THE BLOG
05/30/2016 11:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

To Know You Is To Not Really Have a Clue...

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Who am I?

No...This is not some existential, philosophical, New Age-type question. Au Contraire!

Google tells me that they have no clue...even as they sell my data (hmmmm) to others and inundate me with irrelevant ads that actually prove they have no clue.

Amazon purports to know me well through my orders, which are lots of kids books and paraphernalia; home care and personal care; kindle and physical books, and lots of varied gift stuff.

Facebook has me down pat through my connections, my posts and my Twitter and Instagram links.

Twitter has a handle on me through my tweets.

Instagram has intimacy through my pictures.

LinkedIn profiles me based on my thought leadership posts and by the data I provided them.

And on and on and on...Netflix, Hulu, Samsung, Pandora, Apple, Microsoft, Sirius, Uber, various airlines, my bank, Dark Sky, publishers too numerous to mention...and I am only scratching the surface.

The outcome?

According to Internet Society, in an articled called "Defining an Online Identity:"

Your online identity is not the same as your real-world identity because the characteristics you represent online differ from the characteristics you represent in the physical world. Every website you interact with has its own idea of your identity because each one you visit sees you and your characteristics differently.

For example, Amazon has established a partial identity for you based on the products you buy, whether it's you at the keyboard or someone else using your account. Yahoo! Finance has established a partial identity for you based on the stocks you are following, whether you actually own those stocks or not. Neither one has your full identity, even if they were to put together your partial identities.

Google can't figure me out because so many of my searches are contradictory and cross defined lines of demography and such -- I'm a grandfather and a gamer; a Doors diehard fan and a Peter, Paul and Mary acolyte; I love Shakespeare and Captain America, Moby Dick and Lord of the Rings...age doesn't define me, place doesn't define me and on and on...

Amazon has no clue about what I buy for myself or for my family or for my friends. They have no idea about what motivates my purchases or even searches.

The various social network platforms -- many of which I link - only see a small side of me - I post carefully, conscious of many factors and filters, with a bottom line that reflects my accountability to the company I work for, my family and yes my friends.

As for the rest - what do they really know other than what is in my mind or rather my digit (true digital) at the moment I press.

And as Internet Society articulates it, continuing from above:

The result is that you have one true identity and many partial identities. Some of the information associated with a partial identity is under your control; other information may be out of your control or even completely invisible to you....

And there you have it..."some in your control" like the profiles you agree to complete; some "out of your control" like the data that is collected about you and some? Who knows??? Profiles created by algorithms that then share the data with other algorithms and on and on until even your mother wouldn't know you...and yet your identity is sold as you every step of the way.

Frankly, to be fair, none of this concerns me. At best I find it amusing to see what I am being served and at worst mildly annoying...in fact less annoying than the robot calls of the '80s and '90s that I still get!

Younger people, though, seem to be more concerned.

According to Time, "More than 11 million young people have fled Facebook since 2011."

WHY WOULD THEY LEAVE?

According to a study of 80 American college students, there appear to be three reasons:

Few college students want their parents to see their Friday night photos...

"Those pics are there forever!" Having grown up with these platforms, college students are well aware that nothing posted on Facebook is ever truly forgotten, and they are increasingly wary of the implications....

Increasingly, young people are being warned that future employers, college admissions departments and even banks will use their social media profiles to form assessments. In response, many of them seem to be using social media more strategically. For example, a number of my students create multiple profiles on sites like Twitter, under various names. They carefully curate the content they post on their public profiles on Facebook or LinkedIn, and save their real, private selves for other platforms.

And again, I call attention to their real private selves versus the "carefully curated" versions of themselves they actually post.

Think of the implications - we purport to know you, sell that notion to advertisers, and proceed to create "intimate interactive immersive experiences" for you...but for which you?

And I haven't even begun to talk about the privacy issue and the Gawker/Hulk Hogan controversy that is in fact linked here as well, as there is an issue of persona vs person.

Clearly, I might add, I am not alone:

The average Internet user had 5.4 social media accounts in 2015." (Global Web Index)

In 2015, the average number of email accounts was 1.7 globally, predicting 1.8 in 2018 and 1.9 in 2019. (Radicati)

And, while some of us curate or hold back on our identities for good, legal and ethical reasons, others take advantage of their 5.4 social media accounts and multiple email accounts to rip off and cause damage to the unsuspecting. Which by the way is not a new phenomenon...it's just been made more efficient by our digital world:

According to Vice, in an articled titled "How Catfishing Worked Before the Internet (a reality show about people who lie on the Internet):"

Desperate, dishonest people have been pulling this shit for millennia. Though the etymology of the word catfish is sort of strange, it's a useful term to describe a type of con artistry that is centered around crafting a fake identity. What's fascinating about catfishers throughout history is that usually they weren't after financial gain--like their contemporary counterparts, their behavior seems to have been compulsive and driven by personality quirks or frustrations... In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, "Lonely Hearts Killers" were the Craigslist Killers of their time. But Henri Désiré Landru, Harry F. Powers, Sweden's Gustav Raskenstam, and the married couple of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck were all out to make a buck-- using a personal ad to lure people to a secluded place in order to kill them for their cash is awful...

Scary stuff with more permanent consequences than how we curate our privacy...

Bottom line, we cannot allow ourselves to lose who we really are because online entities see only parts of our whole and then claim to fill in the rest - selling that to others who do the same and...you got the picture.

But don't despair -- the issue of "Who I am/Who am I" is not new. It is not an outcome of our 24/7 connected, data-driven, algorithmically run world. Socrates, himself, said "Know thyself."

Yet, today it is amplified. So as much as we can drive clarity and transparency, we can drive equal confusion and obfuscation.

So remember...Listen:

Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment. Lao Tzu

Yes, we can know others. Somewhat. And maybe it does give us some wisdom...or sellable data...but do not lose sight of yourself.

Perhaps the late Margaret Mead supplied the ultimate expression for our world today.

Listen:

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

And there you have it. The most important point of all. The point that will keep us human and ourselves so long as we let it.

We are, in the end, no more or less than who we are.

And while anyone of the entities I mentioned and thousands more claim to know all about us, all there is to know about us, they don't really.

And therein lies the lesson for marketers, politicians, pollsters, demographers, and you and me.

Who are you?

What do you think?

Read more at The Weekly Ramble