The Cost of going Digital

Nothing we use, digital or not comes at no cost. In order to live and thrive in a digital world, we sacrifice some commodity, whether it be our money, time, freedom or now more than ever our data.

Data is the new oil. Used with permission

Since the dawn of the information age, the most valuable commodity, especially over the past decade has become data, and akin to oil in the industrial age, its value comes more from its quantity. Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google said

“Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information As [humanity] Did Up To 2003”.

However, in that comment is where the criticism of the collection and use of Big Data stems.

Organizations, especially the top technology firms and data-broking companies have been criticized for the amount of data they collect from their customers and not specifying what is and isn’t collected and how it’s used. However collecting data from consumers should be a non-zero-sum, data from consumers allow companies to improve their products, customizing them for their customers which improve consumer experience for existing customers and attracts new ones, who subsequently produce more data, win-win. Amazon can suggest to you what you are most likely to want or need to buy, Facebook can show you posts that are focused on your interests, Tesla is able to make their self-driving cars safer and more accurate, these are just some of many benefits that arise from companies collecting our data in ways unimaginable in the past.

Most of the criticism comes from the consumers not knowing exactly what they sacrifice for a “better experience”. These organizations are able to build a virtual identity for you using data they’ve collected about you unbeknownst to the person it relates to. They can create representations of you from your online activities, continuously pushing the privacy line. These profiles are then traded around and sold on to other companies and sometimes to the governments. Every once in awhile, the question of the scale and scope of government surveillance is raised, but as long as the government can buy information about people, the necessity for tighter government surveillance decreases and ultimately becomes cheaper and easier.

A popular argument against privacy restrictions on data collection is that, if you aren’t doing anything wrong online, then you have nothing to hide and therefor worry about. It’s a fairly logical argument, but it can prove controversial when decisions are made about based on your virtual profile. A privacy analyst with said in an article with CNN,

“The other side of the coin is that important decisions are being made about you, the real you, based on the virtual ‘you’ that’s made up of all this data, decisions like your credit score, your insurance rates, or even if you get a job. And these things are serious, they have serious import in people’s lives and sometimes they are wrong”.

Should such important decisions be made by a person, people or even an algorithm based on online data? Should we be okay with all this data collection because it allows meaningful improvement to our lives?

Humans replaced by machines. Used with permission

As technology advances the need for human roles diminishes. We may be a couple years away from a Terminator-style complication, but with the efficiency of machines ever-improving, that picture is starting to appear a little less blurry. No matter how high skilled your job, a machine could alway make it easier and more significantly cheaper. I am an aspiring computer scientist, which you would think is a job mostly secure from a technological redundancy. I was interested in web development hoping to have a career in that area, suffice to say I was disheartened when I saw adverts for Wix, a website that “unites beauty and advanced technology to create your stunning website. It’s easy and free.” as quoted from the Wix website, so much for a web development career.

This again is another sacrifice we have made in our venture towards a more digital world. With fewer humans in the workforce and more technology, we get a limited human error cost because let’s face it in areas they’re significantly deployed machines are better and cheaper than the humans they replace. Even severely delicate situations such as surgery, Robot Surgeons save more lives as they are more precise and less prone to errors. From an article from Wired:

“One multi-tasker bot, from Momentum Machines, can make (and flip) a gourmet hamburger in 10 seconds and could soon replace an entire McDonalds crew. A manufacturing device from Universal Robots doesn’t just solder, paint, screw, glue, and grasp — it builds new parts for itself on the fly when they wear out or bust. And just this week, Google won a patent to start building worker robots with personalities”.

Wait times for a McDonalds would fall drastically allowing more people to get served quicker but at the same time putting a significant number of people out of work.

There’s already is signs of a backlash against technology taking people’s jobs such as the protests against uber in France, despite breaking no laws at the time, Uber’s biggest crime in this situation was creating competition for traditional taxi drivers.

Youtube channel. Used with permission

With a digital world, a plethora of opportunities has been created for people to explore. Youtube is now one of the largest media platforms in the world. Originally intended to be dating website it’s now a source of endless hours of entertainment, news, education, cat videos and almost anything you can think of, almost all user-generated content. It’s launched careers such as Pentatonix and Bo Burnham, created some worldwide known personalities like Pewdiepie and allowed for failed and aspiring journalists, editors, animators, comedians, musicians and much more to follow their desired career path. Although people accredit the inevitable death of cable TV to Netflix, Youtube was the first to widely demonstrate that the internet could deliver content as well as or better than traditional media platforms. Now other content platforms are realizing the power of online content, social media algorithms are increasingly prioritizing news and professionally created content over friend’s posts, allowing news and media organizations to exist solely online through social media sites, spelling the end for traditional media.

Living in a digital world means we need to make sacrifices. What we sacrifice and how much we do depends on the future we as a human society want. Whether right or wrong, whether too great or not enough, one thing is true

Quote by Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart. Used with permission.


“Mixed feelings closer to negative. It’s an amazing prospect with a lot of issues”.

That was my original opinion about a digital world from my week 1-time capsule. Looking back at my week 1-time capsule, that opinion was from a fairly narrow-minded view of a digital world. For me, the digital world constituted:

  • Social Media
  • Digital Marketing
  • and Privacy.

Mini Mission 1: Analysis and Reflection was a particularly interesting investigation into my digital presence. After using Wolfram personal analytics to create my Facebook report and also trying to Google myself I have almost no digital presence, especially compared to the other students which made me a feel like I was a little disconnected from their worlds. I remember going on facebook that night and liking almost every post that appeared on my news feed.

In my search for my digital presence, I came across something that scared me a little and sent me into tin foil hat mode. I found out that as long as you have locations services on your phone, Google can timeline your location history into where you went, how long you spent there, the path you took from as far back as 2009. As much as I commend Google for at least telling me this information, finding this out lead to me permanently turning location services off and making sure anytime an app wants to use a feature on my phone, it exclusively asks me for permission. I used to give the argument against privacy that, “If you have nothing to hide, then let them have all the information they want”, but now I think that there is a real attack on our privacy that we need to control.

Digital Marketing is still one I debate myself with. I never used to get the argument against online advertisements on articles or videos. For me, it was a reasonable cost for getting free content online. After week 2, I do understand the differing opinion that it is too much. I still have use ad blocker on all web browsers and don’t whitelist any site, not even the ones I like cause sometimes its a little in your face. But even then I still think that digital marketing is a fair bargain for free online content. I actually admired Burger king for their advert and thought it was creative, too bad the rest of the world did not.

A question which I never thought I would is that “How will Facebook die?”. In week 1 we looked at a Padlet on the history of social media and discussed how social media has evolved from what it started has. I didn’t realize just how many of services similar to Facebook had existed before it. It was and still is to some extent for me to imagine a time with no Facebook and something else taking its place because Facebook is everywhere, but people’s interests change. However, from that seminar, we know Facebook knows how to evolve with changes in time. Currently, Facebook has added a feature similar to Snapchat’s and Instagram’s (which ironically is owned by Facebook) stories, which although has not taken off, shows that Facebook is not afraid to change.

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