We know from our own experience that people’s impressions of us can sometimes be rather inaccurate. And while that doesn’t stop us from making snap judgments and relying on first impressions in regard to others, it does point to the difficulty in trying to read and understand who someone is.
As good as we think we are at interpreting people, we may be at a disadvantage compared to computers. Christian Rudder digs into the data trial we leave behind us in his book Dataclysm.
“Each page of a website can absorb a user’s entire experience—everything he clicks, whatever he types, even how long he lingers—and from this it’s not hard to form a clear picture of his appetites and how to sate them.”
We give information to the internet that we’d likely never want other people to know. From this, those in possession of our data can predict what we like and specifically target us with what they believe we’ll want.
“Google knows when you’re looking for a new car and can show the make and model preselected for just your psychographic. A thrill-seeking socially conscious Type B, M, 25–34? Here’s your Subaru. At the same time, Google also knows if you’re gay or angry or lonely or racist or worried that your mom has cancer. Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, all these companies are businesses first, but, as a close second, they’re demographers of unprecedented reach, thoroughness, and importance.”
One of the primary reasources used in this personality-prediction and mind-modeling is the voting system you see everywhere.
“Ratings are everywhere on the Internet. Whether it’s Reddit’s up/down votes, Amazon’s customer reviews, or even Facebook’s “like” button, websites ask you to vote because that vote turns something fluid and idiosyncratic—your opinion—into something they can understand and use. Dating sites ask people to rate one another because it lets them transform first impressions such as:
He’s got beautiful eyes
Hmmm, he’s cute, but I don’t like redheads
… into simple numbers, say, 5, 3, 1 on a five-star scale. Sites have collected billions of these microjudgments, one person’s snap opinion of someone else. Together, all those tiny thoughts form a source of vast insight into how people arrive at opinions of one another.”
For more on the ways our data give insights into who we are, check out Dataclysm by Christian Rudder