From my experience with developing web sites and applications that incorporate social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and my experience as an end-user (I consume video, engage friends on Facebook and strangers on Twitter and Google Plus, read blogs, and RSS every day), I have become very sensitive/attuned to how much of my activity is recorded. I am sure that, by now, most North Americans are at least faintly aware that their personal information is ‘out there’, somewhere, and not as private as it was pre-Internet. Paranoia of this varies among people and you may find it as surprising and as controversial a topic to discuss with a friend as religion, politics, or teen pregnancy.
This is not a post about privacy. Instead, what I think about is how the information that we are storing willingly and unwillingly is eventually going to become as real and tangible as a criminal record or a passport.
Take, for example, the following services and imagine you are Tron, or a friend of Tron, or just a program living on The Grid (for those who are lost on the Tron references). Ask how do these online records of your activity affect how you interact with other digital beings and how they can pre-judge you:
Who you follow shows where your interests lie and the religious/philosophical/political views you support. Who you converse with and how you converse also is a reflection of your digital self. Your Tweet history is forever stored for others to retrieve and use as evidence.
Your score can be a taste of how active you are online and who finds you influential. Are you introverted and only listen to people, or are you an influencer who is constantly the life of the Twitter party? Klout is controversial, but so are the tabloids in grocery stores. People with high scores are always people with high social status.
Your work history. Very simple. Very clear. Very neutral. Your recommendations can make or break an initial talk with that job interview you are hoping to get!
Your history of photos, when you got engaged, who you were with, who Likes what you do.
Chrome/Safari/FireFox/Internet Explorer/Mobile phone/Tablet
Essentially the vehicle you drive in your digital life. It is fully-equipped with an engine, GPS tracking, music player, video, email, contacts, calendars, passwords, usernames, baby seat (the one you bought from Amazon.com), etc etc etc and it’s all being tracked for you, optimized for you, and monetized for THEM.
Your digital self is being compiled and will be deployed.
A shot from Tron: Legacy (2010) by ©Disney
There are so many records we are building online. It seems there are more ways to do it online than there are in our offline life. In offline life, records are much more difficult for us and THEM. They’re also, sometimes, not easy to share with the world and usually, it’s only possible through the Internet.
How far have you gone in your education? High school? College? How do you share that with others in offline life? Verbally or maybe you have a wall specifically set up to show off all of your certificates. Maybe a mantle or maybe a small shelf dedicated to ribbons and trophies? Did you win something recently? I bet you posted it somewhere online – Facebook perhaps?
How about criminal records. Or military records. Health records. Do we share these online? Health records and recording our sleep, weight loss, and exercise is a growing market. Sharing this data is seldomly done, and when it is, it’s usually anonymously.
What I find interesting about records, is that the records we share are the records that are socially acceptable. They’re our XBOX achievement points. The bowl of Swiss Chalet sauce your friends bet you couldn’t drink. The half bottle of black pepper your co-workers gathered money to see you eat (oh wait, you didn’t end up earning that one Michael). More meaningful and ‘socially good’ records would be the money you raised for Cancer research. How every single year you donate food, blood, or your time. The hundreds of hours you’ve accumulated doing volunteer work.
With all of these disparate records that are socially acceptable, both in online and offline life, could it be possible to funnel and centralize them? To create a social good record recognized around the world?
Another thing I find interesting about records, is that everything in offline life lasts a lifetime, or most of our lives, but online records are corruptible, virtual, ephemeral. A hard drive with your Reddit posts and upvotes seems to pale when compared to building a school for children or raising a child that earns a Nobel prize. But there is no equivalent to these accomplishments like a criminal record. Why is that? Why do we record our criminal activity for life but not our socially good activity for life? It’s important to know who has potential to disrupt the harmony of our lives, but isn’t it also important to know who’s improving the harmony?
Sure, we have media spotlighting local heroes for incredible work, but it’s just a spotlight. Eventually that light moves and people forget. But history shouldn’t. You’re leaving a legacy every time in your life that you do social good.
I wonder how it would affect our society if filling out a job resume meant a criminal record check AND a social good record check.
Taking a deeper look at records – what drives us to achieve them?
Would people who do social good want a public record of their activity? If they do social good, maybe it’s only because they are passionate about sport or desire to see a better living condition for people they have empathy/sympathy for. They don’t do it for recognition, right? Well I think they shouldn’t have a choice in the matter. Just like a criminal record, it sticks for life. Sorry, that blood you donate every 6 months has saved several lives and we’d like to give you an extra 50 air miles. We saw that you reviewed our latest running shoe on your blog, but really we’re giving you free swag because you’ve done 3 marathons to raise awareness for a cause.
I like to wonder how much social good would people start doing if this were the norm? If a social good record followed you through your life. With the trend of achievements online, posting them publicly, and how the newest generations of children are growing up with social media and the Internet in their DNA, this social good record may not come from our government, but rather naturally through the progression of technology; governed by the people who use the technology.
Obviously, there would be dangers to such a record, but there is a danger in books, guns, and good will. The question, to me, is how do you act and react to the dangerous and the new?
In closing, this song, “Dogma” by KMFDM was the catalyst for me to write this post:
Someone’s writing down your mistakes
Someone’s documenting your downfall