Pros and cons of stalkerish technology.

Child and phone (c) Jiri Hodan

The more advanced day-to-day technology gets, the more possibly all those the-major-corporations-and-the-government-are-watching-you conspiracy theories are. When practically every phone out there has a camera and is constantly hooked to the internet, who’s to say we aren’t being watched by the CIA and Interpol?

Honestly, my life isn’t interesting enough for me to care if the government is spying on me. I have no secrets pertinent to national security and I am not politically extreme in my views or even politically active (though, I admit, I would be a little concerned if a system like the one in the movie Eagle Eye was ever put into place). However, when thinking about the big picture, we forget about the little bits of information companies can gather about our lives from what we do on devices like our phones or even our e-readers.

Recently agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford posted about the kind of information companies like Amazon and B&N can pull off your Kindle or Nook. You can read the full post here, but below are some of the highlights:

Thanks to e-books, companies like Amazon and B&N now know whether people are actually reading the e-books they buy. Better yet, they even know where in books people are leaving off, which books are most likely to be read all the way through, and the speed people are reading them.

As Mike Shatzkin points out, this is important knowledge that the e-booksellers have and publishers do not. It could be more important to know whether people finish a bestselling book than how many copies it sells. If people stop reading and start reading something else instead, it could be a sign people might not be as enthusiastic for that author’s next book. And if people read something very quickly it could be a sign of enthusiasm.
I’m excited to have any new insight available, provided this information is made available to authors. It hardly seems fair if this information is hoarded by the e-booksllers if it’s being used to make decisions about whether and how an author is signed or promoted. And, of course, care must be taken to ensure that reader privacy is protected.

I wonder, though, how much they’ll take individual reading habits into account when looking at the statistics for a particular book. For example, I have a compulsion to finish a book I start as quickly as possible, and that compulsion only fades if I truly dislike a book. How quickly I devour a book is not necessarily a sign of enthusiasm, simply a sign that I have a few empty hours on my hands. On the other end of the spectrum is my father who savors books chapter by chapter, reading a little bit each night before he goes to bed. Kind of like dessert or a nightcap. How slowly he moves through a book isn’t an indication of dislike. In fact, if he’s really enjoying a novel, he tends to read slower, not faster.

Will companies think to look at reader trends like this and adjust the statistics? Does it matter how quickly someone reads a book as long as they finish? I would argue yes. Case in point, I read a book last night (yes, an entire book between the hours of 5:30 and 9:30), but to be honest I didn’t love it. It was well written, but there were several elements that left me dissatisfied. However, to someone looking at the reader statistics on my Kindle, all they’ll see is a blindingly fast reading rate and assume I loved it.

Having my information swiped by Amazon doesn’t bother me that much, but I worry about the interpretation and what it could mean to the business model of the publishing world. At the same time, if they offered me a peek at my reader’s stats after my book came out, I would jump all over that in a heartbeat.

Does that make me a hypocrite?

4 thoughts on “Pros and cons of stalkerish technology.

  1. Erica Cameron

    I'm glad you don't see me as a hypocrite! I mean, if someone is going to have the information anyway, I might as well see it too, right? πŸ˜‰

    My mom is also a bit of a conspiracy theorist and the more advanced technology gets the harder it is to dismiss some of those possibilities. I mean, honestly, they could be slipping microchips into our food to track our every move and we'd never know. And sometimes not knowing is better.

    I agree in a sense about the “tainted” data collected from an experiment people are aware of, but true readers are still going to fall into their reading habits whether they know about the eyes watching them or not. It's why they're habits in the first place. I definitely didn't mean to freak anyone out with this, though, so close your eyes and forget you ever read it! πŸ˜‰

  2. vic caswell (aspiring-x)

    no, it doesn't make you a hypocrite :P, just human… or, perhaps, the two things are synonymous.
    i am uncomfortable about my reading being tracked. because… well, i'm quite particular about my privacy. i tend to use my e-reader for more personal purposes, like reading not-yet-published manuscripts for clients and for physically transporting images places. i do read on my e-reader, but i'm still a stick in the mud and prefer my paper books.
    i tend to be like your dad, and if i love the language choices in a novel, i read it slow, savoring every word.

    politics aside… of which this triggers my overactive conspiracy-theorist-bone… the thing that bothers me most is that now that i know this, i won't be able to pick up me e-reader and NOT think about it. that fact in and of itself ruins the “experiment” and taints the data collected.
    i don't know.
    i just am annoyed that i'm being watched while i'm finally getting a chance to chill out and enjoy myself.
    maybe my paranoia is justified, now.


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