Stephen Baker

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Speaking in New Orleans at Webtrends "Engage 2010"

January 29, 2010General

I've been working on my speech for the Webtrends conference next week in New Orleans. I hope to see some of you there. One of the points I'll be discussing is the change, as we process more and more data, in how we perceive reality. We focus less on "facts" (This consumer is a middle-class Latino) to patterns and processes (Look, he buys more cilantro on weekends!)

Of course, we've always known that reality isn't fixed. Heraclitus said 2,500 years ago that
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”

But before we could study these changes, and adapt them to science and commerce, humans had to nail down the essentials. Leonardo and his ilk in the high renaissance were interested in establishing the fundamental nature of things, the facts about anatomy, light and perspective.

Three centuries later, Claude Monet studied hay stacks and cathedrals and focused on how they were different with each changing hour. Their changes defined them.

Now marketers can look at us, not simply as individuals, but as chameleon-like creatures who change according to the time of day, where we are, and whom we're with (or talking to). And by comparing us to millions of others, they predict our mutations. Every day, we're understood less as fixed values, or rocks, and more like the rivers Heraclitus was talking about.

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