Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Who Serves Whom?

In the latest issue of The New York Review, David Cole, in his article "The New America: Little Privacy, Big Terror," makes the following statement:
When we carry our cell phone, use (or have downloaded) apps on those phones, browse websites, send e-mails or texts, drive in our cars, or make purchases with a credit card, we send digital information about our whereabouts, our association, our interests, and our needs and desires to the corporations that serve us.
It is that last phrase that gets to me. We may be customers or clients; but, thanks to all those opportunities that Cole outlines, it is no longer fair to say that any corporation "serves" is customer or client base. Simply by providing all those data, we now serve them. It is almost as if, by virtue of the data they acquire, corporations now, for all intents and purposes, own us and deliberately manipulate us to generate numbers that look good on balance sheets and stockholders' reports.

I should have seen this coming. Back when I was trying to pursue "knowledge management" as a legitimate domain for research, I was first exposed to Customer Relationship Management (CRM). While the ideals of CRM looked good enough on paper, allowing me to address questions of how knowledge management might leverage CRM by providing more personalized interactions with customers, once I saw the technology in use, I realized that it was pointing in the opposite direction. As I put it in a post back in 2010, it was basically a technology for "desubjectivizing" customers, transforming them from agents acting according to their personal motivations into data points to feed banks of analytical software. While others were looking for technologies that would commoditize knowledge, the game was going to those who had figured out how to commoditize their own customers!

1 comment:

DigitalDan said...

I find it comforting from a personal standpoint that I have reached a truly mundane station in life, where my comings and goings would numb the senses of the most attentive spy. In the meantime, I continue to confound the attempts of the retail class to characterize my interests, by selecting liberally from Internet commerce's lovely long tail. Let us all sing the praises of the long tail.