Mobile World Congress – 2012

I attended the 2012 Mobile World Congress and noticed something that worries me: it seems we, as individual human beings, are being more and more regarded as the sum total of our biological genomes and retrievable digital data.  I spoke with several researchers of very high repute who no longer feel the need to conduct qualitative or quantitative market surveys.  Why?  They believe everything about us can be gleaned from our existing digital data, a literal trail we leave behind us like snails on a sidewalk.

By simply mining our phone records and credit card bills (or other digital footprints), interested parties can learn about our credit scores, the goods and services we use, and our approximate annual income, to name just a few things.  They apparently also can extrapolate our mindset when we buy or sell everything from a car to cologne.  Analytics has become the hottest new career (and a trendier name than good old mathematics), and too many people for my comfort seem to believe there is no longer any need for market researchers to actually speak to “the market” any more.

Really?  The last time I checked, analytics can’t supplant the quirks and peculiarities that make us uniquely human and endlessly surprising.  Predictive analysis – forecasting – has been around for quite awhile.  Clearly there is benefit to knowing when and where a hurricane will hit, a stock market will crash, or a population will explode with growth.  But there is a well-known maxim that says, “If past performance is any indicator of future behavior…” and the key word is “if.”  Human beings have a delightful habit of changing our minds at the last minute and stumping the “experts” who believe they know exactly what we will do.  Case in point: the famous 1948 newspaper headline trumpeting the assumed U.S. presidential election results.  In extra large and bold type, it said, “Dewey Beats Truman.”  Yeah.  Sure. 

I may be one of the few people left who loves it when pollsters call my phone number and ask me to answer survey questions because it gives me the chance to be more than an algorithm.  It allows me to be unpredictable.  To give answers outside of a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being ‘least likely’ and 5 being ‘most likely.’  Sometimes, I’m even asked to answer a question with words of my own!

Don’t get me wrong.  I learned a lot at this year’s Congress, and I met many incredible people.  I also learned just how near Future Shock really is.   

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