Published on November 6th, 2013 | by Ganna Pogrebna

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Technology, Data and Decisions We Make

Every day we interact with technology and (oftentimes, without realising it) generate enormous amount of data about ourselves. Many of us even have distinct data habits, traces of which could be found in our smartphones or in social media. My day, for example, starts with an app which records my diet and exercise. Only a few years ago my sister (a professional volleyball player) used to nag me about my exercising regularly and would give me that disapproving look when I shirked and skipped the gym for a dinner with friends at my favourite French restaurant. Today, this job is done by the app which gives me warnings if I eat too much ice-cream (yes, it does happen!) and reminds me of scheduled runs or gym visits. Many of us use apps to shop for groceries, track our expenses, chat with friends and family, etc.

But do we actually know how much data we generate? And how often do we look back at the data we’ve generated to give these data a second thought and use them to change our behaviour? Personally, I do not know many people who do that. In fact, I think many of us do not realise or simply neglect self-generated data. In my social circle, the brightest example of this type of “data neglect” are my friends Rob and Alice, busy lawyers from New York City, who have an enormous amount of gadgets in their household tracking their energy consumption. Yet, leading very busy professional lives, they never review any of the figures collected by these gadgets and always keep all lights as well as two of their TVs switched on because they feel bad about leaving their German shepherd dog alone in the house all day. Clearly, my friends’ energy consumption data is wasted as it does not help them make optimal choices.

Before I joined the BIG group, I did not even realise that my personal choice data was collected by a myriad of different devices with which I interacted all day and that instead of using these data to make better decisions, I was wasting them completely. And there I was only a few months ago suddenly looking at my data from smartphone apps, shocked at how stupid some of my choices were! At one point I even thought that getting a PhD in Economics was a waste of time since it did not seem to teach me anything about making smarter decisions in my day-to-day life! Yet, if like me, you were neglecting your data, there is still hope. Do stop and look at what your technology tells you, pay attention to what you do and, who knows, maybe in just a few months you will reduce your bills, save for that fantastic vacation you’ve always dreamed of and even lose a few pounds! After all, if online companies are collecting and using your data, why should you neglect it? So, next time you see an annoying personalised advert on Facebook or Yahoo! for shoes that you would not consider buying even if someone held you at gunpoint, maybe this would be a good reminder that if you do not use your data, someone else will…

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Ganna Pogrebna is an Associate Professor with the Service Systems research group at WMG. Ganna studies how decision-makers reveal their preferences, learn, co-ordinate and make trade-offs in static and dynamic risk and uncertain environments with policy applications to innovation, leadership, finance and healthcare.

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