As old as the hills

All this outrage about information being exploited by ‘big data’ for the purposes of ‘psycho-profiling.’ It’s nothing new. The people who want to sell things to you have been honing the craft for decades. Targeting ads based on what your online habits reveal about you is just the latest refinement in a process of separating you from your money that has been going on since Akbar set up the first watermelon stand next to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It’s all part of the great game of commerce.
People have some strange and funny reactions to this. It can be a rude shock when it finally dawns on you what all that advertising is really about. It’s certainly not about telling the truth. It may be entertaining, but its purpose is not entertainment. Some folks act as if they’ve been betrayed. Some object so strongly to being a part of the ‘rat race’ they attempt to ‘get off the grid’ so as to beat the predators at their game. Usually these attempts fail, but they make for good stories.
A performer at the North Country Fair a few years expressed this sort of sentiment in an amusing song. He prefaced the song by explaining it was his reaction to companies constantly trying to sell him stuff like new cars. The refrain went something like:
‘I don’t wanna buy your crap.
Stuff it up your a**, you stupid capitalist
Crude, but it drew a good response from the crowd. Probably many felt the same way but had never thought of expressing it in quite those terms.
It was funny. But of course logically flawed, like so much of the anti-this or anti-that sentiment. You don’t like people trying to sell you cars? Then have fun walking!
Zillions are spent in advertising. It must be effective or they wouldn’t do it. The ‘targeted’ ads that appear on your social media platforms may strike you as merely annoying, or maybe even outrageous and creepy. How did they know…..? and so on. Well, they do know, obviously. If the worst ‘big data’ ever does is show you ads that they think might strike a chord, how bad can it be? If you’re aware you’re being manipulated, that’s a heck of a good start in resisting it. If you can’t tolerate it, then shut down your online participation.
But what about this election manipulation business? It sounds dreadfully sinister, but it’s not different in kind than the targeted advertising we’ve been talking about. All advertising, to one degree or another, is about creating a sexy illusion around the product or service. It’s not, (pardon the repetition) about telling the truth. Likewise election advertising. It is about telling you something that somebody, based on a psycho-profiling, thinks will influence you to vote in a certain way. It is not really any different than what the campaigning politician did off the back of a train at a campaign whistle-stop in 1908. Plain old manipulation, just on a modern platform.
It would be nice to think we are wiser, more grown up, less credulous than folks were back then. But on the whole? We’re probably not.

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