When Data is Good to Us

Fueled by our data addiction, we have entered an era of bespoke everything. That’s a good thing.

By Xische Editorial, July 6, 2019

Source: Visual Generation/ Shutterstock

Source: Visual Generation/Shutterstock

We live in a world of hyper personalisation. The rise of smartphones and social media platforms a little more than a decade ago launched a wave of curated experiences and bespoke everything. The individual is now first and foremost in the minds of everyone from content creators to city planners. This world of individualism is fuelled entirely by a vast collection of data. Every time you log onto an internet-connected device, your movements on the web are tracked, analysed, and fed into an algorithm that refines a detailed portrait of your habits. 

As these systems become more knowledgeable about your habits, they can even predict your behavior and future interests. From Spotify music curation (their playlists are the best for this reason) to predictive text in Gmail, hyperpersonalised is moving quickly towards predictive behavioural analysis. In other words, the ultimate bespoke experience. 

There are many challenges surrounding the use and collection of data. We have chronicalled most in detail. While the challenges are serious, there is no reason to fear our collective dependence on data. There is a reflexive negative reaction to data collection in far too many conversations these days. This is understandable given the recent data scandals at internet giants such as Facebook and Google, but we should be able to take a step back and marvel at the incredible convenience and splendor of the present moment. 

Take the cosmetics industry as an example. In a recent piece for The Atlantic, Amanda Mull outlines how the future of beauty is grounded in curated experiences fuelled by data collection. The writer details how her unique type of hair has always presented problems when selecting hair products. With the new services on the market, she gives companies more information about herself in return for custom formulas. While the cosmetics industry has always been the province of the wealthy, shifts are underway thanks to data collection. Cosmetics companies use data to reduce costs such as unpopular inventory. They also refine products through data collection as in the case of Mull. 

Looking beyond the beauty industry, consider the number of fitness applications on the market. In exchange for detailed information about your body and health, these applications can deliver personalised training programmes to users. There is no longer a need for an expensive personal trainer when your phone and smartwatch can guide you through workouts. 

Data-driven personalisation drives costs down and enables the masses to have bespoke experiences of their own, which in turn boosts sales. Mull notes that this trend is aided by advances in manufacturing and the direct-to-consumer nature of online shopping. The result is that “personalisation has become the hot new thing at much more accessible prices”. 

From entertainment to travel, we engage with the world in a markedly different (and better) way than ever before. Smart government initiatives such as those in the UAE build on this personalisation to ensure residents and citizens get the most from their government. Consider registering a birth of a child in 2019 using a digital government tool. Once the child is in the system, the parents are eligible for regular updates concerning the child's milestones. When it is time to enroll in preschool, for example, the parents get a nudge but the bonus is that registration is fast. Since the child’s health information and other details have been registered digitally, most of the school application is already complete.  

While we can all use a little serendipity in our lives from time to time, data collection allows us to save time by getting the most out of our choices. When we extrapolate this idea to the work of government on the national and civic level, we can envision a better and more productive society. One of the great barriers that stands between us and our enjoyment of the bespoke future is awareness. Many fear data collection on the internet because we have let ourselves live in a state of blissful ignorance about how the internet functions. We don’t read the terms of service closely (they are too long) and we are shocked when we hear about a data privacy scandal. 

If, however, we engaged with the material in a more constructive way, we wouldn’t experience that shock. If we were aware of how our data is used, collected, and stored then we could make the right decisions about how we hand it over to companies. That way we would benefit from the joy of our curated lives without the nagging feeling that we are being taken advantage of. Internet companies can make this process easier by being more transparent with their practices, but ultimately the responsibility lies with the individual. Let’s embrace the power of the internet with our eyes open. It’s an incredible moment to be alive.