Building Our Digital Doppelganger with Big Data
It’s a temptation too hard to resist. Get 10% off your purchase when you sign up for a customer loyalty card. On the face of it, it is understandable that retailers use such tools to build customer loyalty. After all, we consumers are a notoriously fickle lot. Sign up for their card, swipe it with each purchase and sometimes get discounts or special coupons for future purchases. However, there is something else going on here, and its not just about building customer loyalty.
With each swipe of the card our personal ‘data’ feeds into the Big Data machine. The discounts that motivate our behavior is what we are ‘paid’ to surrender our personal, formerly private, information. Of course, there are a wide variety of mechanisms for capturing our personal data and no shortage of sophisticated tools, algorithms, and models to make use of it. Google and Facebook may be two of the largest information gatherers out there. And most of us willingly comply with the condition that their ‘free’ services are paid for with our digitized customer profile.
What happens to all this data? The precision with which this massive amount of data is interpreted and acted upon varies widely. No doubt many have seen it manifest in an advertisement on their Facebook page promoting a product they were just researching on-line. Some find this scary, but we have largely become inured to it.
The bottom line is this: in a consumer driven economy, we, the consumers, are the raw material that drives productivity. Economies have always thrived on the exploitation of low cost, abundant resources. Copper, coal and other minerals once drove a thriving industrial economy. Fertile soil and its fruits have long been necessary for sustained prosperity. Collecting, analyzing and making practical use of our consumer behavior have replaced the extraction of exploitable resources once mined from deep in the earth.
Today the rich veins of digitized personal information feed the engines of our consumer economy. Big Data algorithms energetically seek out resources to exploit. Who knew that Twinkie eaters prefer inexpensive chardonnay and folk music? With such information in place, targeted advertising and product placement can exploit the vast, untapped wealth of esoteric consumer behavior.
Some even argue that feeding our personal data into a massive data processing machine actually results in certain efficiencies that have the advantage of reducing the clutter in our lives. After all, wouldn’t we be better off if we only received advertisements for things we have an interest in? Certainly anything that can make us better ‘consumers’ benefits a consumer-based economy, and this why Big Data is here to stay.
The defining feature of the Information Age is the vast reserves of information that is now available to us. Big Data simply refers to the tools that help make use of all this information. In the slagheap of digital clutter surrounding us, big data tools are the shovels and backhoes we use to sift through and utilize it.
We choose to participate in the Information Age when we sell our personal data in return for discounts or trade it for the privilege of participating in social media communities. Allowing the machinery of Big Data to build our digital doppelganger is the price of participation in the Information Age.It may not feel like a choice. Its inevitability is inexorable and, in fits and starts, we sometimes resist. Perhaps we think that our personal data is worth more than the 10% discount we received in return. But there are few people holding out for more.