The digital world which influences our lives today has no bounds
Not only do its technological tentacles impact on our daily lives in matters as common place as our existing utility and bank accounts, but its nature is such that it can mine and store information and statements we made in the past and that were long forgotten.
This was brought home to me with great force when my son recently sent me something he had found in doing research into the rejuvenation of South African cities. But it was what he found about work I was doing in the 1970s, while in Durban, that astonished me.
At the time I was heavily involved in working through an organisation committed to the demise of apartheid. I was regularly quoted in the media in those days, and various foreign embassies and consulates-general also used my briefings to them in their reports back to their governments. I had, however, long forgotten about the detail of those days. Apartheid has come and gone, and we live and work now in a new socio-political milieu. Well, so I thought until my son’s email arrived.
Did I know, he asked, that something I had said in 1976 was now part of the (sensitive) Wikileaks portfolio that had been hacked from US government files and posted on the internet? For good measure he sent me the link to the document, which turned out to be related to some political activity in which I was involved in that seminal year in South Africa. I cannot even remember what it was all about. Almost 40 years ago is, after all, a long time.
Why do I relate this incident? Quite simply because it is an illustration that information about one, or things we had done and said, many years ago, and which we have forgotten, are still very much alive, thanks to social media. And it’s not that we intended them necessarily to be remembered when we penned or said these words!
In my case, I was not even aware, necessarily, that the apparent words of wisdom I had sprouted to some forgotten US Consul-General, would be reported – and certainly not given the remotest thought to the possibility that they would be stored and retrievable through cyberspace four decades later.
In my work these days I emphasise the seemingly lasting nature of social media. But it seems even more lasting than even I imagined. The implication is that we should be highly responsible in what we communicate via social media. The Information Age means that communication is now more dynamic than ever. Staid, snail pace communication of the 1970s has caught up with it – and the accessibility of information is more pervasive than ever.
Worth bearing in mind that nothing we write or utter is ever private.