You are a Target: 'The Daily You'

From web cookies to mobile thumbprints, you are the medium and the message is that you are being targeted.

The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth

Publisher: Yale University Press
Length: 256 pages
Author: Joseph Turow
Price: $28.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-01

Trying to capture trends within the nebulous field of technology is like trying to pin sand on paper. By the time you’ve researched and written about a nascent observation, it’s morphed and splintered into a hundred fragments. And while advertising has a longer shelf life than technology, it still balances precariously on the edge of datedness.

The two fields have been on a collision course for a few decades now, as sponsors, firms, and businesses wrap their heads around how to harness the power of web advertising or, more appropriately, and how to maximize their profits in the digital age. Joseph Turow attacks this subject as an explorer on a quest for knowledge in The Daily You. It’s a daunting task to delve so deeply into the shadowy realms of data mining companies and giant publicity firms. Sometimes the results of his research pay dividends. Other times, they are weighed down by a forest of contextual ideas and thick prose.

Let’s begin with content—there is plenty. At a slim 200 pages (an additional 50 pages are citations and bibliography), The Daily You, packs a massive amount of information into a small space. Turow’s ability to rattle off hefty paragraphs full of research, numbers, and firsthand accounts explicitly places him in the top tier of experts in the field. Turow is comfortable discussing matters of technology and advertising equally, and is able to structure his thesis in a linear, point-by-point investigation/argument.

In doing so, he assumes you are vested in the topic from the beginning and, as such, thankfully dispenses with all of the tired clichés about the advertising industry and the well-worn problems that face the industry now that our media is primarily digital. Turow’s best arguments come when he lays out his case with real numbers that speak to the decline of advertising revenue in print media (e.g., magazines declined from$20.3 billion in 2006 to $15.6 billion in 2009, while newspapers declined from $46.6 billion in 2006 to $24.8 billion in 2009), instead of the usual broad proclamations with no substance (e.g., “print media is dying”).

The most revelatory passages in The Daily You come when Turow unveils and dissects the big machines behind some of the world’s largest data and publicity firms. Names like Publicis, eXelate, and BlueKai, all of which are discussed at length, are suspiciously lacking from the public discourse on privacy and Internet regulation in favor of brand-heavy social media sites. And Turow’s description of other companies frighteningly exact methods of targeting online ads directly to your customized tastes may not seem like new information, until you realize how much of a commodity you are and how much money is being spent to entice you. Likewise, you are either a “target” or “waste”—neither term reassuring as a social concept. Agency’s methods of tracking you over “the long click” (from ad to purchase) are powerful and multi-faceted; from web cookies to mobile thumbprints, you are the medium and the message is that you are being targeted.

However, for all the research and core concepts Turow lays bare, it’s a maddeningly grueling slog to get from page to page. Turow has sacrificed readability for research and subject relevancy for authorial prowess. He tackles his subjects with the type of lengthy academic prose that’s usually reserved for critical analysis of postmodernism or deconstruction of philosophical conceits. Occasionally, his subject demands it, such as Chapter 5, “Their Masters’ Voices”, wehrein pits the marketing and content industries against one another. But Turow’s text is at its most powerful when it’s set out as a simple series of action and effect:

"To increase the Foursquare population… the company encourages members to ‘add friends.’ Of course, by giving Foursquare access to your Facebook profile, you’re giving it still more data about you. You’ve also added a new stream of data for the Facebook and/or Twitter computers to ponder. Moreover, the encouragement to check in at participating locations does not remind you that this and other Foursquare actions can be viewed by subscribers to those services—plus, in the case of Twitter they may be discoverable by search engines. That bit of information shows up only in one of Foursquare’s privacy policies." (151)

But should I really take Turow to task for tackling his subject with the type of gravity usually reserved for theorists? It’s a question I have struggled with, to be honest. On the one hand, the information within The Daily You is powerful, affective, and urgent. But on the other hand, what good is urgency if it’s not designed to reach the broadest possible audience? The Daily You is written as time-consuming, explicative reading, rather than quick, surface-level skimming. Therefore, interested readers likely won’t make it past the first chapter or two without reconsidering their investment in the subjects at hand.

Turow’s core audience (I hope) would look something like me: educated in both advertising and technology, with a vested interest in the ramifications of both fields. Even so, it was difficult to justify the effort spent to get to a kernel of applicable situations in a daily web user’s life, such as the above Foursquare example.

Most of The Daily You, while prescient, isn’t enough to alter the behavior of the legions of techno geeks, and it especially won’t alter the behavior of the casual web/mobile user. No one is going to stop using Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, or any other web conglomerate within the next five to ten years. And Turow isn’t advocating that we should. Rather, his recommendations are only laid out in the final three pages of the book and are very short on specifics. But we have a long way to go before we reach the tipping point in online protection and, while I would like to say Turow is waging a good fight for consumer protection, he squandered an opportunity with The Daily You by appealing to the smallest audience possible.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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