Category Archives: Social

The Internet Life (and Death) of Me

The Internet Life (and Death) of Me

I recently came across an article about a fairly new gizmo on the market, the Amazon ‘Dash’ button. It’s unsurprisingly, a button-shaped device which can be attached to virtually any household surface and which has the ability to magically, order-up goodies direct from Amazon, quite literally, from the touch-of-a-button. How neat, right?

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Well, kind of. One of the up-sides, obviously, is that the Dash (or Dashes?) could be placed in a location convenient for ordering your fast moving consumable goods so you don’t have to remind yourself to add it to the shopping list. Instead, one press of the Dash and it would automatically order an appropriate consignment of your favourite brand. Another advantage, albeit rather more subversively, is the fact that the Dash ordering system conveniently circumnavigates the (oh so tedious and lengthy – sarcasm) process of actually logging on and buying an item in the usual manner. I did think however that with Amazon One-Click buying, which is already impossibly easy, what could be the reason for bypassing the simple and easy internet step.

Well it turns out that by ensuring that you don’t have to log on to Amazon this rather sneaky little ploy draws customers away from the conscious thought of purchasing. The jury is probably still out on this one, personally I like the idea, but I’m not keen on the idea of playing mind games and quite frankly no one likes to be taken for a mug, though in the battle of wits, I tend to think that the industry marketing experts win hands-down. I’m sure that we all like to have a bit more awareness of our purchasing habits and not just blindly running around the homestead, manically pressing buttons all in aid of completing the weekly shop.

One thing that is clear, usage of the button is also a bit like wearable technology, you are freely giving away scads of personal information each time you thumb the Dash. Instead of a wearable device being strapped to your wrist, chest, or wherever; the Dash is attached to cupboards or rooms in your house or garage etc. Clearly, usage of the Dash contributes to Amazon’s already growing ‘picture’ of you as a consumer.

As a digital shopper you’re telling the online retail behemoth (who are able to sell you almost anything), everything about the products you use, (and maybe more importantly, which ones you don’t). Information about how much you use, your brand preferences, shopping habits etc. is captured with each touch-of-a-button. It could be argued that this micro-segmentation-type behaviour can genuinely be a good thing. Increasingly, targeted advertising, cross-selling etc. are seen as benefits to the customer and are effectively the end-user consequences of big data consumption and analysis.

Generally, I am fascinated with the whole concept of the internet of things (IoT) and have blogged a bit about it before, however I’m aiming to delve a little deeper into my perceived future of what it means to have gadgets like the Amazon-Dash about the house, especially in terms of what it says about you, the consumer, and the message that is picked up by industry giants like Amazon.

The thing is, the more you interact with the internet of things, then more you create a virtual ‘image’ of yourself, ‘the internet of me’, a digital persona which, in today’s world is currently under construction, but in tomorrow’s world will no doubt be stark reality. With many agents across the internet, from online banks, to online retailers, email and ISP providers, health and social websites,  it’s all there. Metadata which is at least capable of capturing your music and TV preferences, your favourite countries to travel to, or even your most ordered five pizza toppings. It is all being generated by you and it all ends up somewhere in the cloud. It is increasing in size on a monumental scale and is being cleansed, structured and analysed at a rate never before seen in the history of data processing.

It doesn’t take a lunar leap of the imagination to envisage a time when all of the meta data that describes you, is  mashed together. It’s easy to see a world with an entirely virtual representation, (or at least a virtual representation of your likes and dislikes, habits, cash flow, location, health etc.) being one of the main the drivers of our everyday lives. Consider just a few of the online apps and facilities that we currently use on a daily basis and some of the data associated with them: Finance (Banking, Investing, Pension, Insurance); Media (Film, TV, Books, Music); Food (Restaurants, Tastes); Health (Fitness, Illnesses, Lifestyle); Travel (Destinations, Hotels); Work (LinkedIn, Blog); Social (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest); etc. etc. etc.

If a particular organisation were capable of assembling all of the above information for any single person, I think we can agree that would be a pretty good starting point for a virtual description of you. All online, all digital (and in the future, undoubtedly) all available either at the ‘right’ price or to the ‘right’ organisations. The irony is, that we freely give up all of this info now and a lot of it is to socialise and interact with our friends and families online. This is likely only one aspect of what is actually being recorded to build up profiles of our digital-doppelgängers.

Many websites including Facebook capture information such as how long you linger on a photo of your ex, or to whose events you RSVP “attending”. The New York Times has dubbed this effect the online echo chamber, where it states that the “Internet creates personalized e-comfort zones for each one of us”.

Search results that you get back from Google are tailored to your location, initially, but over time (as I’m sure most of you have spotted), these tailored search results (and ads) become uncannily accurate, as if they really are reading your thoughts. I really don’t mind having tailored ads, since this could reduce my search time and help lead me to better deals for example. However, when it gets to a stage where a single organisation, be it Amazon, Facebook or another, has literally and virtually ALL of your personal information, this may be a bit too much, for comfort.

Can I expect to receive a digital dream notification whilst I sleep which offers an umbrella and porridge to be delivered first thing in the morning (since it will be raining and I usually skip breakfast), for my journey way to work? It sounds good, and maybe a little scary, especially if my porridge arrives hot and steaming, accompanied by a note from the local undertaker asking if I would be interested in an eco-friendly coffin. It seems the same online data has indicated an imminent departure from mother earth, swept away by a vulgar little tumour. They were right after all, ignorance is no longer bliss.

The digital frontier is upon us, where will it take you?