Sunday, 24 February 2013

Everyone is Deeply Intertwingled

We are only a small way though creating the Web - this network of interlinked documents (Web 1.0), interlinked personal activities (Web 2.0) and interlinked facts (Web 3.0) has only just started to impact the way we run our lives. And the way that others run our lives.

The Internet, a runaway academic project designed to create a military communications system that could not be destroyed, became the perfect substructure for the Web, a knowledge sharing system that was developed in an underground nuclear research bunker and escaped through research institutions and the labs of the computer industry to embed itself in commerce, government and every aspect of society.

Both of these endeavours were shaped by the concerns of academia, or rather by the unconcerns of academia - a world in which trade and commerce were largely irrelevant, and where the notion of hi-tech criminality had yet to be invented. And so we now find Web Science grappling with some really fundamental issues (state-sponsored snooping, gossip/defamation, authority, jurisdiction, property, the nature of truth, the extent of human rights) to deal with the limitations of the Web's original design, while Web Technologists continue to innovate their way through the canon of science fiction literature (portable communicators, wrist-watch TVs, wall-sized video screens, voice recognition, computer glasses, autonomous drones and self-driving cars).

In our discussions, we tend to retreat to the fundamentals of the Web / Internet protocols - the Web is just a transfer of documentary information. Like borrowing a library book, we want those transactions to be private, unobserved and unrestricted, while being valuable. But the web was never just about transferring information (something that computers do) - it was from the very start about consuming the the assets of the information rich, and then the services of the business savvy. And after twenry years of hartd work we have created a very complex, highly interwoven network of people and events and activities and knowledge.

We are richly online individuals, with interconnected histories, making complex asynchronous engagements with other individuals, corporations and services. Our online personas are deeply informed by the needs, desires and happenings of our offline lives, so that the online recorded history of our avatars corresponds to the recorded offline history of the transactions, activities and events in which we were engaged.

We are deeply intertwingled, multi-persona individuals and it seems remiss that we haven't reconciled  our Web presence with more than that of an invisible and inscrutable chess-player shuffling pieces (documents/bytes) across a huge board.

Once again, academia is leading in this social change. The requirements for Research Assessment (imposed by governments anxious to demonstrate value) mean that even Internet researchers need to be able to calculate the impact of their every activity, and show the evidence (often virtual) of its origin and effect. The Internet becomes our real history, and the actors whose names we see on the Web must be carefully and uniquely identified. So much for privacy, anonymity or simple abstinence.

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