Google and the Predictability of the Human Mind

Google's iPage AdGoogle knows me better than I know myself

Much of the work I do has to do with website management and hosting. And so recently, I found myself editing a massive FAQ — roughly half the length of a novel. It was not exactly fun — at least at first; once it started to take shape, it was fun. But I found myself trying to explain to my 83 year old father what I was doing. He doesn’t even know what an FAQ is, so I was trying to find a way to explain the problem of trying to create a structure out of a collection of disparate information. And I said, “There might be information about, I don’t know, iPage.”

That was the example that came to mind: iPage. If I just started brainstorming, I could probably come up with a hundred web hosting companies. But it was iPage that popped into my mind yesterday evening. Then, this morning, I did what I normally do: I got a cup of tea and drank it while I did my political reading. And the ad on the left popped up. And that disturbed me.

Let me be clear what I am not saying. I’m not saying, “Geez, it sure is amazing that Google knows what I’ve been doing!” The fact that advertising follows me from site to site isn’t surprising. It is one of the first things people learn when they get on the internet. And I’m used to this. Not long ago, I was writing an article about Matlab, and so for a week after it, I was getting Matlab ads.

This is an interesting thing about being a freelance writer: ads tend to be very badly targeted toward me because what I’m searching for is only interesting to me for an hour or two. To give you some idea, my direct boss asked me to expand a document about how freelancers should submit their invoices. I said, “That’s a great idea; I didn’t realize we had a document like that!” And she said, “You wrote it.” Indeed I had: just two months ago. But I don’t remember things. You do them and then you move on to something else.

Anyway, the point is that I’m not surprised that some web hosting company I’ve been writing about starts getting advertised to me. But I wasn’t writing or researching anything about iPage. But clearly, I spend a lot of time on websites that talk about web hosting. And so I doubtless was on a page that was talking about iPage. And that’s why it was the hosting company that came into my mind and the one that Google thought I would like to see this morning.

I had a similar experience several years ago. I was at the grocery store staring at several rows of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Now, I like Ben & Jerry’s, but it isn’t my favorite ice cream. And as I looked at the selection, I remembered that earlier that day I had seen a banner ad for Ben & Jerry’s. It’s upsetting to be reminded of just how easily we are manipulated. But we are just very complicated machines. We are largely predictable.

I know that Google doesn’t know that I mentioned iPage to my father last night. But I do think that Google knew that iPage was on my mind, even though I wasn’t conscious of it. It’s creepy. And it will only get more so. Remember Transient Global Amnesia?

Consciousness is a joke.

14 thoughts on “Google and the Predictability of the Human Mind

  1. My Google ads never make sense because I google a gazillion random topics. Which means that I rarely see this creepy phenom that the rest of the world gets to see.

    I feel so left out.

    • The Consumerist blog has an occasional feature: the biggest/heaviest/weirdest item that Amazon will ship for free to Prime members. I clicked through once, and for about a month afterward every time I logged on to Facebook there was an Amazon ad trying to sell me a five-ton hydraulic press. How I laughed.

    • I search on incredibly varied stuff. But the hosting ads are something else. Do a search on iPage or Bluehost and see if you don’t get hosting ads popping up.

      • I wonder what Adblocker does to that. I had to add it because Salon is stupid when it comes to noisy ads.

        • I’m so tired of the videos that open up in the text and then disappear. It makes me more likely to leave the site.

  2. Here’s a weird, related thing. So I just ran up oabout $10 K in medical bills for my back injury, right? Now every other day I get offers in the mail from credit card companies to increase my credit limit or take out a loan. Probably the medical bills got added to my credit rating, and the credit card companies have software that checks to see if your debt total just went up.

    (For the record, my job’s workers comp insurance refuses to pay a dime, but I do have health insurance, so hopefully I won’t get hit much harder than my annual deductable of $3K. But you never know . . .)

    • If it makes you any happier, I own roughly $120,000 to two hospitals. That was after being at a startup for two years with all of us being told that they were going to get health insurance for us “next month” for the last year. But I have no credit rating worth saving. I do hope that you manage to get that worked out.

      • Lord, that sort of thing makes me feel worse! If capitalism just treated me unfairly, I’d live with it. But that it treats so many people unfairly makes me hate everything about it. It’s like the corporate employees at my job; looking down on me is one thing. Looking down on all your laborers is despicable and makes you one rotten-ass human being.

        How did you avoid a collections service on that bill? Of course, most unpaid bills are bought for pennies (or fractions of pennies) on the dollar, so in many cases if the collections agency can’t scare you on the phone into paying, it’s hardly worth the legal fees to pursue it.

        • Interestingly, I ended up owing about 12 different companies. Most of them were small and I paid off all the same ones. I was paying off one of the hospitals until I ran out of money. They used to call me. But I don’t think that hospitals are as aggressive as other companies. It doesn’t matter, though; I don’t answer the phone unless I know who it is is. But it has turned me into a cash-only person.

          • It depends on the size of the debt really-yours is too big to be aggressive over since it takes too long to collect the entire amount. But anything under $50K doesn’t cost too much to collect.

            • I owed $200 to an outside doctor and he was incredibly aggressive. The hospitals probably figure if they really press me I will just declare bankruptcy. And I probably should anyway.

              • And as non-profits maybe they are allowed to write off certain debts; I don’t know. The time and money we waste on this nonsense!

                • Oh yeah. It’s a terrible system. But then capitalism itself is not an efficient system. It works well enough. But it is nothing like the perfect system it is claimed to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *