“Don’t Be Evil.”

Whenever you send an email through Gmail, Google reads it.

Not a human being at Google, of course; it’s a machine.

But the information in your message is being processed. Google’s system knows you’ve bought a wedding ring. It knows the sites that you registered on. He knows to which people you speak with tender words, and to which people you write harsh words. It even knows at what time of the day you act more tenderly, and at which behave more harshly.

We can choose not to use Google’s email, right? Whoever chooses to use it, chooses to accept these facts. It’s the price you pay for the convenience of having free and fast email, right?

But it’s not quite like that. I may not use an email from Google, but if I send an email to anyone who does use it, Google will read my email upon arrival. The only way to maintain privacy in my communication is not just not to use Google’s services, but also to not interact with anyone who uses them.

In times past, most people believed that there was a man in the clouds who knew all our virtues and sins, our most intimate secrets.

Today, it is the very cloud that knows them.

And Google will say that all this data is anonymous; it’s all secure, sealed in a safe, and encoded in such a way so that no human being can access it.

It is worth stopping to think: how would we feel if we discovered that when we mailed a letter, a machine opened it, photocopied the contents, and then re-sealed and re-sent the envelope? Would it be enough for the postal services to assure us that it was just the machine doing it, and that the photocopies would never be touched by a human being?

All these defenses and security can disappear with the flick of a pair of switches.

It’s merely a matter of the Man in the Cloud deciding to make it so.

Painting: “Jupiter Notices Callisto” by Nicolaes Berchem

The Procrustean Generation

Procrustes was one of the villains in the story of Theseus. He was a thug who extended false hospitality to all the travelers passing through his territory.

Here’s what he did: he offered them rest in his house, where he had an iron bed in which he invited them to lie down. But thus was his demand: the guest had to fit perfectly in the bed. If the guests were too tall, he would amputate the excess length; the shorter ones were to be stretched until they reached sufficient length…

And we today, how many things in our life do not we cut or stretch to match the beds that are our expectations?

Our presence on social networks. The stories we tell to family and friends. The resumes we deliver to potential employers.

We want to cut short the failures of our children, brothers and sisters, partners; we want to stretch their qualities.

We need a better car. A bigger house. A phone with a brighter screen. A higher salary; of course, working hours should be cut.

Why is it that the current measure of things never satisfies us?

Because Procrustes is all of us.

(And here’s the final revelation: Procrustes had two beds, of different sizes, which he picked based on the guest.)

Painting: “Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus on Naxos” by Angelica Kauffmann