When I retired from the newspaper business and went to work for the Department of Public Safety, people sometimes called to wonder if we were placing tracking chips in their state-issued driver licenses.
The Driver Licensing Program was among the dozen agencies within DPS. As information officer for the department, I fielded my share of citizen calls. My years with Public Safety coincided with South Dakota’s implementation of REAL ID, the federal act passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. You remember REAL ID? Everyone applying for a driver license or trying to renew an existing license had to prove they were the person their card said they were.
People looked for birth certificates, Social Security cards, two documents proving current address and, in some cases that often proved frustrating and difficult, marriage licenses and divorce decrees. The whole process upset some folks – OK, I have to be truthful, many folks. A fair number of long-time South Dakota drivers complained that they were the same people they had been back in 1960 or 1970 when they received their first card, and you can ask anybody in town.
I handled several such calls, and I tried to be patient and helpful in discussing document requirements. The callers had a point and, besides, they paid my salary. I tried to be firm, though, (really difficult for me), knowing that the law was the law, as somebody said in Harry Nillson’s marvelous animated movie, “The Point.’’
I had less patience with the people who thought we were embedding a tracking chip in their cards. I don’t think Driver Licensing had the technology or the storage space to track everyone. Second, why would we want to? Seriously, how important do some people think they are? I never said that on the phone. It would be bad customer relations. I sure wanted to a time or two.
I sometimes shook my head at how concerned people were that our underfunded and overworked Driver Licensing Program would be capable of tracking every card holder. People worried about government intrusion while carrying a smartphone or other device that really could track them. People who objected to a new license for fear of government tracking eagerly paid hundreds of dollars for a carry-along device that included a pretty sophisticated GPS system.
And that was in the neophyte days of ubiquitous tracking systems. Lately, I feel as if someone is watching my every move, and it isn’t because my South Dakota driver license has an embedded tracking chip. It’s because no matter what a person does, someone seems to know it — almost in real time. When I go online and search for something or open an app or read a Facebook or Twitter post, somebody somewhere seems to track my actions. Example: Nancy and I talked recently about replacing a ceiling fan. Then I searched online for available models. I spend no more than 15 minutes at the task. From that moment to now, whenever I open my Facebook account, I’m flooded with bargains on ceiling fans.
I guess that makes sense. Target your ads to people in the market for your product, right? No sense wasting luxury car advertisements on someone who drives an old Chevy pickup, is there? Way back in the 1960s when I took a college class in advertising methods, I learned the easiest people to sell are people who already are in the market for your product.
I suppose that explains why I get pop-up offers to buy blue jeans (I’ve searched but haven’t purchased for seven or eight years now), Grateful Dead T-shirts (I always study those ads carefully but rarely actually buy) and DSW shoes (“Have we got a deal for you, Pery.’’ They call me Pery to make it warm and personal.)
Nancy and I talked in our living room the other evening about a new shower head. I didn’t search at all, but I started getting pop-up ads for shower heads. We were alone in the house when we had that conversation. The quick response concerns me a bit. I’m wondering if my helpful pal Alexa is just a big, old busy body.