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OPINION: Hidden and watching

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… with a forest like that to hide in, cable thieves are being given a flashing advertisement that they can freely continue their nefarious activities says Lance Fredericks.

Picture: Lance Fredericks

I SIMPLY have to follow up on two columns I wrote two and three weeks ago.

Back then I mentioned that a friend told me how his stress was relieved when he took to the road on his bicycle. I checked a few websites trying to see what a bike would cost, took a casual look, closed the web pages and carried on with my work.

However, after that everywhere I looked, every web page or social media link I followed had a bicycle advert flashing and winking at me – there was nowhere I could hide. Eventually the algorithm made me believe I ‘needed’ a bike so I bought one. I thought that would be the end of it, but guess what … two days after purchasing the bicycle, what started appearing on my social media feeds?

Adverts about cycling accessories and equipment – I am not joking!

We are being watched, and here is why I say so; see if you can believe this story.

I went to a friend’s home the other day to drop something off just days before the latest lockdown. While we were standing and chatting in his kitchen, he told me that he was thinking about getting himself a set of headphones. “But,” he emphasised, “I want a decent brand!”

I mentioned a brand of HiFi speaker that gave incredible sound despite the speakers being tiny, simply implying that I can imagine what the quality of headphones must be these days.

The next day my friend told me that headphones were being advertised on his social media and news feeds, and guess which brand nogal? The exact brand that I had mentioned the previous day. We were not speaking online when we spoke about the headphones.

I can understand an algorithm monitoring one’s clicks online or chats on a cellular device, but this was creepy! I tried to think if there was bamboo in my friend’s kitchen.

Here’s why: My grandmother’s home in Florianville had a bamboo patch at one end of the yard. As a child I would squeeze through the dense ‘forest’ because I knew that in the middle of the mini forest there was a clearing. I used to play in this clearing in the middle of the bamboo patch – it was small, tiny, but to me with my imagination, it was my own private place where magic happened.

The best thing about that open patch in the mini bamboo forest was that I could sit there and watch the house, and to my absolute delight, I could not be seen. It gave me a massive thrill to be invisible; to watch unobserved. When we played hide and seek, the bamboo clearing was my favourite hiding place.

The bamboo forest came to mind when my friend told me that he was feeling paranoid in his own home, wondering how our conversation was leaked to “the algorithm”. Personally, I am stumped.

This same forest – my favourite hiding place – came to mind again on Monday morning when I took my bicycle out for a short ride. I found myself in the vicinity of the Gum Tree Lodge where municipal workers were busy replacing a length of copper cable that had been stolen the night before.

Copper theft is rife in that area – it’s not strange to lose lengths of cable twice or three times a week. It’s that bad.

However, what caught my eye as I puffed past the site of the latest cable theft was the thick bushes and trees right next to where the vandalism occurred. A cable thief would have absolutely no problem hiding in that dense overgrowth watching security guards, police or the neighbourhood watch on patrol, secure in the knowledge that they are completely invisible.

Those trees and that grass have to go! Because with a forest like that to hide in, cable thieves are being given a flashing advertisement that they can freely continue their nefarious activities.

So while many of us wish we were less visible to online algorithms, I bet that those affected by these regular blackouts wish that the cable thieves were not given the luxury of being invisible in such perfect hiding places.