Open till dawn

25 Oct

Crowd, by Anirudh Koul (Licensed under CC deed 2.0)

I want to talk about many things that haunt me lately, about social networks, openness, crowdsourcing… Words and ideas come to my brain so fast that it’s not easy to organize and translate them but I’ll try my best.

It all started the other day when I was walking on the street and I saw a small girl walking home, maybe like 7 years old as I estimated. Too young to go home on her own with no parents or brothers around, but I guess it’s the way it is…Well, she was a normal girl we could say, and apart from the deep pink coat that she wore and that left my eyes hurting for a little bit, there was something that completely shocked me. She was using a Blackberry, the latest trend in smartphones, typing as she walked home as quick as a 16 year old teeny and using it with an ease and fluidity that left me stunned. It was around 5 o’clock when I witnessed this, so I thought to myself “Shouldn’t she be playing in the garden with her friends or maybe doing some sport?”. Nope. By the speed of her little fingers I guess she was texting or chatting with someone, not even playing a videogame. Who was she talking with? Another friend from school? Her worried mother or father? Her sister? A mystery. But, hey, as I said before, isn’t she a bit young to be so focused in using the phone instead of playing and running like most kids used to do?

The story continues just this morning, when I was reading a free newspaper on the bus in the way to Uni. A woman committed suicide after telling what she had did and asking for help in Twitter. She didn’t leave a note or a call to her husband, just some tweets. As it seems, some friends of her fortunately saw her posts and called an ambulance as soon as they read them. But it was too late for her. What more can I say? Social networks have definitely transformed the way we think and act, and sometimes they can be pretty convenient (and gloomy, too). People owe their lives to social networks and some of them owe their deaths too, unfortunately.

I know I’m being gloomy in this post, but I came to think of some young people who died recently (we are not safe anywhere or at any age) and left behind them their Facebook profile, their blog, their Twitter account… What happens with that data? Who owns it? If his/her relatives don’t know the password for their accounts, how can they do something with them? They will be leaving a fingerprint on the Internet as long as these social network live. There are even some websites like MyWebWill who have already thought about this, leaving you the option of choosing what to do with your accounts: transferring the information to a relative, deactivating them, changing your last status… I don’t particularly like black humor, but the fact that you have a Premium service for doing that makes me laugh a bit.

These are some effects of openness of social networks that we have to cope with. In fact, openness is not only good or bad, it’s… both at the same time, lines on good or bad are blurred. Openness becomes something of a crime in the case of hackers, who have been around since the start of the internet. I’m almost sure you have read about Anonymous, the “hacktivist” group that have undertaken many actions against US government and big companies like Apple, Sony and Paypal when they protested against the closing of WikiLeaks. In the protests that have taken place all over the world supporting their actions, people wear masks just like in the “V for Vendetta” movie, which is a place from where Anonymous have taken much of their philosophy from (freedom fighters using sometimes violent methods).

Anonymous mask by Luciano Castillo (under CC)

Anonymous mask by Luciano Castillo (under CC)

They are in the news now for targeting servers that host child pornography. Hacking those servers is in fact a crime, but… it’s morally correct so is it really that bad? Hmm, the eternal question.

Internet is quite open, but sometimes we feel like it has gone completely out of control, not only because we don’t really know who hosts our information, but we also don’t know how people are going to use it. Last week’s examples of altruism given by Helen Keegan were quite uplifting for me and they were a breathe of fresh air and hope in these dark times. We can always be better and I think that technology can sometimes take the best of ourselves.

More things to dig about, in the next post…

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