Last week, I went on my first date in quite some time with a dude I had met under rather alcoholic circumstances. Despite the beer-hazy environment of our initial encounter, though, our sober-ish one-on-one reunion was actually going pretty well.
After about an hour, I hopped up for a bathroom-and-Twitter-gossip session. When I came back, dude was also on his phone. Before he tucked it away, I caught a glimpse of what looked, for all intents and purposes, like a tan lady-ass tilted toward the camera.
"…Bro," I said. "Are you…looking at porn? Like, now?"
"No!" he said, the tips of his ears going red. "It was just a picture of a horse."
I blinked. "Are you looking at horse porn?"
He was not, in fact, looking at horse porn. (It really was just a picture of a horse's hindquarters, for reasons I am still sort of unclear about.) But the incident, and his caginess, gave me an idea.
"Hey," I said. "I'll show you what's on my phone search history if you show me what's on yours."
"No way," he said.
"Because you're looking at porn in a different window?" I suggested.
At this point, he changed the subject, which meant that yes, he probably was. Sorry, man.
Considering we'd been talking about Kink.com earlier in the conversation, hopefully Guy knew I wouldn't have judged him for whatever was on his open browser windows. (Unless it was, like, the Men's Rights Subreddit or something.) But I also couldn't exactly blame him for being unwilling to hand his phone over to someone he barely knows.
These days, those of us with a smartphone frequently treat it like an extension of ourselves, with all the unguardedness such a concept entails. In some ways, our phone histories have become a scrapbook of every idle curiosity and drunken urge that occurs to us at pretty much every hour of the day (or night). They may not portray the people we fancy ourselves to be, but they do go some way toward glimpsing a reflection of ourselves amid the swirling eddies of half-formed ideas that would have otherwise been lost to time or distraction.
And usually, said reflection is extremely interested in early pregnancy symptoms and how to spell "vacuum." Not exactly someone we'd like to broadcast to the world.
Luckily no one will ever see them, right? Whereas I always used to be vaguely afraid that someone would trip onto my laptop without permission, something about having my phone on my person at basically all times makes it seem like a totally secure place to, um, look up whatever I want.
Unfortunately, that's not quite the case. By now, hopefully we've all realized that Ceiling Cat, aka the NSA, Is Watching Us Masturbate, and the only reason we're not all in space jail at the moment is because they don't have the time to track down everyone who's Googled "Sebastian Stan crying" in the last week and a half. But it's not just the feds. Face it: Marketers want to know what we're up to online so they can most effectively shill their product; in turn, this means The Tech Powers That Be are probably spending significant resources to package each of us into a friendly caricature of a consumer, based entirely on our Internet activity.
The lowliest among us can have access to these data -- if you want to post an ad on Facebook for your Charles Bukowski fan site, all it takes is a little cash money to ensure that every 18-to-25-year-old white dude in New England who went to a liberal arts university gets an eyeful.
Clearly, this sort of freaks me out. But it's also pretty fascinating, in an "Oh God, I'm throwing my phone into Lake Michigan and moving to the Sahara" sort of way. After all, despite our supposedly tech-addicted culture, we are not entirely what we Internet. For a while, my Google ad preferences seemed to think I was a dude in my early forties; it's since shifted down to the ol' 18-to-24-year-old female bracket, but it still lists "Arizona," "Baby formula" and "Intelligence and counterterrorism" as possible marketing interests for me. OK, then.
I was also reminded of this a few weeks ago, when Estately did a individual analysis of each state's interests based on the most popular Google searches there. I sort of imagine advertisers creating OKCupid-esque profiles of potential consumers for their clients; judging by the places I've lived, mine might read "Tech-adjacent Pokemon enthusiast seeks hangover remedy and a wide range of pizzas." Which, all things considered, is more or less accurate. (Then again, it could also read "Balding, racist ex-convict wants to watch Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton bang on a fur coat," so let's not get too carried away here.)
Even my individual search history, had I handed it over to my date last week, paints a picture of me that's at once alarmingly precise and hopefully at least a little off the mark.
If I had to create a context for these terms, I'd imagine a young woman, flush with the thrill of adventure and the excitement of getting out of the big city for the night, borrowing her roommate's car and driving to the countryside to see the meteor shower all the astronomers have been raving about for the last week. Though her roommate cannot accompany her, said roommate swears that her parents' cabin outside of Joliet is well-stocked with non-perishables for the hungry traveler and would be ideally suited for a night of staring up at the night sky and contemplating the simultaneous futility and importance of human existence.
Once Our Heroine arrives, however, she discovers that said meteor shower was actually something of a bust and that the only thing in the house is a jar full of possibly suspect pickled vegetables and a dusty bottle of liqueur. Despondent but resolute, she decides she will make the most out of her time in the woods and gets wildly intoxicated while writing an erotic fan fiction starring herself and an EXTREMELY LEGAL member of One Direction.
LATER: she fights a bald raccoon. Fungus ensues.
How's that for marketability, Google?
Kate's life is not actually as exciting as her Google search history might suggest, but you should definitely screenshot your own and leave it in the comments. For more realistic accounts of her adventures, you can follow her on Twitter: @katchatters