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Technology: A Two-Way Street

By Greg Harris

Technology Something's different these days at my dinner table. There's a little less quarreling, and I suspect it's because of technology. We argue less because virtually all debates can be resolved with a few taps on a cell phone.

I was watching a TV show where a wife was frustrated by her husband's lack of attention. She said, "What's more interesting that phone or me?" His response was something like, "Well let's see, I have access to 2,000 years of human kind's collective knowledge in my hand versus…." He cleverly didn't finish that sentence, but he made a good point.

How did we ever live without these things? I remember as a college student backpacking through Europe one summer. After six weeks and eight countries, I decided to call my parents. This was the first inkling they had that I had arrived safely. Today, our need to be connected with others is so much stronger.

About the time I was traipsing through Europe, IBM was launching the first mass market personal computer. Today's cell phone is at least 200 times faster and can store 100,000 times more data at a fraction of the price.

How has a smartphone changed your life? I've only been "smart" for a few years now, but I'm amazed at how much of life has become phone-centric. I call, I email and I text. I check the weather, check the news and check the stock market. I check my flights, change my seats and retrieve my boarding pass. I take, edit and post photos. I pay my bills, track credit card usage and deposit checks. I take videos, have video chats and make custom ringtones. I take notes, set alarms, make lists and schedule my calendar. I play music, watch movies and set my DVR. I shop for the best gas prices and comparison shop online while I'm in a store. I get news alerts, sports alerts and birthday reminders. I do all of this with my nose buried in my phone.

Everything in my life is apparently easier because of my smart phone. I'm fighting less, communicating more and am always reachable. I forget less and get my chores done faster. Can we conclude that this is the perfect time to be alive? Maybe, but let's look at what else all this technology has enabled.

I went to a website that specialized in showing what information about me is available for sale. I've been known to walk out my front door in my bathrobe, so privacy is not my most vital concern in life, but I was curious about what I've been inadvertently sharing. I went to AboutTheData.com and registered to discover what they knew.

I felt like the software was cheating when it asked me a ton of personal information before actually showing my profile. They assured me that they were simply making sure it was really me so that only I could view my information (unless of course, someone wanted to buy it).

To register they asked me my date of birth, but the first result they showed me was my date of birth and it was wrong. Hmm, not off to a great start. I was offered the ability to edit my profile, but I decided not to give them any help.

Then I started reading the 150 data elements they have amassed about my life. For the most part they knew a lot about me. My ethnicity, education, marital status, and how much equity I have in my home are all data points available for sale. My profile knew my kids no longer live at home and what kind of car I drive. It had an household income estimate that was very close to the actual number.

My profile contained a long list of purchases and "interests." It knew I buy online more than offline and correctly showed a personal weakness for electronic gadgets. It incorrectly noted that I purchase women's apparel, but correctly reported that I own a pet (but it didn't know that the pet really owns me). The profile stated that I own a PC and am an avid music listener. Both my political party affiliation and the type of home heater I own are apparently no secret either.

The profile was generally accurate, but somehow it was reassuring that the profile wasn't perfect.

Technology is most certainly a two-way street. These are the best of times and the worst of times. I’m personally willing to trade a little privacy for the wealth of information that's flowing through our fingers these days.

Jameco does its best to use what little we know about our customers to help target our communications. For example, we recently sent educators suggestions about how to incorporate LEDs when teaching electronics, we sent hobbyists coupons for free shipping and we identified corporate buyers who we noticed should place a reorder so they didn't run out of product.

Data, from our perspective, is generally a good thing. Jameco is exceptionally careful about what we do with the data we have and every one of our customers has the right to control their own privacy by opting out of communications from Jameco at any time. We work extra hard to make sure that what we send is something we think you'll value. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reference the Jameco's privacy policy.