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August 7, 2009

Of surveillance, gigalapses, and our trust in the Cloud.

BOSTON, USA – I want to bring up two things for discussion today: the end of the world and the quantified self. One is about all information disappearing, the other, about all information appearing. What ties them together is the future of the Web.

Intrigued? I hope so. Read on.

Ka. Boom.
The big news yesterday was the end of the world as we knew it. Well, not that bad, but close enough for all of you who spend time on Facebook, Twitter, and a gaggle of Google sites. As I write this, there is an idea as to what might have happened. One thought is that a particular individual was targeted by ruthless hackers who, instead of targeting the individual, targeted all the services that individual used.

While I think it makes for a great story, I’d like to think they targeted me, since I, too, use many of those services that went down. Or maybe they were targeting you.

Nonetheless, I am reminded of an article from Dec 1995 where Bob Metcalfe predicted a “catastrophic collapse” of the Internet in 1996. And, when the “gigalapse,” a billion lost user-hours, never happened (though there were megalapses), he ended up eating his own column in which he had made the failed prediction.

How did you cope with the big slowdown yesterday? What do you think was the real (or fake) reason for it?

Know yourself
Putting aside the talk of inaccessible data, you may have noticed I have periodically pointed out interesting articles on self quantification. Sensors and wireless chips are getting more versatile, and there are many stories of ubiquitous measurement and life-streaming, or, continuous transmission of contextual and vital information out into the Cloud.

Julian Bleecker has a nice analysis of the surveillance issues in two science fiction movies. He looks at them, both from their design perspective (how does the director portray the concepts in the movies) and from the philosophical perspective (what is the meaning of all this surveillance).

I’ve watched both movies. To me, Final Cut hit closest, since many years ago I used to work on Lifeblog, very much a prototypical life-streaming app that captured your messages and media for you to review in a timeline.

Indeed, the concept of life-streaming or life-blogging or even close observation of one’s actions, has just been getting stronger. The latest article I read on this discusses a pill with a chip to report if it has been swallowed. The article [via freegorifero] also goes on to list many other applications, all of which entail some sort of measurement and outright surveillance “for the good of the patient.”

How far will we go letting ourselves be watched and measured? And will we be streaming everything onto the Web?

Not a cloud to be seen
That leads me to my final thought for the day: our growing dependence on the Cloud, placing our software and data out there on servers we access over the Internet. I am sure that those who could not get to their data yesterday just sat back an twiddled their thumbs. But what if it were a life or death thing? Or if the whole stream were lost?

Being a bit of an optimist, I think we’ll eventually learn how to make the Cloud more reliable, though I am enough of a realist to know that things will be broken and lost along the way.

Where do you stand on this?

Image from asoct28

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