Whole Earth Review SUMMER 1993 - by Brian Eno


The real problem was that profile marketing was extremely successful. It seemed that everyone made a big fuss about the intrusion, and then went straight out and bought the goods.

Within moments of waking up, Daniel Xavier Shelton remembered: today was his thirty-eighth birthday. And what a lovely day it seemed to be: the October air felt crisp and clean, and the light had that early-winter coldness that he liked so much. He decided not to work, but to take a day off from the network and go for a long walk instead. This was one of those days he really enjoyed being single.

As the coffee percolated, he turned on the radio. The sentimental strains of Oh, Danny Boy burst into the room. Oh God, he thought as he spun the tuning-dial, I should have known. The radio blipped and squeaked through the closely packed frequencies. He settled on a news channel, catching the end of an item about some potentially menacing new development in the North African trade wars. He listened as he warmed his miso soup.

... And meanwhile, local observers have claimed that heavily subsidized Libyan parallel-processing computers are now being dumped onto sub- Saharan markets. Chad has threatened to retaliate by withdrawing support from the Pan-African Neural Network Agreements which she cosponsored last year with Mali.

And now back to London, where today is the birthday of [a slight voice change here] DANIEL X. SHELTON. Happy birthday, DANNY! This message comes to you from HARVEY WINGER, at your local branch of THE GAP. He'll be looking out for you today, DANNY, and has a small gift for you at the shop. So why not come and say hello to HARVEY at THE GAP?

Bloody hell, thought Danny, They can put a man on Venus but they still can't convincingly match the voice-bites. The news returned, and Danny crossed the room to open the blinds. As he did so, he heard a loud fanfare from the street below. Three smiling young blondes, rather scantily dressed as pageboys, raised long trumpets festooned with heraldic redand- yellow flags and blasted fanfare samples at his window. An awning over their heads proclaimed:

The Swedish Tourist Board congratulates you Danny on your happy day.

Why not spend the next one with us? Call Freeview 0800-SWEDEHOL & we'll show you just how welcoming we can be...

The girls were still fluttering their eyelashes and flexing their hips as Daniel turned away. He was, he told himself, unmoved by their thinly veiled invitations. That stuff was really old hat now. But he was at the same time a little troubled by the realization that, in the eyes of the market profilers, he now belonged to the age-and-status group that would be susceptible to such temptations. And he had to admit that the girl on the left was a bit more interesting than usual. He found himself looking out at her again. For the first time that day, he felt a little middle-aged.

In the background, the computer pinged regularly and persistently as it registered receipt of his email. He relied on his code sorter to pull out the stuff he actually needed to see, but since his model was now over eight weeks old, it would let a lot of the smarter stuff through. The profilers seemed to learn your codes and interests faster than your friends could these days.

From the bathroom window, as he shaved, he caught sight of the puffs of skywriting in the cloudless sky: DANNY! CALL MUM!, it shouted across the top of the city.

MUM, of course, was the acronym for Medical Underwriters' Management, a large health-insurance company. Well, thought Danny, you really have to give them marks for trying. And then he remembered suddenly that he had actually been thinking of extending his medical coverage. Perhaps he would call MUM. He made a note into his handheld.

In the early days of profile marketing (when it was still called junk mail), people made tremendous efforts to remain invisible to the marketresearch companies. The whole thing was felt to be a gross invasion of privacy. There had been numerous attempts to undermine the profiling project: people moved into very poor neighbourhoods, for example, to confuse the computers that generated the profiles, or occasionally bought goods that were completely inconsistent with their lifestyles. Whole universities, in revolutionary temper, invented systems where nobody ever bought anything they might use themselves, but instead engaged in complex forms of barter with one another. It never really got off the ground because of the numerous profile-informers on campus. A lot of people made their way through college secretly profiling their friends.

But the real problem was that profile marketing was extremely successful. It seemed that everyone made a big fuss about the intrusion, and then went straight out and bought the goods.

And so gradually, like all those little invasions, people grew used to it, and even came to expect it. It didn't bode well for your social prospects, for example, if you weren't routinely surrounded by a buzz of sales activity There were even agencies which could generate false marketing activity around you, so that you could appear more sought-after than you actually were. Imagine the situation: you're sitting at a candlelit dinner in a theme-resturant, gazing into the eyes of a new prospective mate, when the waiter discreetly interrupts with a dusty and venerable bottle of Burgundy to which is attached a note:

Best wishes you both for a wonderful evening. Do call in again, Danny, at the Gallery. There's a rather fabulous late Tang vase I think you'd like to see.

Danny got dressed and left the apartment. The air was bracing and he waved away the offer of a limousine ride from F&R HiFi, but accepted the hand-held personal weather forecaster from the Hampstead Garden theme park (where it's always sunny, Danny) and walked swiftly away from the neighborhood.

The park was almost empty. Some ordinary-looking people walked their dogs and the joggers continued their lonely, panting circuits. A slight frost still sparkled on the grass. It felt great to be alive in this big oasis of silence. Danny looked at his new weather forecaster. It showed a picture of clear blue skies and a slowly falling temperature. Then suddenly the tiny screen changed to a slowscan movie of the Nude Themepool at the Hampstead Garden park.

How amazing! There on the screen, smiling and radiant, and slowly lowering her gorgeous nude body into the glittering water, was the page-girl he'd caught himself admiring that morning in the Swedehol ad. Her breathy, girlish voice emerged thinly from the tiny speaker:

It's lovely once you're in, Danny.