When you spend countless hours a day on the web, do you ever feel like you are the one using it, or is it using you? Matthew Ritchie invokes some thought when he said “I use the Internet – or does it use me?” (from the book: Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The net’s Impact on our Minds and Future).
Today, there is so much user generated content on the World Wide Web and while that does give many benefits, it also contributes to many disadvantages. There is also larger problem that some people might not even be aware of – the idea surveillance. Credit card companies are able to watch our social interactions and sell our information to ad companies in order to increase production in businesses. The amount of content we put out on the Web could come to haunt us in the future depending on your thoughts about artificial intelligence (or AI) speaking for us after we have passed away.
For those who don’t already know what user generated content (UGC) is, PCMag.com defines it as “The production of content by the general public rather than by paid professionals and experts in the field. Also called “peer production,” and mostly available on the Web via blogs and wikis, user-generated content refers to material such as the daily articles on any subject, all of which have been traditionally written by editors, journalists and academics.” (Read more on UGC) UGCs that we are most familiar with are blogs, wikis, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
According to eMarter, more than 82 million people in the US alone created content online in 2008 and this number is likely to grow 115 million by 2013. (Read the article: A Spotlight on UGC Participants)
There are clear advantages to user generated content one of the main ones being that it gives people a voice, so we don’t always have to rely on journalists to disseminate information. As we all witnessed, social media played a huge role in exposing human rights violations in the 2009 Iranian elections and the Egyptian revolution the following year. (Read the article: Social Media Gives Women a Voice in Iran) The chief disadvantage for user generated content however is credibility. Who are these people generating content and what makes them experts? We know how Wikipedia is totally created by its users so sometimes information is unreliable, especially those relating to science and medicine.
Do you ever wonder why there are so many ads on the side of your Facebook page? How about how some of those ads actually appeal to you? This is not a coincidence; there are corporations who target people on social media sites in order to get information that would improve their business. Mark Andrejevic’s articile called “The Work of Being Watched, Interactive Media and the Exploitation of Self-Disclosure” explains this as surveillance. When we consume things we give out information about ourselves at the same time. (Found in the book: The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader)
This is done for target marketing purposes. Target market, according to Entrepreneur.com, is a specific group of consumers at which a company aims its products and services. (Read more on target market) An interesting (or slightly unsettling) article from Time Magazine reported that Visa wants to access everything from your insurance claim to your Facebook friend list to you DNA. The information they gather merely from the content we put on the web will be used to benefit companies to sell their product to a specific target in order to save money. (Read the article: Now Credit Companies Want Your DNA)
Lastly, while browsing through interesting talks from TED, I came across one from Adam Ostrow called “After Your Final Status Update”. (Watch the talk: After Your Final Status Update) The talk presents the idea that we put so much content online and we don’t usually think about what would happen to it after we die. There are so many websites out there now where you can create a digital archive that would be there long after we have passed away. Moreso, Ostrow said that there is research going on about Artificial Intelligence (AI) that would soon be able to understand human language and process large amounts of data. Soon it could analyze a life’s worth of content and interact online based on the personality gathered from the social networking sites. The video below shows robots that can interact more like humans which are being developed in MIT’s computer labs.
We use the Internet so much for social interaction that we soon need digital wills for how our loved ones should manage our digital content. And as Ostrow present, we could assign an AI to continue interacting online with our personality. This bothers me because I think you would see a change in society’s psychology. There is a grieving process and people need to move on and continue living their lives. This would be very hard for someone to do if they keep holding on to the memory of their loved one.
The Internet is essentially using us by building and recreating itself. We pour so much information and create spaces where we are able to share our own thoughts and ideas. By doing this however, we make ourselves vulnerable whenever we give out bits of personal information online. Even a simple as a particular “like” on Facebook could help these companies to target market. Finally, we not only have to manage our material possessions in case of death; we have to manage our digital litter as well. Our activity online is shaping the Internet which is also contributing to how we live our lives.