Loyalty, part 2: Loyalty destroys our culture

June 28, 2012

Ian Wood
Executive Director, Brand Strategy,
based in Landor London
Everything could soon become incentivized in our Big Brother world.

We all know that the wor-ld fears for its privacy and security. The “usual suspects” know everything you do: every online activity (the Internet giants), every financial transaction (a single company understands all 10bn transactions per annum in the UK, and it is the same elsewhere), every move you make (the mobile companies always know where you are) and who you interact with (all of the above). And it’s going to get worse. The soon-to-be explosion of radio-frequency identification systems; a radio-emitting, Internet enabled, chip in absolutely everything (cars, clothing, pets, products, food packaging) plus the increasingly capable face/product recognition technology will mean that “they” know who and where you are, along with your age, weight, ethnicity, manner, and mode.

All of the above means that “they,” Big Brother, know almost as much about you as you know yourself, and here it gets interesting for loyalty schemes and parallel economies. If the owner of a sophisticated technological system, let’s call it “yenom,” “money” backwards, knows everything, it can reward you for “desirable behaviors,” or at least everything they believe or are persuaded to believe is a desirable behavior. This can include the obvious things like purchases, but also for looking at an image, reading an advert, logging in to a system, test driving a product, reading the news, watching the news, watching a film, trying something new, not trying something new, having a good review from your manager at work, passing an exam at school, passing a driving test, being on time for the crèche, cleaning your teeth, taking your vitamins, completing a course of antibiotics, voting in the general election, voting for a political party. When you think about it, is there really anything, any action in this “Big Brother” world that cannot be incentivized?

Very soon every action that we currently believe to be a function of our own free will could have an additional vector, perhaps not a decisive influence, but an influence nevertheless, and the opportunities and consequences are huge and profound. When the first steam train crawled across a short stretch of track in northern England no one would have predicted that railway systems would directly drive the design of cities, the creation of holidays, the harmonization of market prices, the democratization of opportunity, the mixing of the gene pool, the development of California or the enablement of war on an industrial scale. When mobile phones were first created no one would have predicted that people under the age of thirty would eschew the concept of punctuality. The enablement of Big Brother knowledge and influence means that we, society, can drive behaviors for the good; a vector around health, culture, and fulfilment, or for bad; we become mentally and culturally ghettoized, our lives subject to the highest bidder and metaphysical libertarianism yields to hard determinism, but that’s a another story.

The truth is, Winston Smith is us in the future.

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