on my Data Trail

I made a list of every website on which I have an account that requires a password – I got up into the forties and realized that I exist in way too many places on the internet. I tried to imagine what it would be like if 40 physical locations I visited asked me for a password every time I showed up. It would be insane, I would stop going anywhere.

My data exists all over the place. There are databases that seem to track everything I do, and most of them are smart enough to predict what I’m going to do next: what songs I’ve listened to the most, and therefore which new releases I will like; how much REM sleep I average every night, what books I read, how much I spend on laundry detergent compared to other people in the United States, how many times I’ve been to the gym this week, where I get my hair cut, what age and how tall my next date is likely to be, my average running speed on a one mile incline, who worked in my office at any time in my professional history. All this data is out there, scattered, disjointed, and surprisingly meaningless.

I guess now that the internet is everywhere, watching everything, the next step is to aggregate all that personal information it has about me into something useful. OK, grocery store – you know how many times I buy avacados each month… why don’t you ask the internet who else I know buys them at the same frequency, compare our musical tastes, find out if we wear the same color shoes, and then suggest our grandmothers call each other for brunch?

No, but seriously, there are practical applications for the cross referencing of all the data floating around. If someone I don’t know is doing research on something I read about, and they happen to go to my gym, or know someone I worked with, all of these data stores should be talking to each other and putting us in touch with each other. Or if I’m about to go out with someone who is allergic to avacados, and the grocery store knows I eat a lot of avacados, my fire alarm should go off.

As someone who left facebook a while ago, I can’t criticize them with accuracy, because I don’t know what all has changed – but that was one of the problems I had with their architecture – it was designed to collect my information, but left me the task of connecting it to others. Facebook was good at keeping me connected to people that I already knew shared my interests and preferences – but bad at making introductions to people who I wasn’t familiar with.

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