Social Media Digital Footprint vs Paper Trails Of The Past

Computers are not only saving trees these days -  they have almost eliminated any need for the traditional 'paper trail' we were so accustomed to using just a short decade ago. In the year 2010, wherever you travel throughout the social media space, you're leaving digital breadcrumbs for all to follow.

Differing from the last century and those that came before it, many people lived and died with very little that chronicled their lives. In some instances, a birth and death certificates were the only markers that bookended our existence. Gord Hotchkiss in his Media Post article titled, "Our Indelible Lives" makes point that "average folks spent their lives on this planet with nary a whisper of their lives recorded for posterity…they passed on without leaving a footprint."

Digital FootprintDigital Footprint

In a markedly braver, new world, today the majority of us will leave behind a rather large cadre of data for others to data-mine and resurrect after we're gone. Dissimilar to carbon footprints, digital footprints take up a lot less space and are environmentally-friendly. In our wake, during the Web 2.0 era, most of us will have posted countless tweets, status updates, blogs, social network profiles, YouTube videos, not to even mention the number of countless emails we will have sent by the time we've left Terra firma.

During the Victorian and Romantic eras of our literary history, writers like Jane Austen, Bryon and Shelley left us a copious amount of journals, diaries and literary treatises that gave us a glimpse into their 'likes', 'preferences,' and 'proclivities.' Today, our 'search history' on Google, our Open Graph preferences on Facebook and our Social Graphs on various social networks will leave a narrative about our lives that will provide future generations with even more insight than our literary fore-bearers.

While many of us are still debating the issue of security online, and new definitions of 'privacy' are being formulated as we speak, trading personal information about ourselves seems to come easier for today's digital cognoscenti than it ever did, even a few years back. Our 'indelible lives' as Hotchkiss refers to it is still being written, but our digital footprints are becoming more and more apparent with each passing day.

In a free-floating Web 2.0 environment, we often forget that the 'delete' key is not as powerful as we'd like - as information can be accessed and passed on to others by cookies, phishing and other nefarious tactics that circumvents our attempts to remove 'buyer-remorse' data. This does not stop us however from trying. Today, some anti-social networking Web sites will assist in removing our profiles in ceremonious tongue-and-cheek ways. Seppukoo,com, for instance provides a means for users to commit hara-kiri by killing off our Facebook profiles.

It's ironic that to keep our digital identities current one has to keep monitoring all of the sites we have registered for over time. And how often have we all realized what we said yesterday might have been entered in haste or without rational forethought when we go back to review it?

What's even of more concern pertaining to privacy is what some are calling our 'digital shadow' that includes things like images of you on a surveillance camera, your bank records, your retail purchases, your telephone records, your medical history, and credit card purchases.

With location-based social networks now going mainstream, the paradigm is shifting once again, as we start to release moment-to-moment real-time data pertaining to our whereabouts - data that our friends and followers can use to geo-target us instantaneously. Networks such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Twitter Places have virtually made our digital footprints only footsteps away from our next check-in to a local bar.  A new app just developed this past week called Avoidr actually provides a new service as to how to avoid some of these location-based folks - that you might determine 'too close for comfort!'

If you're interested in the current size of your digital footprint, you can download a copy of the Personal Digital Footprint Calculator. The tool walks you through a questionnaire that calculates your impact based on the responses to questions about your computer usage, email usage, digital camera/camcorder usage, web downloading habits, potential surveillance areas, and geographical information, among other things mentioned in this post.

Tony FishTony FishAlso check out My Digital Footprint by Tony Fish, where he explains how we can gain value from our digital footprints in both the online and mobile worlds.

I suspect going forward  - saving copies of our digital footprints is going to become just as commonplace as saving our passwords.  Your thoughts?

Personal Digital Footprint CalculatorPersonal Digital Footprint Calculator

Jul 2, 2010
by Anonymous

Evology Now

Interesting and not at all what I was expecting to read. I thought you were going to talk about a digital footprint in terms of the environment but I have to say this was informative and thought-provoking. Using the internet as we do now is really changing not only how much information we share with others but, like you say, how much we leave behind.

I talk about the ways technology is affecting us on my blog a lot, hope you'll take a minute to stop by! evologynow[dot]wordpress[dot]com