Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain: Why We Should Examine Our Approach To Networked Living
It’s the second day of summer (well not exactly — we still have reports to write and half a week of in-service professional development) and my mind is unwinding. I’m starting to feel myself marinating in the ideas that really get me going: The changing technological landscape and its effects on our social lives, the purpose of institutionalized education in a world where what it means to learn is shifting quickly, and the ways in which we construct and present our identities online.
— Networked Living —
What is your practice for managing it all? I try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to the contributions I make to the network. While I recognize companies have been trying to build strong privacy structures, I also realize that most of what I put online could easily move outside those barriers. Most of my social networking defaults are “public”. I usually keep photographs private, and I’m not big into tagging or accepting tags made by other people (I remove those tags).
In his brilliant treatise, The User Illusion, Tor Norretranders, in discussing the momentum toward artificial intelligence, touches on a hard truth:
It began as a pest: quietly, persistently, irritatingly, but just as a pest. Computer viruses, fragments of programs capable of moving into computer memory, where they immediately order the computer to make copies of themselves. They were originally created by mischievous programmers who wanted to tease one another, then their employers, and finally vast networks of communicating computers. Then teenagers, so called hackers, started playing hide-and-seek with technological and defense colossi by infecting their computer networks with pranks. the idea is that a short length of program code inserted in a computer propagates as a “virus,” infecting the host computer and any other computer the infected host is in contact with.
On the face of it, an apparently innocent, harmless game, which merely goes to show that there is not much security surrounding computers: that computers all over the world chattering away together make it possible to spread messages never meant to be spread.
It’s that last line that I keep coming back to. The network doesn’t care about the sensitive nature of the bits and bytes we contribute. Our role is simple: to add stuff and then copy other stuff. We care about privacy; the network doesn’t, and in fact, the network can’t. The more we build structures for privacy, the faster the network finds ways to remove those barriers. We’re the filters pushing content around (although bots also do that job — they locate a piece of information and replicate it somewhere else on the internet).
I read Norretranders observation as a guiding principle. I can’t put too much faith in the network to protect the data I have on it. If it’s connected, it’s at risk.
It’s as though we’ve secretly ‘leveled up” as a society, and on this new level privacy means something completely different than what we’ve been taught to believe on the previous levels. Part of the game is figuring out how to change your character’s behaviors so that you can effectively manage yourself as you explore and capitalize on this new information reality. If you want to get ahead in the game, you must seek out the truth about the network and how it works. You may be the Wizard of Oz telling yourself: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, but you can’t afford to continue living the illusion forever.
We hear buzz-words like network citizenship and digital footprint. These are ways of asking you to think about what it means to be on the web, just like you might ask students to think about how they should behave and act in school. Here’s the problem: The network is unlike any place we know because it’s a model for organizing ourselves and our information that literally transcends the idea of “place”. From now on we will be engaged in a ever constant struggle with the new dynamics that appear as the network grows and develops. Experience on the network will inevitably richen, and as it does, we will need to classify the types of behavior that emerge in response to that richness.
I’m not going to say that we should model responsible or ethical or best behavior, because those words are loaded with meaning we carry with us from a time when the network was only a dream in the minds of a few visionaries. We have to examine ourselves as part of a system and realize that the system exacts certain behaviors from us — ones that we may have little control over. The more we seek to understand how those behaviors develop and form, the better chance we’ll have at making an impact on the design of the network, which for now, we can probably all agree, is a jumbled mess.
So, what’s your approach to life on the network?