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Last week’s lecture discussion about big data being about you in both the singular and the plural resonated when I read this BuzzFeed article this morning, detailing the ways in which Urban Outfitters describes its customer data to investors with hilariously specific names like “girl who has not yet realized quirky is sexy” and “upscale homeless”.

Immediately I thought that this was the real danger of big data: the use of abstraction in order for capital to assimilate us, sort of like the Post-Industrial answer to Fordist education (in which the consumer was taught what to want) except the other way around. Instead of teaching desire patterns, let them emerge and jettison outliers. It is impossible for a service industry to continue to see returns to scale if it continues to atomize production based on individual consumers. What better way to eliminate the need to do so then to sand down the edges of identities and individuals while claiming that the categorization brings about maximum efficiency?

It bears mentioning that Urban Outfitters is headed by a board that regularly pumps money that it scrapes off the hides of the “upscale homeless” and drops it into big Oil, anti-gay hate groups, and super PACs that work to undermine the radical reform that the financial industry so desperately needs. Coding its buying base in ways that investors can understand and tailor their investment strategies lends Urban Outfitters the epistemological legitimacy it needs to continue to participate in the late capitalist economic order. What then do we do when we’d rather not be called “upscale homeless” or anything even remotely as ridiculous?