One compulsive click later, I found myself at the Facebook Ad Board. This fascinating page contains all the ads served to me at any given time, based on input from my profile.
Here's part of my Ad Board page.
Right now the ads are seedy and hit-or-miss, probably based more on my gender and age than any other unique details.
It didn't even get my alma mater right, which is embarrassing, considering Facebook once catered specifically to universities. (You'd think my choice of college is the one detail against which it could best serve ads.)
What beguiles me is the transparency of this ad board. It's probably a decent reflection of how well most websites interpret the information you provide. As your profile and the advertisers change, you can watch that interpretation evolve!
In the context of the "you-are-as-the-'net-sees-you" mindset, which is growing in popularity (and by its own definition, fast evolving into an absolute truth), it won't be long now before somebody can viably argue that you are a reflection of what the Ad Board -- any ad board -- serves you.
Is that what I want?
As a consumer, sure. By all means, ad guys, sharpen your targeting capabilities. Feed me cookies, track my eyeballs. Ads that I enjoy will improve my content landscape -- and generate more conversions for you.
Philosophically, however, I'm not fond of the idea. I don't like thinking that what I am -- all the AWESOME that is ME -- can be distilled in a lovingly-terraced product grid.
...but that's just a conceit, isn't it?
For the cult that believes we can only be defined by how others perceive us, it isn't such a big jump to assert "you are what Google says you are." And from there, it doesn't strike me as unreasonable to say you are defined by what you buy.
Or by the ads you click on.
All advertisers need are more sophisticated lenses.* Then, voilà: mirror to your soul.
*They're getting sharper by the minute. Read about Phorm, which works with ISPs to track all your online activities, creating a more accurate collection of your loves and hates than Facebook could ever dream of eliciting from you.