The high anthropology of our age trains us to think of ourselves as unique, while our online activity is relentlessly mined and analysed in order to define how we’re exactly like so many others.
The same online portals who flatter us as unlike anyone else follow all our movements and work out how to market to our desires of the moment by comparing us with others in real time.
They attract us with the high anthropology of our uniqueness and our ability to engineer a perfect life; yet they process the data they receive with the low anthropological view that we’re really all alike, and our desires will never be satisfied.
Today, the “uncanny ad” is commonplace. You read some grill reviews on Amazon one night, and the next time you log into Facebook, postings for wireless cooking thermometers and small-batch BBQ sauce are clogging your feed. Other times it’s more subtle. You haven’t even announced your engagement to be married yet. but your patterns of purchases fit the mod, so the airlines are pitching you honeymoon flights before you’ve told your parents.
Experiences like these are endemic to the age of the algorithm, a time increasingly ruled by those complex codes that order our experience of the internet. Now companies know so much about their customers they have to be careful to avoid public-relations snafus… Algorithms work only because, despite how loudly we may insist on our uniqueness, we are a predictable species.
David Zahl, Low Anthropology, Brazos Press, 2022, pg 44.