Tuesday, October 10, 2006

uR mi Flr

Google is watching.

Did you know that? Those clever Googlers throw us a news bone, like the acquisition of YouTube, to distract us from the fact that they are reading our email.

I realized this not too long ago while in a Gmail conversation with Jawbone. I don’t know how many of you readers use Gmail but I have found it to be easy to use, free, well-organized, and almost entirely spam-free. The catch? Send a few emails to your friends and then watch as the Gmail police proffer up links related to the topics in your email, in the sidebar next to your email screen.

Kinda spooky, huh?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Google, and live by it pretty much in my line of work. But this email scanning thing, even if it is automated, is just a little bit unsettling. I expect the government to be doing it, and am sure my NSA file is pretty hefty. But this is GOOGLE. It doesn’t seem befitting those two young entrepreneurial lads to be spying on my email.

I discovered this when I noticed to the right of my email window what appeared to be a rather disjointed collection of links on string bands and composting. Methought that was an odd combination – until it dawned on me that our emails had been about string band music and composting. A recent thread evoked a link on autoharps. How many of you even know what that is!? Ok, probably a good many faithful bluegrass or mountain music fans do, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t just pop up on the average Google search. What would Mother Maybelle think?

It’s kind of fun to go back through a few of the messages just to see what Google pulls up. In one in which I venture a guess that Keith Olberman is probably the perfect man and plays banjo,too – this is in the text of the email, not the subject line, mind you – I get banjo related links that even include my favorite instrument purveyor, Elderly Instruments. A recent email newsletter from fiddler Casey Driessen, in which he talks vividly about his upcoming tour of China and Tibet, renders “Get College Gigs” and “USA-China Cheap Airfares.”

Then again, there are misses. When a friend sent me a music clip that uses some pretty colorful language in a satirical take on bluegrass gospel, the links that turned up were “Bilingual children!” along with “The Money Savvy Pig” and “5 Indigo Child Secrets.” So there are flaws, after all.

At the bottom of your list of links, Google provides another link to this explanation:

Gmail uses a completely automated process to provide useful information and relevant ads in the sidebar of your Gmail account pages:
Ads and Related Pages
Addresses, Packages, and other links
Add to calendar

Ok, fine. Whatevah. That could be helpful. But they’re reading my email, damn it!

When I caught on to this, I told my good friend Jawbone, who has taken to fooling around with punctuation and capitalization to throw the email knowbots off the track. It does sometimes make for slower reading on my part, but the fact is, it’s clever, and kind of fun to fool around with language. At the same time it’s a little sad that maintaining the veil of privacy involves such convoluted measures as speaking in code for a simple email conversation about how to build a better "Wagoner’s Lad" or in what key I need to practice "You Are My Flower". Oh, I mean, UR mi Flwr. Shhh!

If you’re reading, dear Google, would you mind not spying on me and instead using your access to vast technological wonders to undo the right-wing conspirators or find Osama Bin Hiden? Then again, if you can offer us a way to spread the magic of bluegrass music far and wide, or subtly compel men, women and children all over the world to be overcome with the urge to pick up banjos, mandolins, fiddles, dobros, guitars, or basses, or even autoharps, you can hang around all you want.

And here’s a tune I’m learning that you can share with everyone. It’s called You Are My Flower and it’s in the key of G, and it turned up 42.2 million links when I plugged it into Google. It’s an old Carter Family song that’s just as sweet as can be. It reminds me of my daughter, who sometimes requests to hear it on the way to school.

You Are My Flower

You are my flower
That's blooming in the mountain so high
You are my flower
That's blooming there for me

When summertime is gone and snow begins to fall
You can sing this song and say to one and all

You are my flower
That's blooming in the mountain so high
You are my flower
That's blooming there for me

So wear a happy smile and life will be worthwhile
Forget the tears but don't forget to smile

You are my flower
That's blooming in the mountain so high
You are my flower
That's blooming there for me


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