Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Was George Orwell right?

There are a lot of things I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for my friend Dayle. Attentive readers will recall, for example, that I would have no idea whatsoever how good the actor Patrick Bergin looks in a tuxedo if not for her.

More recently, I learned a couple more interesting things from her. One had to do with the movie Pearl Harbor, which opens on the United States’ Memorial Day holiday. A couple of weeks ago and within the space of a few days, I saw two different trailers for it, each for the first time. I was taken with at least one shot in one of the trailers and said so last week. Since I have not spent a lot of time in regular old American cinemas since becoming a father last year, what I didn’t know and what Dayle informed me was that she (and presumably the bulk of the population of the North American continent) has seen trailers for this movie non-stop in movie theaters and on television for something like 37 months and everyone is sick of it. Oops. There’s nothing like being out of the loop.

But I just consider myself lucky that I haven’t over-dosed on probably many trailers that everyone else is sick of, thanks to my peculiar movie-going (or, sometimes, non-movie-going) and TV viewing habits. And, while I have commented on over-exposure of movies via trailers before, I really try not to let this put me off a movie because sometimes I really the like the movie once I get a chance to see it—even if I have long since gotten sick of its trailers. A good case in point is Wonder Boys, which I enjoyed very much even though I saw its trailer more times than I cared to count and hadn’t been made enthusiastic about it. Anyway, I’m still looking forward to Pearl Harbor, but mainly in a curious-to-see-what-darn-thing-Jerry-Bruckheimer-will-pull-off-this-time sort of way.

The other thing I learned from Dayle is that the makers of my beloved TiVo are in “big trouble” because of privacy issues. My first reaction to this was: why don’t I already know about this? I’m fairly well informed. I make a point of following the news every day. Of course, I can’t quite manage the voracious reading I used to do before the baby came, and I have to rely more on the TV for…

And that’s when it hit me. A lot of my news these days comes through the television. And the television goes through TiVo. Of course, I’m not going to hear anything negative about TiVo on my television. The big report by Peter Jennings on the TiVo controversy was probably on the day that Judy Muller did that warm-hearted report on naturalists studying hibernating bears while they sleep in their caves during the winter. I was sure I had seen the same exact story just a few days before. TiVo probably substituted Muller’s report for the one about the congressional investigation into personal video recorders. Big Brother is alive and well and his name is TiVo! (In case you’re wondering, TiVo is not an acronym for anything. It’s just a name they made up that had the letters TV in it.)

I started hyperventilating and immediately ran home to search the Internet for this suppressed information. At least TiVo isn’t filtering my Internet access. Not yet anyway. But by the by, for the paranoid conspiracy theorists among you, there is one development to fuel your imaginations. In the past few months there has been a third contender (joining TiVo and Replay) in the personal video recorder gambit. It is (speaking of privacy concerns) none other than Microsoft, which has Ultimate TV as a companion to the DirecTV satellite set-top box. And, bundled with Microsoft’s WebTV, it will also be providing your Internet access. And Joel Klein and Janet Reno are no longer around to protect you! Now go to bed and try not to have fitful dreams about that!

So what did I find out about the TiVo controversy? It seems that researchers for the Privacy Foundation at the University of Denver used a laptop computer to intercept information sent from an individual TiVo unit over the phone line back to HQ and discovered that the transmission contained detailed information on the programs viewed by that unit. In other words, the company has access to what every single one of its customers is watching. The company, for its part, says that the information is collected for broad tabulation and information on any one individual is not used. The hubbub seems to be over the fact that the user manual wasn’t clear that the technology had this capability.

Frankly, this is what I always assumed they were doing. I figured this is why I am constantly getting unsolicited emails saying, “Since you enjoy hot, triple-X,” I mean, “Babylon 5 so much, we think you will also enjoy…” I mean, I have always dreamed that someone in corporate America would take an interest in what I am watching and then maybe there would be more of my kind of TV programming. For now I will have to settle for corporate America providing more of my kind of junk mail.

But, you know, this kind of stuff doesn’t really worry me. I don’t actually lie awake at night worrying about being targeted because of something I watched on television or some web site that I browsed. I don’t worry about it for the same reason I don’t worry about being picked off by a sniper. Numbers. Of the billions of people in the world, what are the odds that someone is going to take a shot at me (when I’m not cutting somebody off on the freeway during rush hour, I mean)? The odds are astronomical against it because there are just so many other potential targets. It is much less likely than winning the lottery (which itself is extremely unlikely since I have never bought a lottery ticket).

The same mathematical principle is true for targeting individuals strictly on the basis of computer data in such a large world. Sure, it can and will happen. But the successful culprits will likely be clever individuals, and how many victims can they torment? A relatively small number. As for the government and large corporations, they don’t worry me, at least when it comes to this stuff. It is one thing to collect large amounts of data. It is quite another to deal with it efficiently and competently. And I have had enough experience with governments and large corporations to know that they are not up to the task.

-S.L., 12 April 2001

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