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So, last week I went along to a talk by Andrew Keen, ostensibly to promote his book, Digital Vertigo. The event was hosted by Canvas8, a behavioural insights agency for media and marketing; I follow them on Twitter. Disclosure: I have met with one of their employees previously, through a mutual friend, in a pub. We talked techno and Berlin.

Anyway, back to Andrew and his talk for a moment.

It was billed as ‘A cautionary tale for our connected world’. In short, is social media causing a cultural – and seismic – shift in our privacy as individuals. Andrew used the Hitchcock film, Vertigo, as a metaphor for his book.

Now, it’s clear that Mr Keen likes to stir things up. He seems – based on my observations while watching him talk – a person who likes to court controversy. Throughout the 40 minutes he spoke he littered his talk with incendiaries, which mostly came from having to pigeonhole entire generations and users of many current social media platforms.

For me, this undid a lot of the good things he did say. I haven’t yet read the book, so can’t and won’t comment on whether his public persona on the night is transferred to his written prose. I will follow up on that at a later date, and write more about the evening.

What did strike a chord with me was the idea that everything we do now is in the public domain – through Facebook tags, Tweets, photos we wish hadn’t been taken, Foursquare check-ins that show criminal intent or poor decision-making. Etc, ad infinitum. Mostly, this inability to remember that social media and sharing removes privacy was aimed at the younger generation – those under 20 years of age. And of course, the internet is full of stories about lost jobs, broken marriages, and jailed criminals – all of which have happened because of a social media update. Indeed, just a few hours ago I spotted We Know What You’re Doing, which highlights the issues with Facebook and alike when people forget to turn on the privacy settings.

This got me thinking.

Could we give data a half-life? And could we create a Periodic Table of data, showing not only how it relates as an element, but how it can be made to ‘decompose’. That way, we could share those photos of us drunk aged 16, yet by the time we’re approaching 18 they have degraded and are no longer indexed or shareable.

I think we can.

Of course, I’m just at the tip of the iceberg as far as this subject matter is concerned. I have a lot more to think about, a lot more to write and discussions to have.

So, do assume I will return to this theme, because I shall.

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