I inadvertently delved even deeper into the murky depths of social networking when I mentioned my wife’s problems with cancer. I received all the usual automated messages asking for donations or membership that appear after mentioning any major disease. Using a word like measles, cancer, typhoid, or polio usually brings a brief flurry of messages from groups dedicated to individual causes. I have no problem with this. However, I was surprised at a new brand of marketing that appeared to have been triggered by something I said.
Within minutes after posting my message, I began getting offers for free trial memberships in singles clubs filled with pictures of attractive women. I mentioned this to my wife who thought this was hilarious. She stressed, with a twinkle in her eyes, that all of this seemed a bit premature. I decided not to mention that I’d also received a solicitation for phone sex from someone desiring to cure my heartache.
I began wondering what would happen if I mentioned that my Malibu’s engine burned up (it didn’t). Would I immediately receive mail reminding me that choosing a Ford for my next car would be rewarding? What if I said that I don’t like orange juice (I do). Would I be flooded with mail suggesting that I try a different brand or would I be hit with the peach nectar lobby?
I don’t think we understand the true direction of social networking at all. We may be developing networks in which the majority of users exchanging messages will be robots that will converse with each other and make decisions about what cars are offered, what juice are suitable to drink, and if we actually need health care. While I do know of a few robots that suffered premature demise from a virus, I don’t know any that succumbed to measles. Next time you make a friend, remember that it may not be human.