to you before it was too late. Anything else you want to warn us about?


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