The best Internet trick you’re not using

February 12, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Revelation. Eureka. I’ve got it. A certified day-brightener, mood elevator, online environment enhancer.

Here’s a perfect way to use the Internet’s – or rather, the Internet’s most nefarious, creepy tracking bots, those companies and agencies that are right now logging your every click and search so they can turn right around and target-market a bunch of obnoxiously similar products right back to you, all over your browser – here’s a perfect way to use those vile leeches to your pleasant benefit, every day.

You know the situation now? Mere seconds after visiting a commerce site of any kind, from fashion to cars, wine to toys, the ad spaces of nearly every “normal” website you subsequently visit will be suddenly populated with those exact same items, casually haranguing you, pestering you to come back and buy something right now.

Here’s my idea: Why not spend a few pre-work minutes every day to skim a select handful of carefully curated sites, pages that are filled with items you actually love to look at? Architecture. Beautiful dresses. Flowers. Koi fish. Buddha statues. Rocket engines. Quantum physics calculations. Cupcakes. Doesn’t matter.

Right now, they just track your clicks. Soon, your gaze. Choose what you look at wisely.

Right now, they just track your clicks. Soon, your gaze. Choose what you look at wisely.

Better still, choose amazing sites/items you can’t possibly afford, or wouldn’t/couldn’t have in your life, even if you wanted to – the more absurdly out of reach/impossible they are, the better (so as to avoid temptation or shame). Gucci dresses. Aston Martins. Exotic islands. Grey whales. Orchids ‘R’ Us. Whatever.

Voila! Your browser’s normally insufferable conglomeration of advertising nonsense could, at least temporarily, be stocked with beautiful things, a dynamic, self-curated collection of images you can re-set at will. To hell with the toner cartridges and the diapers. Here is Matisse and a $20,000 vintage Chanel dress and a handcrafted chef’s knife. Isn’t that better? A little?

I took special notice of this potentiality when, in lieu of my normal, pre-writing procrastination destinations (yoga, sex, designer fashion, various Tumblrs), I had blithely skipped on over to to check prices on – shhh don’t tell anyone – very slightly used Porsche 911s.

I know! Such a wonderful cliché. Also, completely absurd for a journalist/yoga teacher’s income bracket. While I am technically very much in the zone of mid-life, I can safely say I am suffering from no crisis whatsoever. Simply put, the 911 is, as any devotee will tell you, something very special. It’s just nice to ponder.

My silly comparison shop lasted maybe four minutes, but that’s all it took. As soon as I clicked over to do some “real” work, researching an article on the SJ Mercury News about the Sierra snowpack, another on Mother Jones about ISIS, and a third about SF real estate development, I couldn’t help but notice: all three sites were full of Porsches. Or rather, ads for them. So cute! Thanks for the reminder, ad banners! On second thought, I’ll take that gray 911 Turbo S for $112K after all. Here’s my credit card.

That’s when it hit me: Why not use the Internet’s most nefarious feature against itself? Why not choose products, pictures, items with the specific intention that they reappear all over your browser, like wallpaper, thus beating the ‘Net’s vile trackers (and Google’s AdSense) at their own game?

It ain’t perfect, I realize. For one thing, they’d still be ads, after all, brands and logos all vying to eat your soul.

Hence, my genius follow-up idea: A service, a site that doesn’t try to sell you much at all, that comes pre-packed with beauty and delight: images, video clips, sculptures, wild orchids and nubile nymphs, mystical trees and hairless dogs and exotic turkeys. You will simply visit this site before you get down to “real” work. Skim a few categories, color schemes, moods, positions, tones.

Then, forget about it. Go about your browsing day. My company’s autobots will dutifully pack your browser’s automated advertising blocks – there are probably a half dozen on this column’s page alone – not with ads, but with inspiration and joy. We’ll even take care of those loathsome auto-play video ads! Here is someone eating a gelato on a bridge in Italy. Here are ten thousand lanterns floating gently up into the night sky in Thailand. Here is a puppy licking your computer screen, from the other side. OMG adorbs!

You will not have to buy a thing. We’ll work on a donation basis. Non-profit. Free for artists to submit their works. Something like that. We will supplant the ads with art. We will hereby use the Internet against itself, for the benefit of itself. Who knows? You might even be inspired to get away from the mere pictures of delight and beauty, and go find the real thing.

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Mark Morford

About Mark Morford