Monday, July 26, 2010

It Knows Us

This morning as I checking through my email, I was deleting the usual junk solicitations when I suddenly went back and retrieved one from Amazon.com.  I guess I have ordered enough from them that they are really zeroing in on my likes and dislikes.  It is easy for them to recommend books on Catholicism and Theology since I order them, but now the recommendations have started to branch out to my ‘secular’ tastes, and it seems really good at identifying the kinds of fiction that I have read and enjoyed.  The recommendations have started to look like my personal library, not only for books, but for video and audio as well.

I have never entered in any kind of personal information, or made lists of my favorite books, audio or video at Amazon.  I have never ordered fiction works or anything that is not directly related to my life as a priest – yet here it is, after a few years, recommending things that it thinks I would like based on my preferences, and the preferences of people who order the same things I order.

This isn’t really creeping me out, too much, since I see several things in it:

  • I’m not quite as unique as I like to think, because other people seem to have similar taste in reading material and media.  This is a good thing, it shows that people have more in common than we think, and that can be a good starting ground in friendships, in evangelization, and in local and national politics.
  • In some ways, it is like being in a small town (like where I grew up) where the restaurants know your favorite foods, the clothing stores know your favorite styles, and there is a real sense of community because of this shared knowledge.
  • While I may wonder how Amazon is using this knowledge of me, it is the same as the above mentioned people who have specific knowledge about me.  I cannot control and may wonder how those people are using that specific knowledge.

The thing that bothers me about Amazon getting to know me so well is that I can’t get to know Amazon well.  The people in my hometown know me, but I also know them.  I lived with them, worked with them, spent leisure time with them, in other words, I know them too.  I know their character, and for the most part, can kind of predict how they will use their specific knowledge about me.  I can’t say that about Amazon.  The company has never done anything (that I am aware of) with this knowledge of me that I don’t like.  But if they do, to whom do I complain?  If a friend or acquaintance does something I don’t like, I can tell them.

But this is our brave, new, online world.  As companies and websites gain more sophistication, and links with each other, we are becoming ‘known’ to them.  I just wish I could get to know them as well.