Monday, November 5, 2012

Being Known

And I thought this was bad. 

I am always mind-blown by the amount of information people are able to obtain about someone. The bank-robber in Firewall had been studying Harrison Ford for months and knew and exploited nearly everything about him and his family, including his son’s peanut allergy. Or take the Bourne Trilogy for example; I am continuously taken aback at just how much information and data the CIA has access to and how incredibly difficult it is for Jason Bourne to make the slightest move without being detected. To me, this is fairly believable because it is the CIA after all, but in the end it is still just a movie-right? The thought is terrifying that marketers have just as much and often more access than the CIA or the stalkers we see so often in the movies.

It did not register with me just how much I am personally victimized by this until reading Brandwashed. Now that I think about it, I did get an email last week from Southwest airlines about cheap flights to St. Louis. This strikes me as odd seeing as I have never looked up flights to St. Louis on their website. I have, however, used other websites such as Amtrak and Megabus to figure out how much a trip from Chicago to St. Louis would drain from my bank account. I’m beginning to think this Internet activity of mine is not unrelated to Southwest’s specialized offer. I got an email just today from Panera asking me to take a survey. “We’re looking to spotlight you! Tell us your story.”  How nice of them to give me the “opportunity to share me,” all the while gathering more information in order to manipulate me more effectively. What about all those Chipotle commercials on Pandora? I thought that was just the ad that interrupted everyone’s music on Pandora. Nope. I just asked several of my friends, and I seem to be the only one that experiences those commercials excessively. Could that have something to do with the fact that Chipotle is one of my favorite restaurants, and I purchase food there more frequently than other places? I would not doubt it.

I’ve been successfully convinced that companies know a lot about a lot of people, and frighteningly, about me. What does all this data say about us? Can we, as people, be reduced to mere data and numbers? Brandwashed states the brands we buy are “the windows into our soul.” That brings up an interesting idea. We as humans have souls, and as Christians we would generally say our souls are what truly constitutes us. So can we truly be defined by data? I do not know if I would go far as to say that marketing companies can know our souls, since only God can truly know that, but they sure have access to a deluge of information that can reflect our souls. If that’s the case, maybe we as Christians should think about what kind of soul our buying habits and interaction with phones and the Internet reflect.

Almost anyone would admit that the thought of companies knowing so much about us is frightening. Perhaps that is because this type of knowledge, if put in the wrong hands, could have horrific consequences. If people are anything like me, though, my biggest fear is not that my well being will be compromised or that I will be discriminated against. Rather it simply makes me uncomfortable that strangers can know so much about me. Lindstrom discusses men who buy pornography. Many of us do not have anything quite so drastic to fear being known. Nevertheless, we probably have something in our texts, Facebook messages, or Google searches we would not want to be publicized. How about that venting session you just had with your best friend about your mom or your roommate? We’ve probably all had our stomach drop the moment we think we sent a text to the wrong person. I was hit by the realization, though, that we as Christians are called to live blameless lives. Speaking of venting, Philippians 2:14-15 says “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” We are not called to simply appear blameless in only the things people can find out about, but to be thoroughly pure and holy, even in our thoughts and the “hidden” content of the cyber world. The thought of marketers knowing our “dirty little secrets” makes us uncomfortable, yet we forget that God knows all of that anyway, which is far more consequential and should challenge us.  While this can definitely be disconcerting thought, we can also find comfort in the fact that we serve a God who knows infinitely more about us than marketers could obtain from any compilation of data.

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