It has been while since my last post so this story may feel a little old but a discussion last week made me reconsider the whys.
The story concerns Risa Puno giving away free (edible) cookies in return for personal and sensitive information at a Brooklyn Arts Festival. 380 New Yorkers were willing to give away their finger prints, partial social security numbers and have their photos taken without any explanation to what would happen with their information. In fact if and when they did ask she would refer them to her terms of notice which was a page of small legalese giving her the right to share their information with third parties.
Isn’t this completely irrational? OK the cookies looked pretty cool and probably tasted awesome but still it is completely illogical to give something so private away especially when it can be shared with anyone. Do people lose all common sense and thought when it comes to a freebie? The answer is obviously yes AND we all do it all the time and not just for a freebie but for convenience? I don’t necessarily believe in mass irrational behavior though, having read Irving Goffman’s ‘Asylums’ he outlines how we take on roles to cope within our environment. He describes these irrational rituals as institutionalization and quickly I began to see the rational within some of the odd habits you can see exhibited by patients within a medical institution.
On this basis I ask myself how we are conditioned or institutionalized to offer up some of our most personal information so easily and exhibit this irrational ritual nearly every day.
Last week at the TMRE conference I listened to Charles Duhigg talk about his book ‘The Power of Habit’. I have read his book before but listening to him again reminded me of the cookie story. To summarize, our habits are formed from cue’s and rewards. Take the lab rat experiment conducted by Ann Graybiel. This is where a rat is placed in a T-shaped maze with the rat behind a barrier and chocolate at the end, when the barrier goes up there is a click and the rat finds the chocolate and then eats the chocolate. The first time this happened it actually took him a long time to figure out where the chocolate was but as predicted each time he repeated the experiment he got faster and faster. What became interesting were the measurements recorded of the rats brain activity during the experiments, at the beginning the brain activity showed high peaks right from the click of the barrier through to him eating the chocolate, but with each experiment the brain activity dropped between the click and the eating of the chocolate. Over time the rat was literally able to follow the routine between the cue and reward without any brain activity – he had stopped thinking and acted on pure habit.
We do this all the time and I am sure you can remember a situation like arriving at work or home thinking ‘how did I get here’?- we literally switch off and go into a trance when something is routine enough, be it the gym, shopping or scarily the drive home. Is this our institutionalization when it comes to giving our information away? we are doing it every day, each time we go online, each time we purchase and each time we use our store cards, it has become so routine now that even cues and rewards aren’t necessary. This is such a bad habit that our lives can’t really function without doing it, we have agreed to these rituals to function effectively in our world.
Do you think it is rational or irrational to give your information away so freely?