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Are rewards programs rewarding?

Call me a skeptic, but the myriad of retail store “rewards” programs are lost on me.

In case you aren’t aware, these are the programs that nearly every retailer constantly pushes, complete with the little plastic cards that, when scanned, allow companies to track your spending habits.

In exchange for offering up your personal information, the retailers dangle special deals to their “members.”

Invariably, I refuse to sign up for most of these. My thinking is they’re mostly just trying to use the information to somehow extract more money from me by tracking my spending habits.

At some point, however, I’ve had a couple of weak moments and caved in to a nice clerk seeking to sign up new rewards members.

Walgreens is one of those weak moments. I don’t dwell much about it mostly, but the other day I was wowed by their technology.

Clearly, they had put together lots of data in seemingly useful ways — useful for them at least.

With just a swipe of my credit card,Walgreens prompted me to update my personal information presumably after they’d noticed a prescription recently paid for with the same credit card was associated with a different address than was originally on the rewards card. Walgreens had just learned we’d moved recently.

That got me thinking, if Walgreens can take what they know about me and use it for its own benefit, could the same technology be used to help make our government more effective?

Imagine what would happen if a technology company, such as Google or Apple was running our local government.

Every bit of public government information in city and county government would be linked together in a database.

While the thought freaks me out at least a bit, it also opens up some interesting opportunities.

If the government took the information about me that it already has — the amount of taxes I pay through property taxes, car tags and the like — could government decisions become more meaningful and tangible to me?

Let’s consider a few issues facing the community.

Just this past week, we learned that inmates at the Adams County Jail had made an attempted escape.

They managed to knock out a third-story window at the jail, but didn’t escape.

The sheriff — and the two sheriffs before him — has said the community needs to consider replacing the current jail, which is approximately 40 years old.

But what will it take to make it a reality?

If the matter could simply be put to a vote asking, for example, do you support a new jail which will allow the county to house more inmates, more efficiently costing X dollars per year, would voters more quickly support the new jail?

What about the much-discussed recreation complex project?

Would residents be more apt to push the matter through if they knew exactly how much such a facility would affect their personal bottom line?

In addition to pooling information with technology, it’s not unimaginable to think that a system could be created to also allow citizens to help make direct decisions in government as well.

That might be a rewards program worth joining.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.