Breadcrumbs on the Digital Trail

I was reminded lately that I constantly leave a digital trail while online [and sometimes while offline, too].
Ah, you say, but I erase all my private emails from the server. I’ve set my email client to do just that, so when I’m finished with them they are all erased, just like that. I erase the private stuff in my Facebook, Google Plus, Linkedin, and other accounts all the time. I only sign up on sites that say they don’t use my personal data. Everything I do online remains there, forever. No matter what. Every single email, picture, thumbs up, purchase, and yes, every single private exchange is still there, sitting on a server somewhere.

None of this means that your data is erased. Fact is, it’s all still sitting there, waiting for a future digital anthropologist to sift through it, using forensic methods not yet thought of, to create a picture of who you were/are. And my guess is, future digital forensics will be far more accurate at sizing a person up than any that have been used up until now.

Think about what sorts of clues you leave online every day, clues to your daily habits. But also, clues to your hopes and dreams, your secret fantasies, your hidden personality. Things that even you might not be aware of. Add up all those “Likes” you clicked on Facebook. There must be hundreds… thousands of them. Just by analyzing my Facebook “Likes” alone you could get a pretty good picture of my friends, my likes and dislikes (okay, they don’t have a “dislike” button yet…), and all sorts of psycho-drivel that would probably paint a pretty complete picture of who I am.

Add to that my other online activities. Emails, public posts on social networking sites, tweets, searches for answers to computer problems (or any other search via google or another search engine), use of online maps, purchases from Amazon or eBay or various other online vendors, music listened to online, YouTubes watched, downloads of all varieties [software, music, torrents, videos, you name it…], uploads and contributions to same, donations, and yes, even voting. It’s all still there, and will still be there well after we’re all dead and gone. We’re far more public, more exposed, online than we ever were in the print world. It only seems that we have privacy because we’re sitting here alone, in our rooms, with our computers or handhelds, logging in and lurking, thinking no one knows.

Sometimes I go on about digital culture and its democratisation of processes, and about its communal nature. The digital world–and indeed, the real world that it is a part of–champions the community over the individual. That is, what’s good for the community is more valued than what’s good for the individual. This surrender of our privacy is all about that communal thing. It’s not about smiley faced communal love. It’s about coming to grips with the fact that, as individuals, we’re no longer as important as the community.