A couple of weeks ago I travelled for work. One evening I found myself in the lobby of the hotel reading a free copy of USA Today left on a chair. I started thinking how rarely I read a true paper copy of a newspaper nowadays. Flipping through the pages of the newspaper, I also realized that, unless there were video-cameras in the hotel lobby, nobody would ever know what I was reading. Nobody would be able to reconstruct my behavior (which articles I read, how long did I spend on each page, which pictures I looked at). Then the thought hit me of how unusual this freedom is in our cyberconnected world.
From my site logs, I can learn a lot about people who visit my blog. I know which page they hit first, how long they stay, which pages they visit, an where they are coming from. I know their IP addresses, their geographical location, which words they entered in which search engine before coming to my site. Often I can even piece together who they are (“Hey, my friend Joy visited my site today. How nice of her!”)
Which means that when I surf the web, my behavior is recorded with the same frightening level of detail. Even the books I read can be connected to me, if I bought them on Amazon or at a physical store with my credit card. At work, most of what I do on my computer is logged and my e-mails must be stored for 7 years.
Nothing new here, of course. But for some reason that evening the true significance of our constantly logged life became very real to me. Reading that copy of USA Today seemed the lightest thing I have done in a long long time (light as in Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being; that book is haunting me in this period.)
I felt free. I felt anonymous. I felt happy.