Elliot: Imagine snooping

BY BEAU ELLIOT | JUNE 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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So today, all the rage is the (alleged?) overreach of the NSA, which might be the gross, nearly obscene, overreach of the NSA, or the we’re-on-the-brink-of-dictatorial-tyranny, depending on which camp you might fit in.

Of course, it might not be camps; it might be which data point you fit into on the NSA big board of gazillions of data points. Yes, I know; it’s depressing to think that you’re merely a data point instead of all the things that you had once imagined. But that’s how life imitates the NSA.

Or how the NSA imitates life.

I wish I could be outraged. I mean, I used to be outraged all the time, but I think I spent all my outrage capital during the Bush administration, and I never got repaid, so now I have a what-did-you-expect? attitude. If you go on the Internet, lots and lots of people are going to know lots and lots about you, and it’s been that way for quite a while, not only during the Obama administration.

Although, as Gail Collins of the New York Times points out, it is disappointing that the NSA bugaboo (if that’s the right word) occurred during the reign (if that’s the right word) of a constitutional scholar. Be careful what you wish for.

It’s not, of course, only the NSA or some other government agency snooping into our lives; corporations make a living doing it, too. That’s why I, who never buys anything online but who does visit the Boston Globe’s Red Sox webpage far more times than is good for anyone’s health, am continually bombarded by Google’s kindly offering to tell me about this or that tidbit on the BoSox — even when I’m merely spell-checking the name of an Iowa legislator.

Or, as the Times’ Collins points out, you can email your spouse about redoing the family room and poof — you receive an online ad for curtains or carpets or whatever. (Collins specifically wrote about kitchen curtains, but the principle [if that’s the right word], if not my memory, is the same.

So, yeah, we can moan about the dark world we live in, where privacy went the way of flintlock muskets, and then we can sit back and listen to John Lennon’s “Imagine” and feel better about ourselves.

Myself, I’d rather imagine a world (or at least my world) that has no further connection with Tim Tebow. But, um, it seems a little late for that, given that the New England Patriots just signed the quarterback with a sour arm but a sweet love for Jesus. Sigh.

And then there’s this:

In 1865, according to this Google gadget I picked up once in some distant, previous life and have since wondered why, exactly (the way you remember a past romance and wonder why, exactly, you ever got involved, then hear an old Joni Mitchell song and say, Oh, yeah, that’s it).

In any case, in 1865, according to Google (that entity again), a Harvard student returning home slipped between two railroad cars in New Jersey. An actor heading for Philadelphia rescued him.
The student was Robert Lincoln, heading for the family residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The actor was Edwin Booth, brother of — yeah, you guessed it. A short time later, Edwin Booth’s brother became forever infamous after he assassinated the student’s father.

You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were a fiction writer. Some editor would say, Nah, not in real life. Only in your imagination.


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