He sat across the room, an enigma wrapped in mystery. His thick, sinewy neck towered up into the sparse beard scruff that mingled with what used to be a thick head of hair, but now resembled the sloping dunes of a desert long deprived of life’s basic necessities. His face was comprised of the jagged cliffs of a stern and majestic mountainside, aged by the elements, sealing secrets lost to the steady march of time. I found myself lost in the folds of his forehead, which just barely eclipsed a pair of eyes that stared out at me unblinkingly. His demeanor hinted at life of complexity and grandeur along with a ballot as red as the blood rushing to his rage fueled complexion. A sense of loss flooded through me as he got up to leave and I realized my chance to understand him was gone. Then it happened: his back came into view. The wall of text on his shirt brought new meaning to our star crossed relationship. “I am an American old man. I’m not afraid to be patriotic. I was born in December, I shoot guns, I protect my family, and I don’t care if this offends you.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes. The perfect American man stood before me. Never before has the human experience been so perfectly distilled into three choice sentences.
I would come to learn is that I had just witnessed a targeted t-shirt, clothing that has a design custom made to fit whatever niche interests the wearer may have. You may have noticed these shirts appear as ads whenever you use the internet. They often differ in design and typography, but always share one defining detail: terrifying accuracy. These ads leave the viewer in a state of abject horror and paranoia. “How do they know I like square dancing, mayonnaise, AND that I was born in December!?,” says one infuriated man as he finishes entering his social security number into his Facebook account. “Where do they get that kind of information?”
Social media is one place to for clues in the case of our stolen information. Stolen is a dramatic term, as our precious online personality was more than likely sold by the platforms we post on regularly. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Mark Zuckerberg diving into a pool of his internet blood money.
You might be asking yourself how the immoral practices of a corporation are related to the plague of mediocre graphic tees. The answer is simple and dire. Targeted t-shirts are a particularly vulgar display of how little our privacy is respected as well as a harbinger of the apocalypse for the world of fashion. By continuing to turn a blind eye to the egregious practices of our internet and social media providers, we are all personally responsible for every shirt that reads, “Assuming I was like most grandmas was your first mistake.” In an age of rapid technological growth, it has never been more important to establish our rights to privacy. It would be a mistake to allow the selling of our personal data to become a precedent for the future. But what do I know? Odds are you’ll see me in the halls wearing a shirt that says, “I’m a high school journalism writer with a big head and a fear of open water who was born in October.”