A recent Slashdot article pointed to research being done on the connectedness of various things, notably, users on the Internet.
While the science can, and has, applied this thinking to many things of real value, it's a bit scary to think, or should I say know, that it is also being applied to "marketing".
The unspoken "Why?" of all of this is that companies are trying to understand our social connectedness as a way to SELL us things.
Why use the scattershot TV ad to get us to buy a new car when they can simply allow the desirability of ownership trickle down the social food chain?
This is "Keeping up with the Joneses" taken to perfection. Once it is calculated which other individual or group we all choose to imitate, you find that there are only 30 people in the world who have to be given that new promotional edition MP3 player and soon everyone else in the world will HAVE to have one too. How Pavlovian!
The only problem I have with this way of thinking is that it continues down the path we are on of valuing everything except quality in product selection. It assumes (probably accurately) that many of us do what we do by imitation rather than making our own choices based on our own thought processes.
No need to enslave the masses when you can tap into their programming and get them to do what you want willingly. A few years ago we saw the first major uses of this on the internet as Flash based animations showed up in our inboxes suggesting some political point of view. Whole membership based websites with powerful financial backing have now sprung up to do the same thing, but more effectively.
If I look at federal budget numbers over the last 50 years I might eventually come to some conclusion that would influence the way I vote. If I hear those same numbers discussed on a TV program I might come to yet another conclusion. But in that instance I might also have some doubts based on perceptions I have about the networks bias, or the individuals from which the information came.
But what if that same misleading analysis comes from someone I know well and admire? Will I follow up with my own research, or just accept the information, having passed through no telling how many intermediaries, as though it were directly from my trusted source? Will I even think about the possible unreliability of the information?
The spectacular collapse of the Dean campaign shows us nothing more than that there is still a disconnect between those of us who spend much of our free time on the Internet and those of us who vote (at least in a few states). But this could change, and it probably will change. Not only will more people become used to getting their information from the Internet, but the Internet will become entwined in subtle ways in other activities such as listening to music or watching TV. At some point, with our without perceived dangers such as the Patriot Act, most of what we do online (in the most general sense) will be trackable, not because of some onerous law, but simply because we have given our consent, often in subtle ways, to be monitored.
The only thing that will remain will be to use that data to achieve the desired goal.