Insidious Advertising Corrupts our Lives

Peggy Li, Opinion Editor

Illustration by Meg Cuca

In childhood, it started with the commercials on all of our favorite TV channels, but as we’ve gotten older, advertisements have morphed and adapted with us and to us. Lately, no matter where you’re trying to go, you’re being sold something. Instagram has started its sponsored posts, with many of our beloved celebrities selling us an assortment of teas, vitamins, teeth whitening services and other unnecessary goods.

The advertisements shown on the sidebar of Facebook are derived from any number of algorithms selecting for any of the following factors: age, location, interests, relationship status, education level, workplace, purchase behaviors or even device usage. If you have recently bought a pair of shoes online, that becomes known to advertisers, and they may immediately try to sell you even more shoes. In essence, advertisers reduce everything they know about you as a person into sets of numeric values, and then sell this information to corporations who want your money.

Now I know some of you might be wondering what exactly is wrong about this sort of practice. After all, you do get suggestions for new stuff that you may indeed wish to buy and you otherwise may not have seen. And if that is true, then these suggestive marketing schemes are simply a convenience. However, I urge you to consider the implications of this intrusive advertising scheme.

Firstly, we must become aware that almost all of our e-commerce is closely monitored; our social media services are no longer benign pages, but merely complicated ploys to discover our interests in order to exploit them. The way I see it, a part of our essence or personality has now become a commodity to be bought or sold. My enjoyment of knitting is no longer a hobby, but rather a way for knitting companies to sell more stock. We are reduced from individual human beings to just the pertinent facts for someone else’s capitalization.

Secondly, if you are someone who enjoys suggestions on what to buy, I want to ask what happens after you buy that good? Many of us use shopping for things we like as a distraction during stressful times, or as a sort of reward for a job well done–and I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that. However, when shopping becomes something so integrated in our social media, so integrated in our daily lives that ads become unavoidable, it leaves us as consumers in a constant state of consumption.

Advertisements keep popping up, and because they may be compelling, it can distract us from whatever we were doing before. The whole idea of social media is that it is a mild, somewhat amusing distraction for us to think about our friends and family. We’ve gotten used to thinking of it that way. Facebook and Instagram are still relatively new platforms, but as it’s changing, more and more of it seems like a complex scheme for us to lower our guard, lure us into a false sense of security as we look through pictures of friends and family, while tricking us into buying things we don’t need. Advertising has fundamentally changed the nature of shopping from something we seek out of necessity or for recreation, into something insidious, invading the most mundane aspects of life. We are forced to consume ever larger amounts of stuff and unable to be at ease while online.