Big-data as a statistical selfie

Using someone else’s laptop is always an interesting experience. They might have more or less the same icons than yours, another text editor program, a photo of any other Caribbean island… but when you open their browser and you check your usual webs, then you realize that there’s something wholly different than on your laptop: suddenly you get totally new adds! Fashionable cheap clothes, organic slow fast-food, fair-trade diapers, or maybe you get automatic lawn mowers, fathers giving a watch to their first-born son and good friends enjoying a beer together. Where are the tanks games, penis elongations, chicks in bikini shooting machine-guns that you learned to avoid?

Every time we connect to the Web we spread loads of information here and there, which is used/traded by advertisement companies like Google and Facebook to offer us taylor-made ads that should fit perfect to our taste, a snap-shot of our material desires. The link from all the clicks we produce to the ads we get is sometimes creepy accurate: the ad for „Your flight was cancelled? We help you get your money back!“ came right on time but many other times ads are only annoying, bombing our eyes with familiar values („Have kids!“ „Call your grandma!“), the imperative of being young and beauty („Make boys go crazy for you!“), urgent political activism („A click can change the world, if you act now“), reminders to increase our productivity („Last longer in bed“, which never means „in bed“ but of course „at work“), etc…

It’s nothing new to say that society expects a different things from different people, we also expect different things from ourselves than what others expect, in fact, we define ourselves according to the expectations we have about ourselves. Our projects conform our identity. The problem starts when big data is being used to empower old values and avoid new values to emerge, that means to manipulate us, to conform us to the mainstream picture. We forget very often that behind that anonymous mirror of personal information there’s a person trying to „make sense“ of those statistics, a person making profit from our blind faith in big data. Let’s make our own selfie, let’s define our identity, not just accept the one that they offer us.

(2018)