The Great Discoveries, the Enlightenment and the Internet

A few weeks ago, I have been discussing about cookies while working on an assignment for my one of UBC Award of Achievement in Digital Analytics module and I had an interesting argument about comparing one’s personal computer to a home, and beyond this to the fact that the internet development is a real revolutionary spread.

Actually, this comparison makes sense, as far as you consider your home for what it is, i.e. your home base before and after any possible journey you would make, for work, leisure, shopping, vacation… Your computer is like your home, only if you do not walk outside, i.e. only if you do not connect to the web. Browsing is like going outside, to shops, to leisure activities, to theaters, to restaurants, and there, people collect constantly your own personal information.

Considering the privacy issue on my computer, I have especially focused my thoughts on the cookie management, a difficult balance between a good browsing experience and an all too present advertisement intrusion. It is similar to any visit or phone call to my home, as I would not want to tell or show too much, unless I have cleaned my floor, hidden what I would not want others to have a look at, or set my mind to “politically-correct”…

There is a schizophrenic behavior of users requesting an ever improved speed and usability for the websites, but grumbling against the website adaptation to the client’s browsing preferences, in a “but how do they know so much about me?” mode. As far as I am aware that I give up some of my privacy, allowing first-party cookies to improve my own user experience through increased page loading speed and saved preferences (such as passwords on on-line gaming sites or pre-entered Personal Information on e-shopping ones), this is fine: I do accept them freely, wherever they make sense, i.e. when they offer a real service to me. On small exception, when accessing “sensible” information (Online Banking or Tax Payments), I usually activate the “do-not-track” option, which is supposed to prevent the website from collecting cookies. So far so good for my online privacy.

In parallel to my home, I just lock it with a key, draw the curtains and lock the shutters, and my home privacy is also safe. Still a personal computer cannot be a stand-alone object any more, with no connection to the outside world, just like no one would ever stay at home all of his/her life. A computer is very much like one’s life, in constant interaction with outside inputs and outputs, and hence everyone has to acknowledge that data are collected about oneself, one way or the other.

Beyond the debate about how to manage cookies and whether they should be more strictly ruled (I may handle this later), I believe that we are anyway at a turn of history, a moment when the technology itself (internet, broadband, mobile, NFC, GPS…) is altering the very way we behave.

To refer precisely to my post title, I believe we are at a turn of tides, like at the times of the Great Discoveries in the 15th and 16th century, when we got to learn about other worlds, or those of the Enlightenment, in the 18th and 19th century, when the emergence of new ideas, as well as the tremendous progress of transportation, meant no one in the world could remain hidden from others. In this respect, the internet (and its multiple technological spin-offs) brIngs a new era of openness to the world, as one may not only be aware of new ideas or have the possibility to go and see other people and culture, but in a more efficiently manner, anyone may now summon anything and anyone to his own couch, through the power of a connected device…

This is like my home actually, as in the Middle Ages, it was totally isolated in the middle of the nowhere, and then someone discovered the way to it, then an enlightening road was built, and now, a full connected town is growing around my place. My behavior, and my relation to others will definitely be altered, as well as the depth of the knowledge they will be able to gather about me (and me about them)…

The Great Discoveries led to the fading power of the Catholic Church in Western Europe, as well as the possibility to travel enriched the revolutionary ideas of the Enlightenment… So is also the internet revolution, it changes our relationship to the world, to others, and even to ourselves!

it goes without saying that any revolution has its drawbacks; like the Revolutions from 1789 to 1917 have led to massive kills of “Ancien Régime” people, the internet is unfortunately not only nibbling our privacy, but also killing some traditional activities (Physical Cultural Media, including paper, CD’s or tapes, Brick and Mortar retailing…). Still, the same Revolutions brought new rights to the majority of the people (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), just like the internet now allows equal rights and access to education, information, services, products… I do believe in the positive change that is brought by the latest technologies. Let us just remind ourselves that the internet only is a mean to reach a more comfortable world…

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