Insights

The Psychology of Analytics - Digital Ghosts

(Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of this Psychology of Analytics series.)

Years ago, I spoke at a conference where I said that the next online engine revolution will be ‘experience engines’, which are able to search a living or deceased person’s past via questions that answer dilemmas you face now.

There is no future without digital ghosts.

Digital ghosts haunt us every day.  Usually your digital self is not truly reflective of who you are in real life (even if you are a relentless social media zealot).  This is due to society putting pressure on us to fit a specific norm.

However, this tendency to keep yourself ‘clean’ online prevents real patterns of your life being revealed.  It also casts a biased shadow over your future ‘cult of personality’.

There are three types of digital ghosts:

  1. Evidence - having to delete unflattering social media content due to a relationship change or a night of partying (which always comes back to haunt you)
  1. Relocation – moving from one social media site to another and your past social media site is archived or chronicled for search engines
  1. Death – having a friend or family member who has passed away, but their social profile remains living

Unflattering Social Media Content

A lot of my digital ghosts were purged by ex-girlfriends.

The first order of business after a relationship change on Facebook is to give access to my current girlfriend to go and delete my past.  It’s not that I want them to, but it’s usually something they ask for in order to gain trust.

I think it’s a waste of today to spend so much time deleting yesterday.  However, I allow the new girlfriends to delete and un-tag old photographs, posts and videos that showcase the person I was previously dating.

Luckily, I only have to go back one release cycle as the last girlfriend usually deleted the previous girlfriend and the one before that deleted the one before them.

In work related posts, I have had to delete digital ghosts on Foursquare where a night of partying with co-workers or customers in a new, exotic location (such as Indonesia) requires me to curate content in order to not embarrass them or me, or both. Usually this is because of jealous spouses who stayed back to take care of the kids while the other half is supposedly on a work trip.

Digital ghosts give more data ‘meat’ to a person than the usual likes, reposts, and shares.  Yes, sometimes it puts them in an unfavorable light, but it allows for them to expose true and revealing patterns.

Insurance companies and recruitment agencies usually search for these types of digital ghosts to find bias towards a potential customer or candidate.  These behaviors (although all people do it whether it’s posted or not) are seen as risks to the bottom line.  However, it should be said that just like a mobile phone, if all of the call logs are deleted and things look too clean, it means that they are hiding something bigger.

Penalizing normal socializing or frivolity causes everyone to create a fake portrait of who they really are.   This means that social media becomes human organic propaganda.

Relocation from One Social Media Site to Another

I recently came across my old Myspace and Friendster pages.  Besides the pimped out video embeds and auto-starting music when the page loads, the blogs and photographs were incredibly revealing.

I felt like I had come across a time capsule from ten years ago where my hopes and day to day concerns seemed almost comical compared to my present day.

But most importantly, it was a great way to see who I was as a way of measuring my personal successes now.

The one failure of Facebook is the inability to integrate the past into the present.  Facebook allows for add-ons to show “This Day in History” of what you were doing in prior years.  But because Facebook doesn’t allow full APIs to its history, most of the posts and content show up with unrenderable images and uploaded videos.

I would love an automatic feature on Facebook where it would allow you to customize your wall to show two streams, one of now and one of a year of your choosing.

I would also love to see the posts on the same hour, same day, five years ago to see where my head was and where my life was.

Or better yet, I wish in the future that when I relocate from one social media site to another that I can simply import all my posts to the new one and be able to keep my digital ghost.  I would use it as a measuring rod of who I am.

Deceased Person’s Social Profile Remains Living

Since joining Facebook, unfortunately I have had several friends and family members pass away.  However, they remain my friends on Facebook.  Every year I wish them Happy Birthday and retag photographs that we were tagged in.  Their messages stay in my inbox and their wall posts still show up when I scroll backward.

More and more, people are creating digital profiles earlier and earlier in life.  For my generation, as we get older and die out, what happens to the experiences we posted?

This is where the experience engine revolution begins.

What if you never have to say goodbye to someone who has built and maintained a digital profile?  This digital profile becomes their digital ghost.

If your father passed away, but was an avid social media user, you can pose questions such as, “Dad, my wife is pregnant.  How do I know if I will be a good father?”

The experience engine will go out and search for all the posts your dad posted prior to him passing away about being a father, his love for you as a son (such as birthday wishes and messages in your inbox) and will possibly recall blog posts where he discussed his own insecurities about being a father.

The Future is Influenced by the Past

If your digital ghost is squeaky clean, society does not allow you to reconcile your real self with your online self.  If the next big social media site prohibits you from vacuuming up your past archives to add them to your present, the future will suffer for it.

Your present is influenced by the combination of all your experiences, good and bad, to create your consciousness of now.

If your grandchildren search your digital ghost or pose a query to it and the only responses they get are cleaned up, mediocre answers; from a psychology of analytics perspective, maybe they will be doomed to repeat your same mistakes.

Just like the supernatural, digital ghosts are forever damned to haunt those who repeat the past in order to change the future.

Why not reveal your mistakes now for them to be learned from in the future?

"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." - William Shakespeare

Article written by Gary Jackson
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