Free and Accessible Goes Both Ways

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As a continuing thought to yesterday’s post, several thoughts (some short-lived and some mutating in favour of survival) have been fermenting in my mind surrounding the gathering consumer information of value by offering something for free. It’s not new. It’s why reward plans with seemingly no catch have existed for a couple decades now. Nielsen ratings come from selecting a representative sample of households to derive statistical calculation of television viewership in total and by demographics, and that system has been around for most of the history of television. We are all studied as consumers, but never as closely and intricately as in the social media era of online activity.

Individual people don’t sift through what we post online; it’s extracted by computers using key words and other information. Photos need to be seen with eyes for a full grasp of the picture, but captions and album names and individuals tagged in photos are easily analyzed. There isn’t an employee at Amazon who looks at what you purchase and thinks “Hey, this person would probably love this book or product” because algorithms are constantly being refined by tracking purchasing habits of people of similar tastes. It’s how successful internet companies survive in business. The late 90s dot-com bust came from missing this.

I’m not paranoid that corporations are after me and trying to brainwash me into a zombie consumer that buys at their command. My habits antithetical to data mining’s goal are based on other things – the books I buy in store and printed photos I don’t put on Facebook. I’ve written previously that such physical consumption is contradicting the maxim of minimalism that wears the “halo du jour” of snobby attitudes, but exploring the value of marketing via free services has me rethinking that. If saving physical space and resources by doing everything minimally and electronically is thought of as an anti-consumer lifestyle, why is that the aim of Face- and e-books? It’s still consumption, and its inconspicuousness has made it the new conspicuous consumption.

When I buy a book at my local bookseller’s, they don’t keep the purchase in a file under my name to advertise specific books to me and me alone in the future. I have a discount card, but they just look at the expiry date on the back to ensure it’s valid. When I print photos, the photofinisher doesn’t mine the images for information on my consumer habits that they can sell to other companies – I’m paying for the photographs, and that’s how they make their business. The more of my transactions – and interactions – that occur in physical space, the more purpose they have. They make me a customer – not a commodity.

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