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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Information Management Age

In a talk for Festival del Diritto (Festival of Law) in 2008, David Lyon, research chair at Queens University and director of the Surveillance Studies Centre, stated, “The emergence of today’s surveillance society demands that we shift from self-protection of privacy to the accountability of data-handlers.” Hmm. Is that realistic? I mean, I’m all for having data-handlers accountable for the information that they collect, for whatever reason. I wish that data handlers would feel the same responsibility for my personal information as I do. I wish, like me, that they would have a moment’s pause everytime they click “save” or “post” or “publish”. I also wish that they would spend a proportionately equal amount of time and money on securing the information that I and many others have entrusted to them, knowingly or otherwise. But, how does the saying go? “If wishes were horses then beggars would ride”.

Bottom line: it’s all well and good to hope that data-handlers will protect our privacy, but the mountains of data held by the the ever-growing hoards of data-handlers makes the prospect of holding all of them accountable for protecting our privacy as much of a pipe-dream as holding the proverbial butterfly accountable for creating the hurricane. So, if holding the data-handlers accountable is a wouldn’t- that-be-nice solution, then we’re left with the idea of self-protection.

The reality is that we are living in an age where we are required to manage our personal information more than ever before. A slip of the tongue is forgotten with time and can even be denied later on. A slip of the keystroke, however, is forever burned on some hard drive somewhere, easily retrieved and brought into the light of day as evidence of not only who you were, but who you are now and who you hope to be in the future.

Now, I consider myself to be a cautious user of the world wide web, careful with what I put out there for fear of what might stick and come back to bite me in the ass. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the paranoid-type, but I am a rather private person outside the virtual world so it only makes sense that I would be that way inside cyberspace as well. And, truth be told, I’m lazy and tend to lean toward the simple. I find protecting my personal privacy a tiresome endeavour most of the time anyway, so I really don’t go out of my way to make things more complicated by adding even more information into the cyber-cesspool. 

But that’s me. When I read a blog post of one of my classmates this week, I was taken aback. In that post, Marnie writes: “The participants of Facebook are getting younger and younger every year. I was a counselor over the summer, and when returned home it was shocking how many of my campers that were the age of 6 had a Facebook profile. When you’re that age, you are not aware of the consequences of putting too much information on your profile.” No kidding. At that age, you don’t even know what a profile is, much less what it says about you. How can a six-year-old know about issues such as privacy and protecting your personal privacy? How can we credibly expect a six-year-old, or even a 16-year-old, to effectively manage their personal information. When I think back to when I was even 18 years old, I had difficulty managing the information contained in my wallet. I can’t tell you the number of times I sat pondering, now where did I last use my wallet…7-11? No, I stopped at McDonalds after that, and then I went to the library…

But now this is the information age that we live in. Kids have to learn to manage more than what’s in their wallet. They have to manage more than the identity that they are still trying to develop through their interactions at school, first jobs, and other social situations. They have to manage all of that information that they enter into the electronic ether with a few taps on a keyboard or a click of a mouse. And they have to manage an identity that is developed in an e-society that catalogues all that they say or do for all to see, now and forever. 

Jaysus.... I miss my wallet. Now, where did I put my cellphone?

Image courtesy of smarnad,

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Little devices

While flipping through my favourite radio stations this morning, I happened upon this interview on Metro Morning.  Host Matt Galloway spoke with Isabel Pedersen, Canada Research Chair in Digital Life, Media and Culture at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.  Interesting discussion about how our devices influence and even change our identity.  This interview was quite timely after having read a blog post by a classmate of mine, Ann.  In response to Sherry Turkle's statement, "The little devices in our pockets are so psychologically powerful that they don’t even change what we do, they change who we are", Ann asks:
As I post this blog entry and prepare to launch into the Twitterverse, does this change who I am?  And if so, is this something I want to meet, or to run from?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rage against the machine

Sherry Turkle, psychologist, professor and scholar of the information age and its impact on society and the self, once wrote, "We come to see ourselves differently as we catch our image in the mirror of the machine". That was back in 1999. The machine was still in its infancy. Back then, she went on to write that our concept of ourselves, our identity, is being "recast in terms of multiple windows and parallel lives".

I think that we have always had multiple windows through which to view and present ourselves and to a certain extent, we have always led parallel lives. The difference in the age of social media is that the multitude of windows in the machine that Turkle wrote about in 1999 has since grown exponentially; the number of people looking through them, nearly infinite. And, the only limit to the number of parallel lives that we can create online in 2012 is limited only by our ability to keep track of the accounts and passwords (and even then, there's an app for that).

Yes, the machine has grown significantly in the past 13 years. You would think that with such growth there would be many corners to hide in, many places to carry on our parallel lives without fear that they would ever intersect. This is not the reality, however. If anything, the virtual world has become more transparent.

Recent stories making the news (and trending on social media sites) bear out this new reality. Case in point, the miscreants who posted disparaging and thoughtless remarks on social media sites memorializing Amanda Todd, the teenage victim of cyber bullying. A group of people turned the capacity of social media to torment individuals on its head, forming virtual posses, trolling sites like Facebook and outing would-be anonymous posters.

In 2008, David Lyon wrote about our surveillance society. With the advent of social media, he rightly contends, the key purveyor of our personal information has shifted from government institutions to corporations. But the events of the past week leads me to believe that our surveillance society is shifting yet again. Oh, the machine is still chugging away, collecting and manipulating our personal information for government and corporations alike. But it appears that those who have been surveiled have begun manipulating the machine themselves. Rightly or wrongly.  

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick, 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Shaping the digital future...

For the past few weeks I have been getting my feet wet in this new course, New Media Literacy.  This is a bit of a departure from the adult ed courses that I have gotten used to taking in the virtual classroom.  A little esoteric, this new age of communication; something that I’ve only recently dabbled in with this blog and not much else.   But it’s interesting.  And exciting.  And a little mind-blowing. 

We read an article titled The Californian Ideology written by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron.  The article appeared in the January 1996 issue of Science as Culture and in it Barbrook and Cameron announced, “At the end of the twentieth century, the long predicted convergence of the media, computing, and telecommunications into hypermedia is finally happening.” 

This article launched a discussion focused on the question of whether or not we feel empowered by technology.  I posited that technology and specifically the hypermedia that Barbrook and Cameron speak about are not intrinsically empowering.  They are limited by two critical factors:  access and ability.  If I can’t access the new hypermedia or I simply do not have the ability to manipulate it, then it isn’t empowering.   In fact, my inability to access and utilize this new technology, to engage and participate in all that it has to offer, serves to isolate me from everyone who does and can.  And I think that Barbrook and Cameron agree with me: “The developers of hypermedia must reassert the possibility of rational and conscious control over the shape of the digital future...artist-engineers must construct a cyberspace that is inclusive and universal" (p. 68).

That quote got me  thinking of those “digital artisans” that I have become aware of during my short time in the virtual classroom. Those people who are taking hypermedia and molding and directing it in such a way to promote inclusivity and accessibility.  People like the folks behind, that I’ve blogged about in the past.  They “provide quality, innovative online learning opportunities to anyone who wants to improve the technology, literacy and math skills needed to be successful in both work and life.”  Or Michelle Pacansky-Brock, an innovator in adult education, who, through her blog, Teaching without Walls, and other digital venues, freely shares her passion and expertise for utilizing the hypermedia “to cultivate warm, human-centered online learning experiences and prepare students to be mindful users of digital media”.   These are just a couple of examples of how the digital future can be shaped  to empower people.