(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

(continuing from here…)

So, how much of my own life is digital?

It turns out that a lot of your life is already digital or digitally managed, even if you never use a computer. Some things are (at least apparently) controlled by you, some by others, but there are dangers in both cases. Here are some examples.

Do I still own my own memories and feelings?

Today, thanks to computers, many of us can save, enjoy and share much more of our lives and much more easily, than our parents and grandparents could. Sometimes this already happens online with picture galleries, social bookmarking or online diaries.

The truth is that all this, unless it’s done in the right way, is a very fragile illusion, and isn’t even yours. Let’s assume that you finally find in your attic, at the bottom of that big trunk, the original floppy disks of your PhD thesis written no more than ten years ago, and you want to print them again for old times sake. Can you? Very probably not. Do you at least know why?

Many of us still have handwritten letters or old photographs from grandparents or from their own infancy. It is really easy, albeit time-consuming, to create digital copies with a computer and a scanner, but such copies may last much less longer than the originals: viruses, scratched CD-roms not usable anymore, computer crashes, incompatibility with next year’s DVD player or software… Do you want to cope with this? Can you really call this progress?

What if you cannot use your pictures or certificates because the software to display them has disappeared? They’re not yours then, nor is your life. The same applies to anything that you stored digitally with a secret code whose key is only known by somebody else, something that still happens with most office documents.

Sadly, all this also happens in the academic world, which at least ideally should be fighting to the death any attempt to destroy and forget information. Just a few years ago, technical papers and theses were almost always available in top quality digital formats that everybody could read from almost any computing environment. Today, you often have to have the same presentation or word processing software of your professor, or just resort to photocopies. The same applies to availability of course material online, e-learning and such.

It’s not just your diary, it’s your peace of mind

You might just conclude that all this is not such a big deal and forget the whole thing, but that would be a big mistake.

What if you are being audited by the Tax Office and the vanished files contained tax relevant information, for example? Think when the same thing happens to all the other official documents that define your and your children’s life. School and medical records, property certificates, pension payments, law texts, contracts, SAT procedures: all these things have already been digitized, or will be as soon as possible because it is so much easier and economical, for the reasons explained at the beginning of this chapter.

This is the first thing to know: your life is getting more and more digital every day, whether you are still a toddler or have already retired to some tropical island. As with any other really great thing, it can be very good or very bad. While there is no need to become a programmer, it is essential to understand how this happens, and how it must work to your advantage.