Our Indelible Lives

It's been a fascinating week for me. First, it was off to lovely Muncie, Ind. to meet with the group at the Center for Media Design at Ball State University. Then, it was to Chicago for the National Business Marketing Association Conference, where I was fortunate enough to be on a panel about what the B2B marketplace might look like in the near future. There was plenty of column fodder from both visits, but this week, I'll give the nod to Ball State, simply because that visit came first.

Our Digital Footprints

Mike Bloxham, Michelle Prieb and Jen Milks (the last two joined us for our most recent Search Insider Summit) were gracious hosts, and, as with last week (when I was in Germany) I had the chance to participate in a truly fascinating conversation that I wanted to share with you. We talked about the fact that this generation will be the first to leave a permanent digital footprint. Mike Bloxham called it the Indelible Generation. That title is more than just a bon mot (being British, Mike is prone to pithy observations) -- it's a telling comment about a fundament aspect of our new society.



Imagine some far-in-the-future anthropologist recreating our culture. Up to this point in our history, the recorded narrative of any society came from a small sliver of the population. Only the wealthiest or most learned received the honor of being chronicled in any way. Average folks spent their time on this planet with nary a whisper of their lives recorded for posterity. They passed on without leaving a footprint.

Explicit and Implicit Content Creation

But today -- or if not today, certainly tomorrow -- all of us will leave behind a rather large digital footprint. We will leave in our wake emails, tweets, blog posts and Facebook pages. And that's just the content we knowingly create. There's a lot of data generated by each of us that's simply a byproduct of our online activities and intentions. Consider, for example, our search history. Search is a unique online beast because it tends to be the thread we use to stitch together our digital lives. Each of us leaves a narrative written in search interactions that provides a frighteningly revealing glimpse into our fleeting interests, needs and passions.

 Of course, not all this data gets permanently recorded. Privacy concerns mean that search logs, for example, get scrubbed at regular intervals. But even with all that, we leave behind more data about who we were, what we cared about and what thoughts passed through our minds than any previous generation. Whether it's personally identifiable or aggregated and anonymized, we will all leave behind footprints.

 Privacy? What Privacy?

Currently we're struggling with this paradigm shift and its implications for our privacy. I believe in time -- not that much time -- we'll simply grow to accept this archiving of our lives as the new normal, and won't give it a second thought. We will trade personal information in return for new abilities, opportunities and entertainment. We will grow more comfortable with being the Indelible Generation.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps we'll trigger a revolt against the surrender of our secrets. Either way, we live in a new world, one where we're always being watched. The story of how we deal with that fact is still to be written.

4 comments about "Our Indelible Lives".
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  1. Nettie Hartsock from The Hartsock Agency, June 3, 2010 at 11:11 a.m.


    Great insight. I have to say that your quote "Average folks spent their time on this planet with nary a whisper of their lives recorded for posterity. They passed on without leaving a footprint" - does not take into account all the letters, journals, etc. that exist from their lives that give us a picture of their lives.

    And I hope that people still create letters and journals because there is something to writing without sharing it to the world, that empowers a truly honest exchange.

    I think for companies and for individuals this new openness on the Web offers an incredible way to reach people as never before, that also must be balanced with privacy so that there are protections for all of us.

    Having been on the web since 1996 it's incredible to see how quickly this all has moved forward.

  2. Jen Milks, June 3, 2010 at 11:22 a.m.

    Twain required a century to pass posthumous before allowing the release of his autobiography (coming this November). Will we be afforded the same kindness with our personal information? I'd quite like the option of donating my search to science after death, so the next gen of researchers can delve into the narrative of our digital lives uncensored. I think Twain had it right though - give time the ability to solidify your reputation and ideas before tainting them with unadulterated versions of ourselves.

    Great post, Gord.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 3, 2010 at 12:40 p.m.

    The caveat is who is watching you and what can they do with knowing everything about you. Remember what they can do is not the same as what they should do and you don't know who "they" are, all of the directly and none of the indirectly. This is not about selling you diapers. It's about subtle influences of how you think, your perspective and what you do. The public is losing choice and control. Hi Hal.

  4. tony fish, June 3, 2010 at 1:25 p.m.

    Good post have several comments that I hope will add some value

    1. permanent digital footprint - not sure about this as the cost of keeping data (raw) is an energy burden.

    2. implicit and explicit - yes and it is what we and others say.

    3. Privacy - I am sure that we know what is private. I am sure we can understand privacy settings (eventually) - I am not sure we understand how the meaning of public has changed

    hope these links help the debate


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