THE NEW STA­TUS SYM­BOL

The rise of so­cial-me­dia al­go­rith­mic man­age­ment is un­set­tling, but can we

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‘In the fu­ture, ev­ery­one will be world fa­mous for 15 min­utes.” These words were etched into the pop cul­ture lex­i­con by artist Andy Warhol back in 1968. They ap­peared in the pro­gramme for one of his ex­hi­bi­tions at the Moderna Museet in Stock­holm, Swe­den. Lit­tle did he know that the dig­i­tal age, and so­cial me­dia in par­tic­u­lar, would make those words prophetic. So­cial me­dia has en­abled ev­ery­one to be a pub­lisher, an arm­chair critic and a leg­end in their own In­sta­gram lunchtime pic. If you’re on any so­cial-me­dia plat­form, it’s pos­si­ble that you have been cy­ber­fa­mous for 15 min­utes, al­beit in your own echo cham­ber – trolls in­cluded.

The other day, I came across a counter state­ment – iron­i­cally, on my In­sta­gram feed – that read: “In the fu­ture, ev­ery­one will be pri­vate for 15 min­utes.” It’s a sign of the times and an in­di­ca­tion of where we are head­ing. In trend terms, it’s a re­verse trend as the pen­du­lum swings back.

Ar­ti­cles about “how to en­sure your pri­vacy” are ap­pear­ing al­most ev­ery day, but there is a fork in the road and there are two very dif­fer­ent paths to pri­vacy.

Firstly, there are a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple who are crav­ing so­cial-me­dia pri­vacy. Kim Kar­dashian learnt this the hard way and her pen­du­lum swung back af­ter she was tied up and robbed of mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of jew­ellery in Paris a few months ago.

The re­al­ity TV celebrity, who is fa­mous for shar­ing pics of any­thing, from her booty to her jew­ellery, im­me­di­ately changed what, and how fre­quently, she shares on so­cial me­dia.

When my niece in New York told me that she had ditched her Face­book ac­count, I was both star­tled and fas­ci­nated. Isn’t ev­ery­one on Face­book? How was she go­ing to keep in the loop about fam­ily news?

I un­der­stand that the pro­file of Face­book users has changed (for ex­am­ple, teenagers fled the plat­form af­ter their par­ents joined), but my niece’s move was for a dif­fer­ent rea­son – she wanted to leave an echo cham­ber that was be­com­ing nar­rower in its per­spec­tive and, there­fore, de­press­ing. She ex­plained to me how she gleaned dif­fer­ent sources of news, how her in­ner cir­cle of friends con­nects and told me about new cy­ber­plat­forms that en­able this, such as a news app called Nuzzel.

So it’s not that she’s be­come a Lud­dite – she’s still con­nected, but in a dif­fer­ent way: one that is more un­der the main­stream radar. Present but pri­vate, if you will.

The sec­ond form of cy­ber­pri­vacy is a much more dif­fi­cult one to tackle – that of try­ing to main­tain on­line ob­scu­rity. The om­nipres­ence of big data and the rise of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and al­go­rith­mic man­age­ment is un­set­tling a lot of peo­ple. Your so­cial-me­dia feeds and your web browser – Face­book and Google in par­tic­u­lar – and your cell­phone provider are just three big data plat­forms that know ev­ery­thing about you. Try­ing to opt out of that ma­trix is al­most im­pos­si­ble.

Some of the sug­ges­tions on how to elim­i­nate your dig­i­tal trail on the in­ter­net are laugh­able – only be­cause we would not be able to func­tion in the dig­i­tal age if we tried the rec­om­men­da­tions. These in­clude:

Delet­ing your so­cial-me­dia ac­counts, or most of the con­tent his­tory on your var­i­ous ac­counts.

Never sign­ing into an app us­ing your Face­book or Google ac­count – which is the most con­ve­nient way, and most peo­ple’s de­fault.

Track­ing down “data bro­kers” (the com­pa­nies that sell data­bases) and find­ing the “opt out” but­ton on each of their sites. Yeah right.

Another way to min­imise your cy­ber­foot­print is to hit “deny” each time an app prompts you to run an up­date and asks for your per­mis­sion to ac­cess your per­sonal data. This seems sen­si­ble, un­til you re­alise that when you start deny­ing one app’s ac­cess, it starts af­fect­ing the en­tire ecosys­tem of your smart­phone. It’s like snap­ping one strand of a spi­der’s web: the whole web be­comes un­sta­ble. Most peo­ple who have tried to deny ac­cess on apps have found, very quickly, that the rip­ple ef­fect on the ecosys­tem brings more trou­ble than it is worth, so they are forced to just ac­cept the in­va­sion of pri­vacy.

So un­less you are pre­pared to live on a de­serted is­land with no in­ter­net con­nec­tion, dig­i­tal pri­vacy is go­ing to be­come a con­tra­dic­tion in terms.

Greta Garbo said that her fa­mous quote – “I want to be alone” – was a mis­quote: “I never said ‘I want to be alone’, I only said ‘I want to be let alone!’ There is all the dif­fer­ence.”

This now ap­plies to our on­line lives. We’re con­cerned about the in­va­sion of our pri­vacy, but can’t func­tion un­less we give it up. The only thing we can do is trawl through the pri­vacy set­tings of all the plat­forms we use, and hope that we plug enough dig­i­tal leaks to be “let” alone. Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For

more trends, visit flux­trends.com Join him on Metro FM to­mor­row at 6.30am, when he dis­cusses

these trends on the First Av­enue show

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