Nanny State

Editor's Note: Kiss Privacy Goodbye—and Good Riddance, Too



This is no ordinary issue of reason—or of any other magazine, either. The cover is an aerial shot of my home in Oxford, Ohio. If you were a subscriber to reason, you would have received a unique copy with your own home on the cover. What's more, the ads on the back covers would have been customized to you and your neighborhood.

In collaboration with the direct marketing firm Entremedia, printer maker Xeikon, image provider AirPhotoUSA, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, we utilized bleeding-edge technologies that allowed us to tailor each copy of this month's run to virtually all of our subscribers. That's more than 40,000 unique versions in all. (Another 15,000 or so readers such as yourself received this generic version with my home on the cover.) This issue hints at a future of hyper-individualized publications that will be assembled for an audience of one: you. Articles, news, commentary—even ads and catalogs—could be targeted so you get only the information and offers in which you're clearly interested.

This sort of targeting relies on what we dub a "Database Nation" in our cover story, which starts on page 26. Our story explores "the unsung benefits that have accompanied the 'databasification' of American society," describing how many of the popular and convenient transactions we take for granted are the result of readily accessible information that lays you bare to the prying eyes of others. In effect, the same easily accessed information networks that tell me that 47.51 percent of my neighbors have college degrees or better, or that 0.81 percent of the kids in my ZIP code are cared for by their grandparents, make it easier for you to get a credit card or mortgage.

Living in a database nation raises innumerable privacy concerns. But it also makes life easier and more prosperous. We may have kissed privacy goodbye—and good riddance, too.