A few Mondays ago my husband, Pascal, informed me that a friend of ours had called to invite us over for dinner at her house that Thursday. The next day, I received an email from her confirming the soirée, and lo and behold, whose name did I notice in the group of invitees? None other than Bill Maher, at his personal email, no less.
My first thought was, Isn’t he going to be upset that she’s revealing his personal email to total strangers? Don’t celebrities guard that private contact information like King Tut’s loot? They must be really close, I decided. I then forwarded the email to my husband with a note that said, BILL MAHER??!
Pascal and I are the only two people in Los Angeles who don’t watch TV, it seems. We sit quietly while people whose opinions we respect rave about Breaking Bad and Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire. We only use our television to watch movies and one other thing: Real Time with Bill Maher. So, I was very excited about hanging out with the political satirist whom I usually consider spot on; I admit to having used the terms “genius” and “brilliant” when grading his New Rules.
My second thought after seeing the email was, I’m going to wear my t-shirt!
As per my last blog, my friend S, the Canadian, and I recently founded BIG DATA WATCHDOG because we are incensed at the laissez-faire attitude of the majority when it comes to the end of privacy as we know it. We mind very much that the government has the means to follow our every move and to use it against us when we least expect. But we are even more aghast at how most people blithely hand over their most intimate information to Big Corporations that turn around and sell it ad infinitum to other companies that can and do use it to manipulate us.
“…signing up for these apps [FarmVille or Words with Friends] via Facebook will give those companies who created the apps access to your personal data – even details you specifically told Facebook to keep private.” Bernard Marr, Blogger
That’s in addition to also handing over your data to the government because, hey, since you signed on to Facebook, your personal data, preferences, photos, etc., belong to them forever (even if you take your page down)! Nevertheless, here are just some of the comments we’ve heard lately on the subject (accompanied by much eye-rolling):
“We have zero privacy. Get over it.”
“I met my husband on Facebook. I don’t care if they’re evil.”
“How are you going to fight them? We’re already so screwed.”
Um, are you telling me that concerted effort by the people has never resulted in change by the corporate sector or the government?
“Last month McDonald’s announced it will ditch its super-size portion of fries and soft drinks at British outlets by the end of the year, amid a backlash against firms blamed for a an ‘obesity epidemic.’” Danielle Gusmaroli, Daily Mail
Yes, using social media is de rigueur if you live in the 21st century, and the existence of Big Brother is a huge problem without easy answers, but we believe inaction can only exacerbate this alarming phenomenon, and that a call for mobilization is needed. BIG DATA WATCHDOG intends to become a a go-to organization for cultivating ideas on how to fight Big Data and Big Brother. We will post relevant articles in the news, start a forum for ideas and post updates on meaningful steps being taken all over the world to address the Big Creep into our lives.
How will we do it?
To spread the message, we’ve created a line of t-shirts* with provocative slogans promoting the movement. When you become a member of BIG DATA WATCHDOG, you receive the t-shirt of your choice so that you can—simply by wearing your shirt—trigger reactions, start conversations, hatch potential solutions and remind our institutions that we are paying attention and will not allow our lives to be controlled by Big Brother.
So, where was I about my dinner with Bill Maher? Right! I was going to wear one of our t-shirts. Of course, he was going to ask me about it. I was going to dazzle him with my devastatingly informed and passionate discourse on Big Data and BIG DATA WATCHDOG; he was going to invite me on the show to talk about it, I’d wear my t-shirt…hell, he’d wear my t-shirt, and our website would be inundated with requests for membership, and the buzzing about Big Brother would snap, crackle and pop even more. Smart techies would come up with ways for us to take back our internet! I could barely sleep! Oh my goodness, what if he wanted to show the t-shirt on Real Time the very next night? I spent all day Thursday working on our nascent website, just in case.
That night, I showed up wearing my killer t-shirt with another boxful in the trunk of my car. We were greeted with the sound of vacuuming. Our friend’s carefully planned evening had nearly ended in disaster when a dish she was carrying from the oven to the counter literally exploded with a warlike BOOM! Miraculously, she was unharmed, but broken glass glittered and littered the entire kitchen floor. While everyone dove in to help clean up, I kept looking at the door, waiting for Bill Maher to arrive. He never did.
Hours later, sitting at the dinner table, having my last glass of Sancerre, I turned to our friend’s husband and asked about Bill Maher, the no-show.
“Oh, Billy Mayer?” (was how he pronounced the last name) “Yeah, I guess he didn’t make it.”
“Mayer?” I said. On the email, it was spelled just like Bill Maher, so I thought it was that Bill Maher.
“Oh, I didn’t even realize how he spells his name,” he said. “I just think of him as Billy.”
I think this story is hilarious, and I’ve recounted it many times since. On the chickens-before-they-hatch spectrum, I got pretty carried away! But it is true that I live in Hollywood. I’m just a regular Joe but I recently met Angelina Jolie at a party (“Hi, I’m Angie,” she said.) Bill Maher? Why not? Could’ve happened.
So, I didn’t get to meet Bill Maher, go on his show, or watch him talk about BIG DATA WATCHDOG on HBO. But hey, the ever democratic internet allows me to air my views on important issues of the day on this modest site and other widely-read forums. And for that, I am grateful.
Check out bigdatawatchdog.org. Join the movement. Get yourself a t-shirt, keep the conversation rolling. It’s crucial, and it will make you feel better!
*BIG DATA WATCHDOG is an outgrowth of Thinkware, a line of t-shirts promoting reading, literacy and critical thinking.