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Sunday, 6 November 2011

Digital Breadcrumbs

2011 has been quite the year for technology. As the dominance of the smartphone continues, information has travelled faster from user to user than ever before, creating a world where the only limits are put into place by how far people are willing to dip their toes into this vast ocean of information. We are instantly connected to our own social networks comprised of friends, family, and acquaintances, allowing them to see what we are doing, who we are with, and where we are at any time of the day. Text messages, Facebook updates, Foursquare check-ins, and Google map queries are all leaving their mark on our daily lives, whether we like it or not. The worrisome part of this is that the entire process is invisible, little ones and zeroes embedded in the ether long after we delete our texts, updates, photos, and emails.

In the back of my mind I was aware of this digital permanence, hence my shying away from social networking sites (not that I have anything to hide, per se). But my eyes were opened Ludivico-style when I came across an article in none other than Vanity Fair about Kruse Wellwood and Cameron Moffatt, the two teens convicted of beating, raping, and murdering Kimberly Proctor in Langford last March. The various text messages and World of Warcraft chat logs are reproduced ver batim, as if they were just written. In fact, the Tech Crimes Unit amassed the equivalent to 1.4 billion sheets of paper on the two teens. That's not a typo. Billion. Everything from Google and Wikipedia searches (for items like camp fuel, Lithotomy position, and inside body parts) to google map queries (for wooded areas best to dump the body) and YouTube videos (Florence and the Machine's Blinding). The case against the two was so airtight that they both pleaded guilty of first degree murder. There is a news story making the rounds about a Hillary Adams, 21, who at 14 was beaten with a belt by her father for downloading music illegally from the Internet. The catch? (because there's always one of those). Her father is a prominent judge. She posted the video to Reddit, where it obviously gained hits, resulting in Facebook groups calling for her father to step down. And then there is the case of a Harvard Law student who sent an email to a trusted friend about the link of intelligence to genetics, and therefore race. The email was saved, and the friendship eventually dissolved. What's an ex-friend to do? Why, send the aforementioned email to the Harvard's Black Student Association. The email sender is now permanently and digitally branded as racist for as long as the Internet sticks around.

It seems that as the usage of social media and technology increases, so decreases people's common sense. Information is shared freely and publicly. Incriminating secrets are relayed via text messages. Data is stored for decades without people even knowing it. Has anyone even read the 6000 word privacy agreement from Facebook? Inherent trust is being placed into huge companies who make money off of selling the very information we are serving to them on a silver platter. It may seem of no consequence to post some pictures, email something off color to a friend, or update your status to something that may offend someone, but you must realize that everything is permanent and retrievable. Removing it is like uncooking an egg or removing food coloring from a glass of water.

This post is not meant as a dire warning against the use of technology from the point of view of an old man shaking his fist at the younger generation. I embrace technology more than the average person, in fact. But a certain amount of digital responsibility must be implemented before you press send, because you may as well be chiseling it into stone.

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