Will Data Replace Religion?

New technologies are forging a close and intimate relationship between people and their personal data.

Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of sensor-embedded products present in our everyday lives. Products such as watches, eyeglasses, shirts, and even headphones are being equipped with smart sensors that gather important data around the most mundane of daily activities. In turn, this new information is being leveraged to uncover information based on the wearer’s health, lifestyle, and even personality, giving greater insight into the way our minds and bodies work. This vast new influx of data is beginning to give us new ways of perceiving the world, and forging an intimate bond between the user and their data.

In collaboration with the minds behind The Curve Report from NBCUniversal, PSFK is investigating the rise of omni-present data collection, and how new tracking technologies are giving rise to a new type of culture around the power of information.

The Curve Report states that 88% of Gen Xers and Ys agree that personal tracking and documenting web sites and devices have made them more self-aware, and 64% say technology makes them a better person. Additionally, as many as 81% say that technology helps them better understand the world at large; it would seem that Gen Xers and Ys are seeking meaning in their existence, and believe that data and technology can provide it. This new faith is becoming a religion unto itself, as more and more people are turning to technology to answer life’s larger questions. Given this opportunity, brands are stepping in to help consumers reach a certain level of enlightenment and give them the tools to help visualize their personal data in new and meaningful ways.

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Pharmacy chain Walgreens has put this idea in motion by creating a community-based support platform for their ‘Balance Rewards’ program members. Users can log their hard earned miles from walking or running, or sync other physical activities from fitness devices with the Balance Rewards Program to track their progress and goals. In exchange, they will earn points they can use towards their next purchase. The 75 million program members can also interact with each other online by sharing stories and working towards badges around each individual’s goals. Rewards points can be used on almost any product available at Walgreens, which is in effect treating personal fitness data as a form of digital currency that can be traded for real products and services.

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Another brand taking an interesting approach to the daily usage of personal data is mustard company Grey Poupon. The company has created a members-only Facebook page, dubbed ‘The Society of Good Taste,’ which only accepts people whose personal data reflects a certain level of cultural refinement. By using an algorithm that scans applicant’s public information to interpret ‘taste,’ they are reviewed based upon the following categories: proper use of grammar, art taste, restaurant check-ins, books read and movie selections, among others. This digital barrier to entry challenges users to stand up to the brand’s discerning taste, and employs personal data from various social channels as a way to determine the fundamental aspects of a person’s character.

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Amid this sea of new data, startups are searching for innovative ways to separate out strands of relevant data and help this information better serve the user. For example, Quantify.io is an open source website that aims to liberate a user’s personal data from their health devices.  The site serves as a personal fitness data aggregator, which lets users upload the data from all their various fitness trackers to secure online lockers where they can combine it, remix it, and give it to developers to use in new, open source apps. The platform gives people greater control and security over their data, as well as the opportunity to let it flow between an entire ecosystem of devices. Quantify.io represents a powerful step towards separating personal data from its individual sources, and letting it co-mingle in order to give users information about their lives in relation to the lives of others, providing a greater scope of knowledge.

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Image via The Curve Report

While it may still be unclear what exactly this increased interest in quantifying every aspect of our lives is leading to, it is apparent that young people are seeking out answers, and technology seems to be the surest vehicle for delivering quantifiable facts and a heightened sense of consciousness for today’s population. According to research from The Curve Report, 65% of Gen Xers and Ys believe that personal belief will be more relevant than the church 10 years from now, and 60% say they sometimes use Google to help them find answers to big life questions. When faced with life’s larger existential questions, coming generations are finding personal data to be a compelling new lens through which to view themselves, that is backed up by quantifiable metrics which provide a higher level of awareness about our existence.

For a closer look at what the future of data holds, be sure to head over to The Curve Report to check out Counter Culture, which takes an in-depth look at how Gen Xers and Ys are forging a close and spiritual connection with their personal data.

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The Curve Report from NBCUniversal

Counter Culture

Images via The Curve Report,Walgreens, Grey Poupon, Quantify.io, Jawbone

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