Monday, March 2, 2009


Our collective fear behind more personal information migrating to online databases isn't really the loss of privacy. Instead, our fear is that that information can strip away the lies we tell ourselves and expose our true selves, not to others, but to us. 

This thought slapped me across the face while reading Super Crunchers, by Ian Ayres. Ayres points out that Visa, based on purchase history, can predict with relative accuracy if a married couple will be divorced in 5 years. 

To most, this information probably carries a terrifying "big brother" connotation. On the other hand, wouldn't you want to know this information? Having watched several divorces unfold from the periphary, it seems most divorce announcements shocker the individual receiving divorce notice. What if, 5 years before you were served, you had a brief conversation with your Visa rep who adivsed you that you were on a path towards divorce? I would certainly be happy for the chance to correct the course of my marriage.

Let's leave what most consider "personal" information for a second. Anthony Bourdain writes in Kitchen Confidential about a server who showed up late for work after returning from vacation claiming that her plane was delayed. Her boss called the airline, discovered that the plane had arrived on time and promptly fired the server for lying. 

Today that server's boss wouldn't need to call, he could find arrival times on a myriad of websites.

With so much of our information available online or through easily sourced databases, our chances of getting caught in a lie are exponentially bigger than even 10 years ago. 

At the same time what are the mental and emotional costs of facing up to our true selves? To paraphrase Joe Thornley at the CPRS national conference in Halifax last June, I have one life online. 

Having one life would make it easier to be truthful. What do you think?

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