Your Privacy, Information Transparency & Short Attention Spans

What looks to be a terrific US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) 'Frontline' program 'Digital Nation' airs February 2nd in North America and will be available online internationally: the trailer is above and continues an ongoing examination by PBS of the remaking of modern culture by digital media in ways that we’re only beginning to understand.

What looks to be a terrific US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) 'Frontline' program 'Digital Nation' airs February 2nd in North America and will be available online internationally: the trailer is above and continues an ongoing examination by PBS of the remaking of modern culture by digital media in ways that we’re only beginning to understand.

The unprecedented technological changes we are going through within a short time frame have major ramifications for the challenges and effectiveness of multi tasking and concentration amid constant technological innovation and sophistication.

At the 'Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media' (CHIMe) Lab,  Stanford professor Clifford Nass has been studying the effectiveness of self-proclaimed multitaskers. “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we’ve done suggests they’re worse at analytic reasoning….We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.” Nass says during 'Digital Nation'.

Separately, Nick Carr this week wrote in a typically thoughtful post about another area deeply affected but not well understood by technological change: your privacy.

The continuing denigration of privacy may begin to warp our understanding of what "privacy" really means. As Bruce Schneier has written, privacy is not just a screen we hide behind when we do something naughty or embarrassing; privacy is "intrinsic to the concept of liberty"

Carr makes another fundamental point in the post, titled 'Other People's Privacy', about the wealthy, powerful people in control of your online privacy

If you exist within a personal Green Zone of private jets, fenced off hideaways, and firewalls maintained by the country's best law firms and PR agencies, it's hardly a surprise that you'd eventually come to see privacy more as a privilege than a right. And if your company happens to make its money by mining personal data, well, that's all the more reason to convince yourself that other people's privacy may not be so important

There is a huge difference between transparency and being in control of your personal privacy. link to video Tim Berners Lee said, in this talk to the TED conference in March 2009, "You have no idea of the excuses people come up with to keep data out of your hands, even when you as taxpayers have paid for it". This drive for macro state and corporate transparency (Raw Data Now!) is being fought even as individual privacy terms are changed and eroded.

Carr again:

Today, online services and databases play increasingly important roles in our public and our private lives - and in the way we choose to distinguish between them. Many of those services and databases are under corporate control, operated for profit by companies like Google and Facebook. If those companies can't be trusted to respect and defend the privacy rights of their users, they should be spurned. Privacy is the skin of the self. Strip it away, and in no time desiccation sets in.

The multi tasking 'digital nation' expects the world to be available through their digital device displays - at issue is the comprehension and depth of understanding of those resources and information. Despite the hyperbole of the PBS promo, previous generations have grown up with superficial 30 second crescendos of information in 'sit back and consume' culture TV commercials. Similar panics about brains turning to mush from TV over stimulation have occurred in the past.

The macro transparency lobbyists had cause to celebrate this week in the UK where the government made some of the non-personal data it collects available for unrestricted reuse on newly launched data.gov.uk, an effort which jumps ahead of the US data.gov site designed to 'to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government' in terms of information shared.

The UK Guardian has a useful site detailing other examples of government transparency titled Official government data sites around the world.

Meanwhile a 'how to' discussion of currently fashionable mass market social network Facebook's privacy settings 'The 3 Facebook Settings Every User Should Check Now' has been the most emailed New York Times story for some days now.

Efforts to make available the information governments and business collect about us run parallel to efforts by individuals to understand and control what is being shared from the personal information they entrust to commercial services.

Align this with the short attention span, multi tasking masses and you have some serious challenges  around how business and government collaborating participants and employees perceive and understand their roles at scale.

Just as Stanford professor Clifford Nass has concerns about the efficiency and effectiveness of students multi tasking, the successfully designed collaboration environment needs to be very clear about objectives and tools used to achieve those objectives in order to avoid boiling the multi tasking Kool Aid while failing to focus.

There is no question that an interconnected organization collaborating and sharing information efficiently internally is powerful thing, but the ideas and concepts of how you might do this and the practical reality of operationally reaching that goal using modern technologies are frequently very underestimated.