Evidently, I surf like a girl

Posted by Rob Walker on May 6, 2010
Posted Under: "Social" studies

Thanks, everybody, for making confessing everything on Facebook seem so normal. Despite “connecting” us more securely with others online, social networking has made our real-life, non-online identities more insecure than ever. With a new tool to investigate what we don’t immediately disclose up front, there is less reason for anyone to take us at face value. I guess people just Google us while nodding along and ignoring what we say.

This long excursus at n+1 makes a similar point about targeted ads pinpointing our place on what Facebook calls the social graph: “Today we Google ourselves to see what the world knows about us; tomorrow we’ll just watch the ads.” And to take the idea to its logical conclusion: we will eventually Google ourselves to find out who we are.

Shortly after reading that enjoyable Marginal Utility passage — and particularly enjoying the line, “we will eventually Google ourselves to find out who we are” — I encountered this Slate item which promised to evaluate the ideological content of my “news diet” by assessing my browsing history. It’s not quite Googling the self to discover the self, but it’s on the right track. I gave it a whirl!

The tool scanned whatever it scans and promptly informed me: “At these sites, the readership is on average 49 percent conservative, 51 percent liberal.” Also: “Your isolation index is -31, meaning that, on the bell curve of all readers, your news diet is 31 percentage points to the left.” I don’t know what that latter bit means, and this “interactive test” is sort of based on and spun off a recent study that’s gotten a lot of attention for its assertion that news consumption online isn’t as ideologically isolationist as people assume. (The study seems to me to have been undertaken precisely to reach this “surprising” conclusion, and is full of caveats that make it, to me, totally meaningless.)

The Slate item further point to some other site, where there’s a similar setup that’s meant to deduce your gender from your browser URL history. I did that too. Result:

Likelihood of you being FEMALE is 63%
Likelihood of you being MALE is 37%

Hm. Well, I guess it’s still to early to deduce who I am by asking the Internet.

(Or…  is it?)

Anyway, the Marginal Utility post cited above is much less frivolous than this little exercise, and worth reading.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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