Steven Speilberg’s Minority Report portrays a future where an individual’s identification is held in their eye and technology has expanded to track each person’s movement and even their mind by scanning the iris. Tom Cruise is forced to receive a black market eye transplant to hide his personal identity, location, and innermost thoughts. Every action thereafter shows advertising kiosks mistake him for the previous eye’s owner with the same relentlessness as the police who are chasing him. Each day, I relate more and more to this scene as I desperately try to escape advertising.
Minority Report was based on the Philip K. Dick short story of the same title. I have not read this short story and so I apologize if I mis-attributed this scene to Spielberg. While the movie came out 20 years ago, it is amazing to me how accurately he captured the invasive nature of advertising. This is no longer abstract sci-fi. Today, we no longer have control over when we interact with marketing or ads. If a corporation wants to get to you, they’ll be in the push notifications on your phone, your email inbox, your television, your social media accounts, and probably haunting your dreams.
Advertising gets a bad rap. Just last week, I wrote about how it was ruining sports. There is nothing inherently wrong with a person or business promoting their product or service. But marketing and advertising have known bad actors for as long as business has existed. Marketers over a hundred years ago knew an ad in Sears’ annual catalog worked better than the door-to-door snake oil salesman. But outside of dishonest actors and con artists, marketing faced a technological limit. Much like vampires, advertising could only interact with a person if they were invited to do so.
When I go eat at a restaurant, I am allowing their marketing prowess (and that of their suppliers) to help me choose what to order. When you go to Disney World, you should not be surprised that every aspect of the park seeks to convince you to hand over your wallet. These are active actions we take to engage with marketers. The vampires have found a way around the rule that they be “invited” into the home. Technology has taken away the individual’s agency, and the vampiric Mad Men are sucking us dry.
The early examples of this were the telephone, radio, and eventually television. Cold-calling salesmen and bad commercials could at least be hung up on or mocked. The internet brought pop-ups and spam emails. Even these could be beaten with an ad-blocker or spam filter and, of course, teaching your grandparents not to click on the pop-up. Cell phones, social media, and Google have brought Minority Report to life. Your cell phone will track your every movement if you let it. It will let every app on your phone farm that data out.
Google and Meta (such a stupid name) are super worried that a few new faces are getting in on their advertising game. Apple, Microsoft, TikTok, and Amazon are all about to earn record profits from advertising dollars, and the aforementioned Duopoly looks to be turning into more of a cartel. TikTok and Amazon are obvious wrestlers to jump into the ring, as they have targeted Meta and Google as their top competitors, respectively. Apple and Microsoft are a bit more surprising.
Apple made a name for themselves over Microsoft and Android (Google) products with a focus on security and protecting users’ data. While many championed Apple’s decision, it seems Tim Cook and co were a few chess moves ahead. They hampered Facebook’s ability to track users and have clearly begun encroaching on the business. Their ad revenue surpassed that of Twitter in 2021.
Microsoft is on the list for being absolutely unforgiving in forcing their products on their users. One cannot install Microsoft 11 on a PC without being inundated with ads for Microsoft Office suite, Xbox apps, or other garbage you don’t need. They are in the social media game as well with LinkedIn ads capturing that sweet business-to-business money. LinkedIn ads “monetise the time users spend on it at a rate roughly four times that of Facebook.” The competition in the field is picking up and we should all assume innovation will follow.
The era of cheap internet is over. Google’s Youtube is about to test starting every video with five commercials. Netflix is looking for ways to introduce advertising onto each level of its subscriptions. Podcasts, video games, and smart home devices have not yet begun to stalk you and influence your purchasing choices, but they will. The ads are going to keep coming, and the cost of the premium ad-free subscriptions will certainly keep climbing.
I don’t mean to be a total Luddite. I love science-fiction. While the tracking aspects of Minority Report absolutely terrify me, there were some really cool improvements to society as well. In the movie, major roads had small versions of railroad tracks taking away driver’s ability to create traffic or kill innocent travelers. Just imagine going to merge onto the highway and knowing you could sit back and check your phone or read a book while the car was carried like a railcar on the way to your exit. If only we rewarded innovation for improving society instead of innovation for invading our subconscious.