Data Miners Could Misinterpret the Motherlode

Phyllis Nissila

Or: “On the Chuckle Side of Data Mining“–reprinted from my “For Grins” page because, well, it seems even more timely now. Cheers, “miners,” and just remember: things are not always what they seem.


I overheard the group discussing “data mining.”

“Even though I save a lot of money,” said “Alice,” “it creeps me out that Big Brother can find out what I eat, wear, and what brand of toilet paper I prefer when I use my store savings cards.”

“Not to mention ‘he’ knows when I have a rash, PMS, or a sudden craving for Moose Tracks ice cream,” added “Brenda.”

“It makes you think twice before buying stuff like Preparation H or a case of Cheez Whiz,” said “Linda.” “I mean, what will people think?”

(Cheez Whiz? Linda? Who knew!)

Then “Mary” spoke up. “Even though they know what I buy when I use my cards,” she said, with a grin,” “They don’t have a clue as to who I really am.”

“Say, what?” Jaws dropped.

“As far as anybody tracking my purchases knows,” chuckled Mary, “I have wicked aches and pains. I have bowel irregularities and bladder inconsistencies. I have vertigo on occasion, and I regularly retain water. I eat unexciting food although I do buy a six-pack of Bud Light and a half-case of root beer on the holidays. And I purchase a fistful of prescriptions once a month to keep several major organs going.”

Sound of crickets.

“Guys!” exclaimed Mary. “I shop for my folks!”

“Oh, of course!” said Alice. “For a minute there I thought, ‘You never really know what a person deals with.’”

“But doesn’t it bother you,” asked Brenda, “that data miners think you’re an obviously elderly woman—and/or man—with a bucket load of problems? I mean, what if the conspiracy theorists are right, and the end result of all this information gathering is a premature government-sponsored trip to the Big Grocery Store in the Sky?”

“That used to bug me, too,” replied Mary. ”But now I just enjoy the savings—and the ruse. I mean, after all, if I wanted to be concerned about someone thinking everything in my shopping cart is for me, I’d start with people in the grocery store. But even that situation has its up side. I kind of like the speedy attention I get because I’m toting two 60 count packs of Poise in my cart. I like the prompt service at the pharmacy when I’ve come for four bottles of heart meds. And I never have to worry about, ah, unwanted conversations.”

Heads nodded.

“Still and all,” sighed Brenda, the senior member of the bunch, “I kind of miss the really old days when certain products came in plain brown paper packages.”

“Yeah,” chimed in Alice. “And the days when Big Brother was only an annoying sibling who blamed everything on you.”

“And,” added Linda, “the era when data mining was still an unripened thought in George Orwell’s mental cache of the future machinations of a malignant global government.”

(A what? When? Linda?)

“Anybody need anything from the store? asked Mary. “I need to pick up some jock itch ointment and a prescription for hormone replacement therapy.”

“Now THAT combo ought to muck up the data dig,” laughed Brenda.

“Yeah, come to think of it,” said Mary. “Hey, just for fun, I ought to add a pregnancy test kit to Mom’s tab.”

Update: since I wrote this last year, Mom has moved onto an assisted living campus. The shopping I do now is very different: no more meds pick-ups (the facility handles that) and few, if any, groceries (meals are included in her rent). About the only telling items listed on my super-saver card shopping receipt these days are several varieties of certain personal care products that are frequently  on “two-for-one” sales, so we stock up. Mom and I joke that she could start a lucrative little gig on the side selling those in-demand items to her peeps in the geri-hood. As for my data-mine rep–based on my revised shopping list, it would seem I am in worse repair even than last year in certain departments, I no longer have much of an appetite, and maybe I’ve recently purchased stock in personal care products manufacturing companies. But a mystery remains: what happened to the dude? Pssssst: he’s in another facility for different health reasons and I don’t shop for him anymore, but so as to not spoil the fun, that will just be our little secret ;). 


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1 Response to Data Miners Could Misinterpret the Motherlode

  1. Cathy says:

    The Data Dig, on my husband’s shopping spree’a at Cosco, would be quite interesting…..we are talking BULK!!! So Big Brother, GO TO IT…….ENJOY the TRACKING! In the END, what can you do, to the individual?


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