Gouri Dange: Those deliciously bizarre Google ads

07 Feb,2012

By Gouri Dange


You know how Google watches over your shoulder and reads the content of your emails and sends you what it thinks are appropriate ads on the sidebar? I just love the convoluted logic behind the ads that are selected to send to you. For the longest time, I just didn’t notice them, but once I began to glance at them, it became a most illuminating exercise. There is something so deliciously bizarre in the way the ads refract your reality. Open your emails in the last week and take a look at the sidebar.


It’s like some slightly deranged/overreacting person is keeping a log or diary of your life as it is unfolding. On top of it, this deranged person has the job of continuously coming up with solutions – all sorts of goods and services – to counter what it thinks is the angst in your life.


So, for instance, a couple of years ago an ageing dog of mine began to get epileptic fits. I must have written in anguish to a couple of close friends about this development, and there it was: Google began to urge upon me ads for homeopathy, allopathy, healing crystals and what-have-you for epilepsy. Then I may have mentioned to someone in an email that the vet has said that I might have to prepare myself to have the old dog put down. So now the ads in a rather ghoulish but ever-helpful manner began to become about humane vet services, pet cemeteries, incinerators and other such sombre subjects.


Once you begin to notice the ads, two distinct realities begin to emerge about yourself. Parallel Universes. One is what is actually happening in your life and what you need to do about it, and one is what the Google ad-world thinks is happening in your life and what it thinks are some of the solutions and strategies that you need to adopt with the help of its advertisers and their sparkling merchandise.


Just today, I wrote to a niece saying I need to get a hardship allowance from the government for putting up with the idiosyncrasies of a neighbour. And whadyouknow – the ads on the sidebar became about government jobs, government grants, and properties for sale. So my offhand joke got interpreted as: lady, you need in some way to be connected up with the government, and/or you need to move house.


Of course, given that dabbling in real estate is urban India’s new religion, the ads for rent, sell, buy, beg, borrow, steal apartments come fast and thick anyway, whether you mention this subject in your mails or not. ‘Luxurious 1 bedroom apartments’ are being peddled all the time.


But my most favourite interpretation-misinterpretation came from a flurry of emails that were flying amongst some 11 fellow writers. The subject of our emails was the less-than-professional behaviour of a publisher soliciting our writings for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. I hadn’t been paying attention to the ads that Google had been wildly generating in tandem with our mails. Once the matter was sorted out in our favour, someone sent around mail saying let’s get together soon, toast each other and have chicken soup on the menu. Heading the list of ads that day was one for ‘poultry slaughter lines’. All those hot and bothered emails that us renegade writers had been exchanging, translated in the mind of Google to this reading: the one thing that would solve all our problems was if we got ourselves a fully-automated chicken beheading, skinning and dismembering machine!


And why not. Perhaps I’ll get one anyway. May come in handy.


Naming no Names is the mid-week column where novelist, columnist and counsellor Gouri Dange presents her tongue-in-cheek view of our world.


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