In the movie Definitely, Maybe
starring Ryan Reynolds, there’s a scene in which he must sell tables for a political campaign dinner fundraiser. He makes call after call with no luck. Finally, in frustration, he speaks plainly and finds a connection between the politician and the prospective donor. In an instant, he understands. Make the connection and you can’t go wrong. This is the 90’s version of micro-targeting.
Online advertising today has honed targeted Marketing to an art form and it’s infused every industry from Fisherman’s Wharf to Wall Street to Washington. Messages are crafted on detailed profiles of what makes us unique such as hopes, fears, dreams, emotional triggers, and more which is then taken out of the hands of humans. Enter such deep, personal details into automated technologies and you’ll get automated reactions.
How did we get here?
Ever since Cicero’s brother, Quintus, who approached politics with a do anything to win mindset, we’ve been working toward this point. But, when it comes to technological advances within politics, George Simmel put it best
when he wrote around 1915, “the vast intensive and extensive growth of our technology…entangles us in a web of means, and means toward means, more and more intermediate stages, causing us to lose sight of our real ultimate ends.”
What does this mean? It means we have moved so quickly and with such intensity as we push inwards while reaching outward, we get tangled up in our own systems. Before we know it, it’s difficult to separate the means from their ends, and we lose sight of our purpose. In other words, it can be hard to keep our sense of direction with our constant distraction of tasks, systems, and processes. According to Simmel, this would soon morph into what he called a ‘fragmentary character.’ Like a mosaic, we put the pieces back together and assemble the bits to fit our concept of the world.
The Digitizing of Campaigns
Traditional campaigning has traditionally looked much like the movie scene mentioned above with phone banks, whiteboards, and handmade signs. But, today, things are changing. Everyone has at least one smart device which can sync information in real time to a range of devices. Algorithms and predictive modeling help reduce the guesswork, though gut feeling and instinct still prevail. At least, for now. Our machines are learning how to learn about us and define what we believe and wish to see by historical Data, or rather our past behaviors. Where psychographic profiling meets micro-targeting.
What was once only seen in the Marketing world has now entered politics. Just like marketers want to know what people are interested in, so to do politicians wish to know what voters think. To do this, both industries will study behavioral and attitudinal profiles to help understand a demographic better or discern a gap in the marketplace. In consumer research, companies rely on psychographic micro-targeting to reach smaller groups and individuals.
The key question here is to ask is to what extent are politicians prepared to pass laws that restrict their own opportunities to know more about voters. Just as the next generation of voters are coming, so too are the next generation of tools being developed.
One Final Thought…
Over the last 20 years or so, we have built an immense Data structure from mobile devices to social media to modelling processes and more. With this kind of connectivity combined with fragmentary media, the use of Data Analysis has a big role to play going forward.
If we seek change in our political and social infrastructures, we will have to reimagine the structures currently in place. From algorithmic modelling to AI and Machine Learning, the possibilities for new ideologies has emerged blurring the lines between context and production in which Data underpins capitalism. As those in Data Analytics continue to pursue an uninterrupted (read: non-fragmentary) vision of the world, we find ourselves at a new stage in history of where both looking back and looking forward at the same time informs our future.
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