I’m a big fan of behavioural economics, so when someone says something like: “I can’t say I’m especially bothered if OkCupid want to use me as a test subject from time to time if it’s for the greater good of the matching algorithm”, I get excited, but also frustrated.
What has any of this have to do with the question of ‘The Greater Good’?
Saying it’s OK, or if you’re not bothered that data being used for empirical analysis is totally fine. But the issue lies deeper, especially if I ask you whether you know what your data is actually used for. Services like OKCupid runs on a complex algorithm that — allow me to be presumptuous here- not your typical blogger knowledge covers (unless you’re a big data statistician then I concede defeat), so what is it that really empowers your overly confident decision in saying that your act of consent by saying ‘OK’ is superior, and should be taken as worthy or even more controversially, ‘morally good’? Saying OK doesn’t always mean saying it’s good.
Saying OK doesn’t always mean that it’s good.
What makes you so confident in saying that you were completely unfazed by OkCupid’s algorithm, and it did not deter you from speaking from a selected pool, notwithstanding that he/she was bearing the mark of a 99% match? To say that is to assume away influences, but I doubt that was your intention. But let me now embark on a self-indulgent rant and say this: the very moment you start talking about matching percentage that “can pique [your] initial interest”, you’ve dealt all your cards to the Love God. This is it and you don’t even know it. I will tell you why.
This is it and you don’t even know it.
OkCupid’s co-founder Christian Rudder talked openly about the “myth of compatibility” and demonstrated, through his, well technically your information, that these numbers actually mean something to people who are given initial match ratings. That they are more likely to initiate conversation because of the information placed there is a concept of ‘nudging’, used by behavioural economists when talking about something being framed in a certain way to attract someone’s choice and attention over alternatives. So if there wasn’t any issue to begin with, then why are we even talking about match ratings as an issue? It’s a tautology!
Data is king and data is power. We are more and more inclined to believe that the power of science and computing technology is at the core of what human nature is. But does it not strike you as odd that our lives are now at the mercy of statistical tools, reduced to nodes and numerical tinkling? Well, it should.
Ultimately, it will slowly “absolve you of the responsibility of the struggle to actually understand the world in a deeper way”. Surrendering of self to incomprehensible jargon is a tragedy, and a mistake. The fact that you felt compelled to justify your indifference in treating someone who is your 30% versus 90% match proves that the framing exists, and your not being “especially bothered” is a mere lack of knowledge and assumptions that you take for granted.
But hey, congrats, because your data is now part and parcel of affirming a multinational corporation with a market cap of $5bn!
The Greater Good
Justice? Tell me your idea of the greater good, lest I misunderstand the premise of your justification. The matching algorithm’s greater good, I hear you say? You need a matching algorithm to tell you whether someone’s interesting, so what happened to creative idiosyncrasies which you seem to hammer on all the time?
But hey, enough of that. My point is, if you’re saying everything is well and jolly, great for you. But please, and at this point I’ll even write you a thank-you card, if you stop confusing greater good for a morality that algorithms by nature, cannot have. Because by doing so, you are effectively putting a cognitive bias on morality, and you are merely trivialising what you deem as “modern manifestation of human attraction”. The greater good isn’t some mechanical, highly sterile 1's and 0's; matching algorithms is as good as it gets precisely because we make it as good as we want.
It’s okay if you want to be a test subject, but bringing morality into this is superficial and 99% disappointing.