Thursday, 2 February 2012

Own Your Digital Self

William Gibson (@greatdismal himself) on our changing mindscape:

At the last Educational Computing Conference in Ontario, there were a lot of presentations on digital footprints.  In every case, a few, older Luddites were struggling against a perceived loss of privacy while everyone else was being (as @greatdismal says above so well) 'benignly assimilated into the borg.'

This is one of those moments where you need to recognize a seismic shift in perception.  Two hundred years ago you weren't private, you were a public object identified by your clothing, where you lived, how you spoke, who you were related to and what you did for a living.  This common knowledge defined you.  Saying that you didn't want any of it to get out because you wanted privacy would seem bizarre.

Thirty years ago, you were all of those older ideas of social identity advertising yourself as you moved more efficiently in motorized transport.  Some few found their identities ruled by media, but this was a function of how limited access to that media was.  Three decades ago the first bits of digital information where hanging on you, like your phone number (publicly available in a phone book, and still available through other means if you were struggling to retain the privacy you never had by going unlisted).  Later on fax numbers began to follow us around, and then things got busy.

In the early days of the internet, digital information about us blossomed.  Unlike earlier, industrialized media, the two-way internet pushed everyone into the lime light.  Work emails, then personal emails, then work webpages, then personal webpages, then social media came along and surrounded us with constellations of public information.  We can try and bury our heads in the sand, not participate, not take control of this data, but it won't succeed in removing you from this equation.

Whenever you make a financial transaction, or communicate, you're adding data to your digital shadow.  You have a choice to author that data, but if you choose not to, it'll end up authoring itself, or even worse, someone else will author it for you.

Those digital footprint seminars all came back to the same idea: the most powerful thing you can do in a rapidly expanding world of data is be yourself and present yourself as you want to be perceived.  Burying your head in the sand doesn't show your best public side to the datasphere.

As you may have already guessed, resistance is futile.

Looking for an interesting sci-fi angle on this?  Daniel Suarez' DAEMON & FREEDOM novels will knock you into the 21st Century with some radical, technical plausibility!

"The Matrix is everywhere, all around us, even in this very room.  You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television, can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes..."