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Senior Correspondent

Ah, the ironies of life. I studied advertising copywriting when I was an undergraduate. I liked playing with words and found it innocent, creative, and fun. However, when it came time to decide on a job, I questioned myself, "Do I want to spend my time trying to convince people to buy things they don't need?" The answer was clearly "no," but little did I suspect at that time that advertising would become the totally pervasive, absolutely intrusive thing it has become today.

When I was doing a Master's in Social Work, I did a research paper on the eventual role of technology in being able to keep track of what was happening in mental wards, down to being able to anticipate problems in the ward. It predicted various technologies that would eventually replace face-to-face therapists.

The computer Hal made us very uncomfortable when he tried to wrest control from humans. But that was only a movie, right?

When I lived in China in 1988, I was invited to the homes of my students. There were no televisions in the village homes at that time, but there was a radio station broadcast into each home. You could neither change the station, nor turn it off.

My very first foray into the computer was something called "WebTV." The television was the screen, and there were ways you could connect the TV and the web, such as being conveniently told when programs or actors would be aired.

With my blog, I learned the word "monetize." AdSense would put ads around my blog. My writing was only the carrot to draw people to click on ads that would be the moneymakers — mostly for the advertisers, of course.

Self-publishing became a huge industry, making it possible for just about anyone to publish a book. That made money for the self-publishing companies, but the marketing and social networking done by the author was what either sold the book or let it languish in digital no man's land.

There were many clues along the way. But now it's more than 1984. It's more than Big Brother. It's more than the push-button world of the Jetsons. Whether it's heads of state speaking at summits, watching tv programs interspersed among the ads, or trying to find the blog sandwiched among the ads, it's all about monetization — and beyond.

Jaron Lanier, a researcher at Microsoft, offers his perspective in the book, "Who Owns the Future?" He invents the words, "Siren Servers" and applies them to Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and automated trading algorithms that lure us in. "An amazing number of people offer an amazing amount of value over networks. But the lion's share of wealth now flows to those who aggregate and route those offerings, rather than those who produce the 'raw materials.'" He would like to find ways to right that wrong.

Change is good. Change is bad. Change is confusing. Where are we going? Whom do you trust?

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