Breached — Not Broken.
The government sanctioned theft of our digital privacy is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for.
What little semblance of digital privacy we had is now gone. Soon, the anemic cookie-fed pixels that track us will no longer dine on crumbs — they’ll feast in a Keebler factory. Most Americans will dutifully set the table; we’ve already shown our willingness to open the door.
Make no mistake about it: We are witnessing history. A precedent has been set.
However, unlike other moments in history, this chapter is just beginning. The cause is there, but the effect has yet to be coded into our children’s history tablets. With a little help — it never will be.
The VPN and the Fisherman.
A colleague recently reminded me of a well-worn story¹ that I find particularly apropos to the overnight demand for VPNs. It is the upstream/downstream analogy of a fishing village that dedicates enormous resources to saving the folks who fall into the rapids upstream. Hospitals are built. Response protocols are set, and highly trained lifeguards wait on shore to dive in at a moments notice.
This reactionary process kept everyone downstream very busy. So busy in fact, that no one had time to hike upstream and figure out why people were falling into the river in the first place.
The swell of recent articles covering the benefits and implementation of VPNs are all undeniably valid. Indeed, VPNs will play a significant role in our response to the privacy crisis at hand. However, like Downstream Village, VPNs mitigate the danger — they do not cure the root cause.
From the Front to the Back.
The creative class holds the power to render the theft of our digital privacy meaningless. We are the ones developing, coding, and designing the very applications that put us at risk. As such, we are the only ones with the ability to hike up-river and eliminate these vulnerabilities in the first place.
Apps like Signal are proving that good design and strong encryption are not mutually exclusive. Sure, they might not be Pinterest-worthy, but neither is iMessage.
Pushing for the wider adoption of encryption, HTTPS, secure tunnels, and light-weight VPN alternatives are not the sole responsibility of DevOps. Nor are they solely a cause reserved for the back-end, front end, or bleeding edge. It is an opportunity to finally rise, and develop, as one united creative class.
Sure, discovering scalable solutions to implement efficient encryption technologies might rely on a specific skill-set. But its adoption will rely just as heavily on UX and designers who can make that implementation feel seamless. But a well encrypted, well designed, fluid user-experience doesn’t do much if writers and art directors can’t help the project break through and reach a critical mass — so the creative responsibility will fall on them, too.
When the Levee Breaks.
We’ve been awkwardly dancing around our fellow creative communities for too long. We’ve perfected workflows and Slack channels that ensure we’re just collaborative enough to keep Downstream Village operating smoothly.
However, perhaps now is the time to look up, and start hiking.
If recent government policy is an indication of anything, it’s that a storm is brewing. And, if that storm turns into a flood — well, it sure as Hell would be nice to be upstream.
 Don’s Fable: Upstream/Downstream by Donald B. Ardell, Ph.D