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The Identity Project

I receive hundreds of pieces of spam and e-mail advertisements each  day, and pounds and pounds of direct mail delivered by the US Postal Service each month. It’s all quite annoying, but a recent piece of email from Amazon.com got me thinking: since my demographic characteristics, combined with what I do online and what I shop for offline, help to create a profile that advertisers use to reach me, who exactly do marketers imagine that I am? And how accurate is the picture that they’ve created? (Could they possibly know me better than I know myself?)

Of course, my job requires me to buy books and do online browsing that I might not otherwise do. (If I wasn’t a writer, for instance, would I be browsing Barbie Doll blogs? Probably not. Would I be looking at books about corporate wellness programs? Nope.) But still, can’t deny that I mostly do the projects that interest me, so I can’t really say that the web habits of Alison Wellner the writer are misleading about the inner life of Alison Wellner the person.

So I’ve decided to make a side project out of constructing a picture of myself based on the direct mail, both e-mail and snail mail,  that I receive.

Here’s that email from Amazon.com (abridged) to start off. From this, I learn that I am: interested in creativity and ideas, deeply paranoid, hypochondriacal and unhappy with my job. ( I would label these as true, maybe just a little bit true, false and false.)

Dear Amazon.com Customer,

We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased "Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius" by Michael Michalko also purchased books by Michael R. LeGault. For this reason, you might like to know that Michael R. LeGault’s "Think! : Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye" is now available . You can order your copy at a savings of 34% by following the link below.

[okay, this makes sense. I’m interested in creativity, and I subscribe to the New Yorker, so a book that seems to arguing with Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book Blink would be something I’d at least look at. But then there’s this:]

More to explore…

How To Survive a Robot Uprising : Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion

[What?!? What have I ever done in my online life to make Amazon think I’m worried about a robot uprising? Should I be? I did enjoy the movie I, Robot with Will Smith.]http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/1596910615/ref=pe_snp_782 

The Hypochondriac’s Pocket Guide to Horrible Diseases You Probably Already Have

[Okay…maybe my days of writing health articles for womens’ magazines is coming back to haunt me.]http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/1582344922/ref=pe_snp_782 

50 Jobs Worse Than Yours

[But I’m a freelancer!]

Sincerely,

Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/1582345929/ref=pe_snp_782 

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