Have you ever thought about the implications of making credit card purchases? You and product become linked in someone's computer files. Who has information on this connection? Banks? Credit card companies? the Feds? Greenpeace? And what does even having such information mean?

To obtain the right to use any credit card, bearers must surrender a portion of their biographies: address, age, education, marital status, children, the Social Security numbers of both self and spouse, other credit cards' numbers, employer and employment history, and so on. To further augment their data on you, various incentives or gifts may be obtained if you volunteer even further information: your interests and hobbies, perhaps what you read, and what "special deal" you were willing to take advantage of (have you ever wondered why American Express pushes the products it does?). When compiled, these details can then be "processed," compared with the clusters of details of all other card holders, to produce a biographical profile. These profiles do not depict the unique and wonderful individual that you are, but rather pigeon-hole you into a type of self, a type of person who can be predicted to consume certain types of things. And all of this is linked to (and thereby accessible with) one number.

This self profile undergoes continuous refinements, leading to ever greater precisions in predicting future behaviors. First, your background information is linked to an ever-growing number of purchases over time. Secondly, the information linked with one credit card number can be matched and coupled with the information linked with other credit card numbers owned. So you purchase from your kinky sex toy catalogue using your American Express card, buy your adult toxins (cigs and booze) with your Discover, and use your Visa to replenish the kids' wardrobe? Even more frightening is how this information can, in turn, be linked with the information tagged by one's Social Security number. With these numbers, you and your Wharton Business school education, second wife, vibrator and size-3 kids' shoes are now linked with your insurance policies ("Save the Frogs" as a beneficiary?) and your medical (add the herpes to the list) and mental (the Prozac has really helped) histories, your relationships with the IRS, and, with the files of the legal establishment (hey, I wasn't inhaling). Bottom line: you are going to purchase GM's 1997 new Dooda model, your wife is about ready for a tummy-tuck, and your kids will be into Heavy Metal.

Beyond making such personal and familial profiles and predictions, the information gurus also can aggregate the data of you and your neighbors to create profiles of entire communities. The "tag number" here is the zip code associated with the credit card numbers. With this, personal data can be linked with all of the Census Bureau information paid for by taxpayers. Wonder why the adult bookstore opened in your strip mall next to the Sound Warehouse? These folks have got our residences pegged down to forty types of neighborhoods and predict such things as NOW membership, subscription rates of Soap Opera Digest, consumption rates of canned corned-beef hash and bottled water, and viewing rates of "Love Connection" and "Donahue."

Thinking about using cash? They'll bust you. A study five years ago found 97 percent of all paper money in the U.S. contains traces of cocaine!

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