Last week in the thread “Notable Quotes, Excerpts, and Profound Lines” over at Mobileread, I read this quotation:
“The people who use sites like Google and Facebook are not those companies’ customers. They are the products that those companies sell to their customers. In general, if you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product. Sometimes you’re the product even if you are paying for it.”
—Bruce Schneier, Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive.
It got me thinking about the ways I am product: at Facebook, on Twitter, on Google. The thought that followed on the heels of that one was, “As product goes, I’m not worth much.” Sell my personal information, sure. But use it to sell me something? Not likely. The concept of me-as-dataset is not troubling. Think it is gold? It is not. It is not me either.
A pitch is like an invitation to a dance. To be sold, you have to first agree to be waltzed around by the ones doing the selling. When you are young, you lack experience and find it easy to say yes. By the time you grow up, you are more discriminating.
From the days of people barking their goods on city streets to the present when they bark their goods online, we have not come so very far. We pass by with our own agendas, hopes, worries, dreams, pain, distractions, likes, and dislikes. These characteristics are not stiff and static as they are when extracted as data. Instead they are like leaping all over the place, like popcorn in a machine.
People are quirky and unpredictable product. That is because they are alive.
As an actual living person, you look down on ads from a great height. If you stop to pat the ad on the head and say “cute,” you might buy what the cute little thing is selling. But a cautionary note: be yourself. You are not your dataset. You never will be.