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  • Last modified 122 days ago (Aug. 15, 2019)

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Of raccoons
and men

Right at sunset each day, my mother’s Alexa smart speaker sounds a brief but annoying tone before announcing: “We interrupt for a bulletin. A raccoon watch has been issued for your back yard. Be prepared by moving your peanuts and corn to a place of safety.”

Skipping for a moment the marvels of how technology provides such a warning, the reason it does so is clear: A gaze of raccoons — yes, that’s what a gang of such critters is called — have been pillaging her squirrel feeder as regularly as the moon shines.

One or two masked thieves every few days would be one thing. But each time a solo member of this persistent band of brothers gets caught in a trap and relocated far, far away, a colleague quickly comes to take his or her place the very next night, as if someone somewhere were supplying a regularly updated shop-and-dine map exclusively for discerning members of the species and shared only occasionally with opossums.

It’s not that raccoons aren’t cute; they’re cuter in many regards that the lucky squirrels who wait in line to set up housekeeping in my mother’s gnarled giant of a 200-year-old mulberry tree, which also provides ample financial sustenance to professional tree trimmers.

The problem is, raccoons are like the sumo-size customers that employees of all-you-can-eat food bars scan their parking lots to be on the lookout for.

While squirrels nibble all day and bark only a few short protests before sharing their gifted smorgasbord with birds and other squirrels, raccoons want it all. They drain each feeder and will even tear it apart if they aren’t satisfied with the quantity or quality of victuals left for them.

Thus the need for a daily computerized “Taps” urging a ceremonial lowering of the peanut- and corn-spangled all-you-can-eat banner before nocturnal bandits arrive.

Technology lets us do that. It also lets us sneak a peak, via Hulu, at five-year-old “Jeopardy!” episodes when the greed of media giants debating over satellite TV carriage fees for current shows blacks out a channel like KSNW for more than a month. Like a kindly butler, it turns on the lights when we stir at night before heading to the bathroom. It lets us watch Packers football and Jayhawks basketball to the exclusion of all else, including the prophetic or pathetic (depending on your political bent) pronouncements of our president.

Technology creates a cocoon around us, serving us as well as did the benevolent extraterrestrials who landed in an old “Twilight Zone” episode with their book, “To Serve Man.”

But just the humans lulled into their cocoons by those mythical E.T.s, we are in danger of not recognizing soon enough that the mantra and book, “To Serve Man,” is in reality a cookbook.

The real masked bandits in our technological story are the companies now bigger than most countries — Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the like — companies that seem to serve our every need, lulling us into cocoons in which our views are never challenged all the while stealing from us our very souls so that we can become defenseless against whatever information-twisted, profit-making scheme they want to launch to secretly control both our purchases and our thoughts.

Alarmist? Perhaps. Paranoid? Not without reason.

In these days of cord-cutting, it’s time to stop putting our trust in companies whose sole means of revenue derives from stealing facts about us so they can trick us into believing what they want about issues, purchases, and how we live our lives.

Next time you rush to “Google” something or try to find someone on Facebook or attempt to locate a bargain on Amazon, keep in mind that every time you do this, you’re sacrificing another bit of your privacy just as sure as you would if you let the old KGB open and read all your mail and tap every one of your phone calls.

Those services may be as cute as a gaze of raccoons — but they are a lot more dangerous to the future of our privacy and our democracy.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 15, 2019

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