Sunday, June 4, 2017

Still Life with Robin: How Do They Know?

Segmented Reflections
by Roger McLassus

via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

I’m sure you’ve noticed as you wander here and there on the internet that the ads you see are curiously tailored to where you’ve been and what you’ve been looking at. It’s a little eerie.

A few weeks ago I had to replace a lamp. I liked the old lamp and figured the fastest, simplest way to deal with the broken lamp would be to find the same lamp on Amazon, buy it, and have it shipped. I looked around a lot but didn’t quite find it. I found something similar – kind of. I wasn’t sure if it was enough like my old lamp to go ahead and get it. And it was a bit more than I expected to pay. Maybe I should shop around IRL (in real life) to be sure of getting what I wanted. So I closed the window and moved on. Or so I thought.

Over the next two weeks, wherever I went on the internet, that lamp seemed to stalk me. It cropped up in ads on It followed me to Facebook. If a site had ads, there was that damn lamp! Not only had I decided not to get it – now I was determined to avoid getting anything like it. I wasn’t going to be bullied into getting a lamp, no matter how often it turned up on my screen. In fact, the more I saw it, the less I liked it. I still have a dark spot in my house but haven’t yet bought a thing. Now I may just leave it dark.

Well, I’ve been in New York City the last couple of days, and at one point came upon a large flea market in the street under the Manhattan Bridge in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn. (Dumbo is an acronym for “Down Under Manhattan Bridge”….and it makes me wonder why no one realized that a much, much better acronym would be Umbr (“Under Manhattan Br”), calling to mind a pigment favored by Renaissance painters, rather than a sad, gullible, exploited little circus elephant in an old Disney cartoon. Wouldn’t you rather live in a place called Umbr, than a place called Dumbo? But I’m getting away from my subject, which is internet advertising. At the Dumbo flea market I saw a black leather computer bag. It was almost everything I wanted in a bag. Lightweight. Good arrangement of pockets and sleeves. Could be carried backpack style or cross-shoulder. Pen holders. An outer compartment for accessories. There was only one reason I didn’t get it. I already have a perfectly satisfactory computer bag. I shouldn’t be buying another one if I don’t really need it. So after some dithering and dallying, I walked away. No bag for me.

Now, Sunday evening, back at home in DC, I’ve been unpacking. Unwinding. Surfing the internet a bit. And what do I see? Ads for a black computer bag!! Almost the same one I saw at the flea market this morning! How could that be?! I understand why the lamp appeared in pop-up after pop-up. But how is it that I shop for a black bag in Brooklyn, and my computer seems to know that I’m interested in black bags? That’s more than a little eerie. It’s downright spooky!

And now that I’ve written that I find this all a bit creepy, a bit worrisome….what’s next? Ads for anti-anxiety, anti-paranoia meds, of course!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local, usually on Saturday but occasionally on Sunday.

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