The Scoreboards Where You Can’t See Your Score • ©[NYTimes.com]
The characters in Gary Shteyngart’s novel “Super Sad True Love Story” inhabit a continuously surveilled and scored society.
Consider the protagonist, Lenny Abramov, age 39. A digital dossier about him accumulates his every health condition (high cholesterol, depression), liability (mortgage: $560,330), purchase (“bound, printed, nonstreaming media artifact”), tendency (“heterosexual, nonathletic, nonautomotive, nonreligious”) and probability (“life span estimated at 83”). And that profile is available for perusal by employers, friends and even strangers in bars.
It’s a fictional forecast of a data-deterministic culture in which computer algorithms constantly analyze consumers’ profiles, issuing individuals numeric rankings that may benefit or hinder them.
Observing a street billboard that publicly broadcasts the score of each passer-by, the Abramov character says in the novel, “The old Chinese woman had a decent 1,400, but others, the young Latina mothers, even a profligate teenaged Hasid puffing down the street, were showing blinking red scores below 900, and I worried for them.”
In two nonfiction books, scheduled to be published in January, technology experts examine similar consumer-ranking techniques already in widespread use.