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  • Writer's pictureWinston Peng

Personal Identity = Image + Instinct + Traits

Updated: Apr 29, 2019

Characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993

There are ways we can describe people. We can identify their unique attributes by their physical appearance (image), their natural reactions (instincts) and personality (traits). Together, they form an identity of a person.

Image descriptions can include tall, short, fair, and dark. Instincts are natural tendencies in decision making like stop, proceed, hold and divert. Personality are behavioural traits like friendly, extrovert, irritable or emotional.

In this article, I will attempt to explain which one comes first and which one comes last. Which information is more valuable in the digital domain.

When a child is born, it inherits biological cells from the parents. And this includes the DNA that carries genetic materials expressed in a certain sequence. The sequence determine parts of our physical appearance and our traits, but only to a certain extent.

An infant would be fed with a range of food, presented with toys and communicated with a range of expressions by its parents. It can be said that the parents are presenting a set of options for the infant. The curious infant would not reject anything at first. After tasting these experiences over time, the infant begin to develop what it likes, and what it doesn't like. The infant has developed a taste.

Taste becomes a binary decision of accept or reject. Any subsequent offers similar to the decision that was accepted earlier becomes an opportunity. Those similar to rejected decisions earlier are threats. Opportunities are embraced (pulled in) and threats are pushed away.

Eventually, these pull and push motor actions become instincts. A child would begin to react based on its instincts.

The child is soon presented with a wider variety of options. As the brain and body grows, it needs more complex nutrition and activities. These new needs translate to more sophisticated options. For example, solid food and puzzle toys are more challenging. Here, the child uses its instinct to tackle them at first. Then it realizes that what was suppose to be an easy opportunity now requires more complex choices. The child begins to visualize solutions to the problems. Trial and error kick in.

Both successful and unsuccessful outcomes are retained in the memory. Instincts undergo periodical adjustments. With enough practice, the interplay between gene attributes, decision making, outcomes and instincts become a person's mental process abstraction. It becomes a decision control model in the brain that shapes a person's intuitive powers.

The consequences of these decisions manifest in the personality. It resulted from habitual decision patterns to become traits. These traits manifest in physical and behavioural aspects. It can cause a person to be healthy or unhealthy for example. It can result in a person being patient, meticulous or outspoken. The child's surrounding has contributed to shaping its taste and traits as much as its DNA.

How valuable is the information about a person's traits?

Today, we are ever concerned about data privacy. Google and Facebook are being sued for infringement of privacy laws. What is the value and purpose of this data privacy really? If data privacy has value, which type of data is more valuable?

Image, instinct or traits? Which data are Google and Facebook collecting?

Our names, email addresses and passwords are our digital image. It separates us from another individual without having to go deeper to evaluate their traits. Most apps already have this part of your data. Privacy on the other hand, is valuable when you don't want to receive junk mails for example, invite prowling identity thieves.

Then comes our keyword searches, timestamp and location data. They tell Google and Facebook where we are, what we seek and when we seek them. If someone hacks into Google, or a government pays Facebook to reveal the current activities of users, they can be spied upon. Your whereabouts can be determined and soon everything will be under the watchful eyes of institutions and authorities. Freedom is stifled.

What you 'like' on Facebook basically reveal your instincts and your decision trends. They are good indicators of your consumption patterns. Together with keywords, timestamp and location, they are excellent analytics for targeted marketing. Advertising and promotion are reasons why Google and Facebook are the top 5 companies in the world in terms of market capitalization.

What you type into Google's keyword searches and Facebook's status are indications of your traits. These would not be very useful for spying but would be helpful in targeted marketing. Products and services are created to solve our daily problems. They attempt to change or strengthen our traits. That's why we buy them. Eating a chocolate makes us happy so we buy them. At the same time, they make us unhealthy because of sugar and calories. Therefore sugar-free chocolates become a middle-ground solution. They are designed to leverage on our trait contradictions.

So which of these personal data are more valuable?

  • Digital Image - name, emails, addresses and passwords. Risk of identity theft that can cause asset impairment. Your bank accounts can be hacked if your identity is stolen.

  • Digital Instinct - keywords, likes, time and location. Risk of being spied. Good tool for targeted marketing.

  • Digital traits - patient, logic, emotional, healthy, obese. Almost risk free. Good marketing tool.

From an individual perspective, data about digital image would be most important. People have assets tied to them in the digital domain and losing them to internet crimes would be disastrous.

From corporate perspective, if I was Google and Facebook, then instinctive data would be the most valuable as it would generate tremendous analytics and advertising income for me.

But from my own personal view, the data I would crave most would be the environmental data that influences the traits of a person. They influence a person's instincts that ultimately define a person's traits. They define a person's way of life. They define a community's culture. They curate your identity. Environmental data influence who you become. It gives you one step ahead in predicting trends.

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