Would you give me permission to read your mind?

After finishing graduate school I was looking for a job and in the meantime freelanced. I was an internet strategy consultant. I was designing websites primarily for nonprofit organizations.

Well into a relationship with a client, I was called to come to a meeting with the chair of their board where an outside vendor was going to make a sales pitch for some new web technology.

The pitch: Their technology would read the minds of website visitors.

No, really, I’m not joking.

They said they could read the minds of people visiting the website and, based on realtime information, would deliver the exact content and experience the website visitor desired.

They would know when the visitor was bored and new information needed to appear on the page.

And, they would be able to tell what kind of information, too. They could tell when a sports fan would want to hear a sound file of the cheering of the crowd roar from their speakers.

Throughout this whole presentation, it was difficult not to burst out laughing.

With Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing fresh in my educated mind, I thought of the privacy concerns: “Does the customer opt-in to the company reading your mind and thoughts?”

In an innocent Columbo-esque way, I asked such a thing. The answer was that of course the customer would be okay with it because it brings them pleasure and satisfies them in their experience.

Would it be okay? Really?

“And if my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.” -Bob Dylan.

I don’t think so.

The last people (maybe) who consumers will want to have reading their minds are companies trying to sell them something.

When the vendors had left, I expressed my outrageous skepticism. I sent the company’s ink to some people I went to graduate school with and we had a good laugh. That evening at home, I browsed the company’s website. The product demonstration was full of lovely stock photos of nature scenes, rainbows, and animals. Eventually music loaded.

I walked away from my computer and had forgotten to close the browser window. Upon my return the message on the screen had changed:

“Since you’ve enjoyed this page so much and have been studying it so carefully, here are some links we think you’ll like.”

I was just thinking about how great the sandwich I had eaten was.

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