Charles Darwin is often misquoted when referring to the concept of “survival of the fittest”, but his writings specify adaptability as the trait that individuals should strive for if they want to survive (and reproduce). In order for our wallets to survive in the future, we’re going to have to learn to be more adaptable by far. Businesses can tag information, recognize patterns, analyze data, get up-to-the-minute reports and make decisions based on your behavior. As long as there’s a way to opt-out of this, I don’t personally have a problem with any of that, but I sympathize if you do.
It’d be even better if all of these techniques were necessarily opt-in. Unfortunately, I’ve come across a few instances where opting out isn’t a reasonable option. In fact, your only option seems to be to walk away.
Harrah’s Loyalty / Rewards Program
When you go to gamble at most of the casinos operated by Harrah’s, you get to sign up for a rewards card. You swipe the card at the table and points start to accrue. When you reach a certain threshold, you are eligible for free stuff. That’s not particularly special; casinos have always done this. But casino employees used to do this manually, using just their eyes.
Harrah’s has a powerful and massive computer analyzing customer behavior on-the-fly, and here’s how the trick works:
- You’re a regular customer, but not a big spender
- Harrah’s knows how much you’re usually willing to lose on a given trip to the casino, before you leave
- You gamble some, and you start to reach your limit
- A nice Harrah’s employee brings you a free drink
- You start making bad decisions and lose more money at the casino
This can work at any level. Depending on how much you usually spend, they’ll offer you a free dinner, a show, a room, etc. But now, the casino doesn’t have to spend any time watching you, deciding what to offer you, or even personally handing you anything. It’s all electronic and automatic. Swipe, lose, drink, swipe more. In order to survive, we’ll need to be a lot more clever, and understand the machine that is trying to manipulate us. I realize that sounds paranoid, but it’s just a normal fact now.
Of course you can just ignore the Rewards Card (I think), but why would you? Free stuff!
Microsoft Surface Table in the Bar
Speaking of drinking, imagine a table that knows exactly when to offer to refill your drink. What am I saying? You don’t have to imagine it, here’s the video:
Say you go to a bar with one of these tables, and it’s a bar which is honest enough to inform you that they have one of these tables, and you don’t want to be manipulated. It seems that your options now are:
- Be more clever and adaptable
- Leave the bar right away
- Bring your own glass
Who knows, maybe if these smart tables become ubiquitous, carrying your own glass will be trendy. Maybe you could buy one and put your Twitter feed on it. (By the way, you can now follow me on Twitter.)
Updated June 23, 2016 and originally published February 9, 2010.