Digital Footprints – Opportunities and Responsibilities

Two major events have taken place in my life recently: one person who I love and who has played a major part in my past has passed away, and another person who I already love and who will hopefully play a major part in my future has been born.

Whilst trying to take everything in, and whilst I see the term digital footprint thrown around social networks all the time, I just wanted to share a couple of observations I’ve made, the position I believe we’re now in, and throw a couple of quick questions out there.

The Past

My loved one who passed away built a legacy offline. This was based on integrity, trust, humility, strong values and helping others. Everyone that knew her knows her legacy will live on in many hearts and minds, and this will in no way be affected by companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter indexing and recording her life. She had probably never even heard of them! Will her legacy be seen online? Will she have left a digital footprint? Almost certainly not.

The Future

My loved one who has not yet taken her first step, or spoken her first word, is already having her digital footprint created for her. She also has no idea who Google, Facebook or Twitter are, but others are already sharing much of her early life across the internet. By the time she is able to use a computer, she will be able to see hundreds of related photos, videos and conversations. The indexing and recording of her life has already begun, out of no choice of her own.

The Present

Most of you who are reading this will be in a place between the two. You will definitely have the opportunity to leave a positive digital footprint, an opportunity others did not have, and you hold a large degree of control over this. You may also be in control over the digital footprints of others, and this involves responsibility.

I know this is a strange train of thought, and I’m certainly not diving into the right and wrong decisions that can be made, but I do honestly think it is worth reminding ourselves about these opportunities and responsibilities. We are in a newish spot. We can do things others were not able to do. We can control things others are not able to control.

The position we’re in isn’t based purely on age – it is also based on the understanding and control of modern technology, and it’s future implications.  The digital footprint we leave should (hopefully) reflect how we act as people rather than how well we understand the tools, although this understanding is still necessary. And off course, the digital footprint we control for others should be fair, even at it’s early stages.

A legacy left in hearts and minds will always be more valuable and precious than a digital footprint, but now we are living in a world where it needs to at least be thought about.

What type of digital footprint are you leaving?

Do you have a responsibility towards the digital footprints of others?

Have you talked about this situation before?

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  • Jed Langdon

    Great post Rob. I know we share similar views about social media being taught in schools, as we have talked about it before, but I find it really interesting that you are pushing the responsibility as far as parenting. 

    Now that I think about it you are spot on, parents have a big responsibility in shaping the digital footprints of children these days and in educating their children on online safety and the implications of their digital footprints in the future. 

    A part of me wonders, as we continue to live more and more of our lives online, whether teaching children about the online world and social networks is going to be as important a parenting skill, as say teaching the green cross code. The other part of me thinks that in teaching children manners, respect and to be themselves, perhaps they can’t go too far wrong in a digital world. Your thoughts?

  • Robert Pickstone

    Thanks Jed.

    It’s good to hear that you agree! A responsibility is definitely there, both in terms of controlling the early footprint of younger ones and then educating them too.

    One of the main problems is that it is very hard to stay on top of modern technology and changes to online comms – even those working in the industry find it hard to do! I wrote to a Member of Parliament about what is being done in schools with regards to teaching online safety, and whilst the right sounds were being made, the true test will come with actions.

    Schools with never be able to keep up with every minor change so, as you say, teaching fundamental rights and wrongs in how to behave and act will help to guide youngsters towards making better decisions online. Even the most well behaved youngsters will have things they wouldn’t want to show to potential employers, so whilst the right and wrong actions can cut out a lot of potential problems, an understanding of the technology and it’s implications are still needed.

    How on earth do you teach or even approach parents about some of these issues?! It is a major challenge and an important one. By the time many children are old enough to have accounts on different websites, they may be the ones teaching the parents ;-)



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