THEIRS FOR THE TAKING

This afternoon, I  read an article about how BHO’s number crunchers propelled him to a second term. That was quite impressive and scary. It was scary not for any political reason ( I have enough of that) but because it brought back to mind some terrifying stories from way back.
When I was in college in the ’80’s, I learned about an anti-Christ for the first time through a story I heard. According to the story, when the Anti-Christ comes, everyone would be marked with a chip that would be used to identify himself  and to procure goods and services. It was about this time that bar codes began to be used to identify goods. Those who refused to be marked – those who did not want to follow the Anti-Christ – would be marginalized and live in the shadows. Meanwhile, the anti-Christ himself would bear the triple 6 mark on his forehead. I remember getting very nervous about this event. However, at that time, scary as this scenario was, it was easy to dismiss the story as a wonderful sci-fi plot. Chips and monitoring? The idea was just so outlandish and unimaginable.
Years later, I read 1984 by George Orwell. My friends read Orwell’s Animal Farm in college. However, since I was in a different English section, I did not get to read the book. Many years later, I found 1984 while I was browsing in a bookstore and decided to catch up. To say that I did not enjoy the book, well written as it was, was an understatement. It was one of the most depressing stories I ever read. It sent shivers from my toes to my head. I was not able to sleep the night I finished reading it. The thought of my actions being monitored by a Big Brother, the lack of freedom, the manipulation of events to suit a (political) party’s position was so horrifying. Unlike the anti-Christ story of long ago, 1984 felt so real. In 1949, the year it was written, 1984 was simply a fantastic  political fiction.  Somehow, I associated the story with communism. Communism was real.
Fast forward to this afternoon when I read about the Obama Campaign number crunchers. Essentially, the article was about how the campaign’s team of data miners  use the data that are readily available in the web to analyse people’s profiles and preferences. Using the information that they got, the analysts  were able to tell what advertisements would work, how people could be convinced to donate more, how people think, how people believed. My data is all over the web. After reading the article, I realized that a talented data miner can use the hard facts about me to extrapolate anything about who I am (well, that I have a blog did make things easier for them). It is chilling to know that my life is not so anonymous and that the information that I, and all the rest of us, put out there can be used by anybody – not only by the political machines but also by any random group – marketers, ideologues, etc. – to suit their varied purposes, good or evil.
Today, it dawned on me that the Anti-Christ story is not too far fetched nor 1984 too far behind.
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14 comments

  1. But it is true…We know that we go to the supermarket or to the shops, there are special things in special places, up or down, left or right, near to the caisse…Music is different depending on the weather, on the moment of the day…That way, they increase their sales…And we do not even think we are being somehow manipulate..

    • Hi Ilargia. 🙂

      You are so right. I remember reading one time about the effect of music on shoppers. I know it has an effect on me because I enjoy browsing more where the music is pleasant and barely there.

      Unfortunately (or fortunately in some cases), the necessities of modern living require us to leave information everywhere. We can only hope that what we give away do not fall into the wrong hands.

  2. Data mining and analysis is used in all aspects of business today. Thanks to the internet and our social media activity, our data is out there to be mined by everyone. Please note that there were pollsters in both parties running their numbers and predicting outcomes. Karl Rove on the Republican side and his team crunched their numbers too. The American people have voted and what this nation needs is for all of us to come together as a united front. Working together to get this nation on the road to recovery is critical. Calling each other names will serve no purpose.
    Eliz

    • Oh, Eliz, I am sorry if my post sounded like a political name-calling. It was not in my head at all when I wrote this piece. Yes, it is true I leaned the other way and it lost. I have already mourned and moved on. Now, I only hope and pray for the best.

      Anyway, the “Theirs” in the title did not mean any political party. When I chose the title, I only wanted something that was short, a little catchy, and relevant to what the post was about. The word “Theirs” refers to any random group – political or otherwise – who do data mining.

      I used the Time magazine article about BHO’s campaign as my starting point because that was the one available about data mining. I knew that number crunching was used by everybody in the last polls but I did not know what it entailed until I read this piece. In my naivete, I thought that it was simply taking a few samples here and there, comparing present samples with past results, etc. This was the first time I got an explanation about how data mining works and is used. It so happened that my lesson came from a political machine. If the story was about how FB or Google or even the Republican Party does data mining, I would simply change the references in my post but it will still be the same. 🙂 🙂

  3. As you mentioned in your response above, I took your overall point the same way (not directly political). While you did use Obama’s case as an example, you point out that it is part of something larger. You could apply it to many other industries right now, it just hit home with you on this case (for me, it has been Facebook’s and Google’s unethical exploits and uses of our information). It also made me consider your point that maybe the ‘evil’ is not a person, but an action, or specific behavior that represents the qualities on a larger scale. Well said.

    • I appreciate your comment. 🙂 Now I am sure that my post was not partisan.

      As for that ‘evil’ part, now that you mentioned it – yeah, for me it is not really the person but the purpose for which our info will be used. Right now, it is disconcerting to know that unknown to us, we can be ‘manipulated’ with the very information that we give. We are giving people the power to influence us and control us.

      Then, there is the group that is bad per se, e.g., identity thieves.

      Nevertheless, we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear or we won’t be able to function well in society.

  4. I find that the information that others can gather about it disconcerting also. I guess I have decided that I can either retreat from my computer or not and hope that I am a small cog in the wheel and I am not that interesting….I don’t like what happens but I guess I don’t know how to fight it.

    As far as the anti-christ I have read about things to do with having marks on our forehead to buy and sell and similar…and it somewhat bothered me but again I have decided that the Lord will protect His own and I am not going to worry about it… But these electronic devices they have in place now do cause one to wonder..Diane

    • I agree with you on both counts. We can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear. The other option for us is to hide and avoid all of the things that are now the marks of modern living. To do that, one might as well go to the mountains and make sure that he has all that he needs so he does not have to transact with the rest of society for what he does not have.

      As for the anti-Christ part of the story, yes, we have to cling on God. The figure is from Revelation, the rest is urban legend. It must have been a way for people to deal with their fears when technology started to move so fast.

  5. Thank you for the interesting read. I also read 1984 and Animal Farm in high school and while they were interesting, I also found them to be quite depressing…especially 1984. I feel that it is a constant challenge of how much “personal” information do I want to put out into the social media world. But I have also come to the conclusion that I would rather be the one creating my image than someone that might give false information.

    • Thank you for coming by, tableofcolors. One thing you said struck me – “…I would rather be the one creating my image….” You are so right. Once you have defined who you are, it will be quite difficult for another to paint you differently. You have control over your information and persona. Having realized that, I can now blog without fear. 🙂 😉

  6. This is an interesting and thought-provoking post, Imelda. I haven’t read 1984 (heard enough about it to determine it was probably not something I would enjoy) but I do have concerns about how privacy is now a myth. I don’t alter my day-to-day life to avoid it, mainly because I think it’s an exercise in futility.

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