Big Data Me


How I learned to stop worrying and love Google for their telepathic creation of me

“Virus on Host” NPR.ORG image

In other words, privacy is over and it’s awesome. Google and Yahoo and Amazon and Facebook, with help from the NSA, have won. They have removed any shred of hope we could retain our privacy. But I don’t worry. In fact, I find the occasion joyous.

Google knows more about me than I know about myself. Somewhere within their servers is a statistical construct of me, or rather should I say an emerging, ever-refined five-dimensional statistical construct of all my online behaviors, including what I do and have done online, what I receive from other friends, what I secretly desire. There are statistical marketing constructs that have identified me as a target, and my physical travels through all the days, weeks, and months that I’ve carried my cell phone with “LOCATION SERVICES” turned on. This construct contains the sum of all my credit card transactions, the times I’ve checked my medical records – and who knows, maybe even the contents of those records? I don’t care. My MRIs and cardio evaluations and results of tests and surgeries and prescriptions. It sums my idle digital drifts, the internet version of daydreaming, when I surf the web, caught by this stumbleupon or that ad, or when I lingered over this link, or quasi-inadvertent click. It has a pretty good Monte Carlo – an ongoing statistical simulation or hypothesis of my next choices and steps, both in physical reality and virtual — which it constantly measures against my real actions. As a result, it is always increasing its power and accuracy. It knows what I want better than I do myself. Further, it has access to all the people in the world online who are “like” me, whose patterns of behavior fall into the same groove, who have traveled the same road, and so it has a pretty good idea of what I am going to do next. It knows what I cannot admit to myself: that I am really not different.

Let’s say in a lucid, egoless moment that I can admit to myself that I am not a real snowflake, unlike the trillions of snowflakes who came before me, but rather I am really only one in a million or so. Let’s see, one in a million! So if there are five billion people who carry cell phones and/or surf the internet, there may be 3000 guys just like me, including you. I bet they wear jeans. I bet you do, too.

There’s billions of dollars in marketing and sales betting that the predictive power of all the big data is pretty good at reading my mind. In fact, they’re not even betting. Their statistical accuracy has got to tilt the house odds at 98% and getting better every time I’m connected.

Am I the sum of all my desires?

Is the marketing virtual sum of all my behaviors telepathic? Does it read my mind, does it know what I want before I do? As I do?

This virtual David Porush, however, is so far beyond me, that the nuances of privacy that I worry about don’t matter. It doesn’t care if I have a secret bank account, gamble on fantasy football, order cigars from Cuba, get illicit pharma from Canada, Viagra from the other side of Niagara, pot from the cannabis club along with my pizza and wings, a case of kickass mouvedre, a book on Cosmos and Epistemology from Amazon along with a new speaker system and some cute green pumps. Of course, that’s possibly true according to your definition of what “care” means. The “David Porush” held in the mind of all those servers is a David Porush about which The Algorithm cares mightily, but not in the conventional sense that people care. The IRS will want to know about that bank account, my spouse about the pumps, various agencies about the cannabis and probably also those emails to Iran, my doctor about the pharma, my rabbi about the state of my soul, my brother about the Cubans, my oenologist daughter about the wine.

All the Algorithm cares about is what it can sell me, how it can put its hand in my pocket? The company running the machine running the Big Data Me only cares how it can shape my desire by anticipating it.

One day, not too far in the future, Google’s Big Data Me will communicate my wishes with the flavor and emotion and inflection that I do. I use enough voice recognition, and have written enough text, both private and public, for It to have a good grip on my lexicon, my diction, my grammar and syntax, my tone, my neurotic loser compulsive quipping, that special blend of self-effacement and megalomania, my mid-50s Brooklynese, that private quality that is most precious to me as a writer, my inimitable voice! (which It knows is like about only 127 other bloggers, since as a writer, I’m one in ten million. At least.)

On that day, I hope I can retire from life completely and have that Big Data Me walk around and buy things and win at the track for me and consider and discard and choose my drunkard’s walk through the billions of mental states I have every day. It should be able to do so with considerable more aplomb and acuity, with growing subtlety and perceptiveness, with flair, finesse, panache, bricolage, charisma, cool … even as what’s left of me settles into the bottom of that bottle of mouvedre.

As this evolutionary inflection point is reached, and Big Data Me far surpasses that other meatworld me. Google and the NSA can discard the gross, increasingly-slow and pathetic David in the real world, shuck it like a caul, leaving those who care about me to hold my arm as I limp gingerly down the street, my hands in my pocket for balance and frugality.

Although It already knows, actuarially, what I shall do next. my dearly beloved will reach over to wipe up my drool as she pushes me in my wheelchair into the surf, whispering that charm in my ear, the one we have never committed online and so it cannot have that, at least.