Life on Record

March 18th, 2010

When I graduated from high school, I wanted to move away from my home town and really get off the grid. Have no one from my school be able to find me, know where I was, or what I was doing. An innocent invitation to Facebook made that impossible. Now almost my entire high school class has sought me out through the social network to build their friend network, and if they ever actually look at my profile, they know where I am and what I’m doing. Thanks to Netflix they know my favorite movies. Thanks to last.fm my favorite music. Thanks to Twitter they now know what I’m thinking about all the time. And thanks to Foursquare they know where I’m at at this very moment. New startups like Blippy are even getting more personal with storing everything you buy.

For myself, there’s been value to storing all of this information. I can look at my Yelp profile to find the name of that restaurant I wanted to try, last.fm to figure out the name of that song that popped into my head, or Foursquare for the name of that bar I went to the other night. The internet has essentially replaced my need for in depth memory, because I can refresh my memory as easy as refreshing my browser by looking at my various profiles or order history on certain sites.

The side effect of that value is now all of that information is public. What does that really mean though? What it will mean, if it doesn’t already now, is that we are now, inadvertently, documenting our entire lives through the internet. In 50 years, obituaries won’t just list highlights of lives like degrees and jobs held or the names of your children. They will more likely be links to your public Facebook profile, with links to Netflix showing your favorite movies, your order history on Amazon, where you ate on your 30th birthday. All of that information will be available, stored, and digestible for those who care.

Think of the power of this information. Let’s say an Einstein exists in a coming generation. When he passes, historians can look at the music he was listening to before his biggest breakthrough or the books he read during his formative years. All of that information will be documented, searchable, and accessible, with the possibility of cross-referencing it with current members of society. Fill in the blanks on where that data takes us; there will certainly be interesting complications when it comes to things like decisions on public elections or job openings and even effects on parenting or school curriculum.

There are many that will push against this trend, but it is unavoidable. The internet generation now defines itself by what’s on its Facebook profile and the content of its tweets. Just look at IBM’s latest commercials. They’re actively working on stuff like this already with electronic systems. And if analysts don’t transition that research to individuals marketers certainly will. It’s easy for data junkies to get excited about this future, but it’s also easy for normal people to get scared, and both sides are probably right. Now, everyday people will start to have to consider questions like: what will the internet say about me when I’m gone? What does my personal data say about me?

If you had access to this data today, what would you search for?

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