We were recently told by a friend it was “pretty scary” how you always seemed to see items advertised on one platform which you had viewed on another platform. At some level, it probably is disconcerting.
Tracking pixels (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_beacon) are one of many ways websites repeat to users what they see on another site, in the hope they will click on it. As we begin to own more items that are connected to the internet, our possession’s ability to deliver information about our preferences and needs will be added to our own. The Internet of Things (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things) meets the world of Conversational Commerce (https://www.shopify.com/encyclopedia/conversational-commerce) meets Permission Marketing (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/permission-mark.html) so that one day very soon we will not need to worry about companies promoting items based on our internet search history – they will deliver whatever our refrigerator or car order for us. However, we are not only using the internet to shop and interact, we are using it alone.
A recent Atlantic article, entitled Advertising That Exploits Our Deepest Insecurities What are the implications of ads that know our search histories?, explored how people are using search engines (reminiscent of the MIT “Eliza” project in the 1960s) to not only search for information but simply to ask questions they know (Google) won’t have the answer to. Why are we so interested in communicating with a computer? What will companies do with the personal information that we are so freely typing in?https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/06/advertising-that-exploits-our-deepest-insecurities/532038/
As we wrote here in February (http://3-stream.net/blog/02/2017) digital culture did not jump into being the moment computers went online. Our digital habits, especially our habits as consumers, have their roots in both the online and offline world with links far predating the world wide web. These components are both persuasive and historical, and they strongly impact how we connect and act today.
Social media, preference history and tracking technology, chat bots etc. were created long before the internet and before many of us were even born.
In the 1960s MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum built a computer psychotherapist called ‘Eliza’. Like a therapist, you sat in front of a computer screen and typed in what was bothering you. The computer basically repeated back to you what was typed in in the form of a question. People knew that the computer did not understand what was being typed in, but after many tests, Weizenbaum discovered that people became quickly engrossed. They would sit for hours telling the machine incredibly intimate details of their lives. What ‘Eliza’ showed was that what made people secure was having themselves reflected back to them, just like in a mirror. Artificial Intelligence (already in existence since the 1940s) changed direction and started to create new systems that did just that. They were called Intelligence Agents. They worked by monitoring individuals, gathering vast amounts of data about their behaviour and then looked for patterns and correlations from which they could predict what they would want in the future. They created a safe bubble that protected people from the complexities of the world outside. The implications proved fruitful and profitable. If you liked that, then you’ll love this.
Hypernormalisation, 2016, Chris Adams http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04b183c Transcript excerpt: http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=hypernormalisation
We might believe that we choose to click and that we are individual, but one look at the number of CK One bottles on the shelf should be enough to crush that idea. Countless studies have shown we are in fact social conformists, and our individuality is nothing more than a desire to express our personality, which it turns out is not that unique. As Madison Avenue has known for decades.
Lifestyle Marketing first appeared in the 1970s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VALS) and very quickly separated us into 8 different personality types. Lifestyle Branding (Apple, Starbucks, Nike etc) took over from there. People are very compliant. We are open to attempts at engineering our consent so to manipulate us into making decisions towards whatever makes us feel good, make us part of the “In Crowd”, or “Keep up with the Joneses”.
The really “pretty scary” questions we could ask are; “Are we shown clickbait based on what we want to see, or on what we are wanted to see? Are algorithms showing us information that is a reflection of ourselves, or are we becoming what the algorithms want us to be? Do we click on something because we really like it, or because it has been placed there because we will click on it?”
When we identify with a product, it can have therapeutic value ... It can improve our self-image and, in the theory of consumer psychology, if you break down a person’s defences (guilt for instance) and allow people to have what they want, they can become happier and more secure. From Century of the Self, 2002, Chris Adams https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Century_of_the_Self
As more and more of our shopping and information sharing decisions are made on the internet, we Opt-in often without thinking, companies gather more information about us and our contacts with which to make decisions about (among other things) what we do and do not see on their websites. The connectivity we have raises questions of trust and of safety.
... There's something on the horizon. A massive connectivity. The barriers between us will disappear, and we're not ready. We'll hurt each other in new ways. We'll sell and be sold. We'll expose our most tender selves, only to be mocked and destroyed. We'll be so vulnerable, and we'll pay the price. We won't be able to pretend that we can protect ourselves anymore ... (Halt and Catch Fire, Season 3 Episode 8 http://www.amc.com/shows/halt-and-catch-fire/season-3/episode-08-you-are-not-safe)
We have given companies access to our habits and desires quite freely for decades, but the speed with which technology is able to leverage and share this information might indeed seem overwhelming for us. Are we witnessing a brave new world in our near future or are we opening ourselves up to the scary version? And, is where we are heading even any longer up for discussion?
*Post Update: August 10, 2017* Many experts say lack of trust will not be a barrier to increased public reliance on the internet.