August 29, 2013


The Loop > Magazine > Issue 9

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By Matt Gemmell

For better or worse, we increasingly live in an age of online accountability. We’re tracked, of course—relentlessly, by advertisers, Internet service providers, cellular carriers and indeed governments—but that’s almost beside the point. Most of the time, we opt in.

Social media is ubiquitous. Facebook, Twitter and Google are now more than your chatroom or noticeboard: they’re your authentication system, your schedule, your search engine and maybe even your games platform. We dutifully create profiles, and complete them in minute detail, linking them to other accounts elsewhere, and connecting the dots of our identities. For most people, privacy is an afterthought, remembered only when we become aware of the abuses that can occur in its absence.

The first decade or so of widespread Internet access was a peculiar time. Fewer people were online, and those who were could be reasonably confident of keeping their real lives separate from their digital ones. That time has gone, forever. Employers and colleagues now make a point of investigating new hires before their first day of work. A successful first date no longer guarantees a second, if your recent tweets paint an unflattering picture. Those with no traceable online identity are viewed with bemusement at best and suspicion at worst.

Our reputations are as critical as ever, but the degree of their dissemination is now vast. Those who’ve interacted directly with us can now be anywhere on the globe, and our personal interactions and vagaries are willingly put on display for the masses. There’s also the issue of time. Once something is posted online, it’s potentially available forever—which means that not only can poorly-judged remarks never be fully erased, but they can also be read at any future point. The person you’ve become and the person you once were can overlap unsettlingly on the Internet. We’re laid bare for scrutiny by our eagerness to live in the global public eye.

Our culture celebrates exposure and the trivia of the individual—and we all both supply and consume it in enormous quantities. It’s not surprising; we’re social creatures, after all. Our gregariousness and egos have kept pace perfectly with technological advances.

The atrophied notions, however, are those of privacy and self-moderation. The stark reality is that, as exposed and scrutinized as we now are, we will probably never be less visible than this. It will only escalate. Global communication and connectedness are here to stay, and in itself, that’s a good thing. But the costs of that indelible trail of breadcrumbs is an inseparable part of it. The genie is out of the bottle.

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