The arguments for and against access to data by Government have, and will be, widely debated elsewhere, but the underlying message that these prospective laws provide gives us an opportunity to think about our own digital footprint. It’s now some decades since the internet first formed and individuals and businesses started populating servers that provide the backbone of the internet with data. As each year has passed, the amount of data that we provide and the amount of data that is available increases exponentially, and its association with us as individuals increases ever further too.
When I look back now at the body of work that is documented across internet platforms, of my thoughts, of things that I’ve done, of places that I’ve visited, of other people that I’ve chosen to spend time with, and indeed perhaps those that I have not, is all recorded and increasingly available to be searched and interpreted and researched.
This is, of course, exactly where the concerns with the Government legislation come from, in that it’s in the interpretation of the data that we find misinterpretation and things taken out of context. If anyone doubts, for a moment, that the real risks online don’t lie with misinterpretation and context you need only look as far as any social media or active blog site to see that happening every day.
But what we’ve created is a real data legacy; a footprint, a digital footprint, of who we are and how we work and how we think that is stored in several forms around the world with backups on hard disks or computers far and wide, and a digital footprint that’s not likely to fade fast. In conversation in historic meetings in all of recorded history, and I stress recorded history, we’ve never had such a depth of verbatim and instantly recoverable commentary.
That changes the game.
Our children, and our children’s children, will be able to form views about us and the things that we did and the way that we thought, about our views on politics, on the environment, on wars, all of which will be open to a level of scrutiny never seen before and the consequences of which remain unclear at best. That data will be interpreted with the benefit of hindsight, with the knowledge of what actually happened as well as what we speculated about. The frameworks for all the interpretation will not be the frameworks in which it was delivered but the framework in which it is interpreted, and that makes the context of our legacy as important as the legacy itself.
I have no way of predicting whether, in fact, this data is as transitory as other histories, whether in time it too will be wiped from our disks through technology change that has made all the data on the floppy disks that we may hold at the back of cupboards unrecoverable. I’ve no way of knowing that, but I have way of identifying what actions I should take, and that’s to look at how the data about me and the data that I provide is presented and appears in the scheme of today’s frameworks, and ensuring that it is as representative of me and of those that I know and love and cherish as it can be.
That requires a change of mindset, it requires you to think in the long-term whilst acting in the short-term as opposed to thinking only in the ‘now’.
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