Managing your digital footprint

boy eats keyboard

Technology is part of our lives and it is not going away. How much you want to let it into your life and for what purpose are questions every one of us is faced with on a daily basis. Technology is a tool I use to make my life, my business and my family’s life easier. I think of the computer and the toaster on the same level; they are tools. I use them when I need them, then I carry on smelling the flowers and enjoying the world around me.

When it comes to the computer, and more specifically the Internet, several thoughts come to mind: naivety, blind faith, trust; ‘they’ know what they are doing; no-one will share my information; I only share information with my friends; what if the house burns down – if we don’t have our private information in The Cloud where else can we store it?

Like many, I baulk at governments monitoring and invading our privacy. Conversely, we often take for granted our dependence on the Internet for security and financial returns. In being dependent, we rely on a handful of multinationals to keep our secrets and private information to themselves.

Previously I have written about my lovely puppy, Isaac. To help me train him, I have searched Google. Google has cottoned onto my searches and now sends me many advertisements related to my puppy’s breed. As these unsolicited offers of ‘help’ make me a little uncomfortable, I largely ignore them.

We forget that the Web is a computer program made by multinational corporations who need our personal details to generate their income. If I had a choice, I would trust New Zealand Post more with my personal information – you would be pretty sure if it was to tinker with your physical mail. Nonetheless, Google is a free service and sharing my private details with it is how I pay for it.

Many people would say that they don’t have an issue with their Internet usage being tracked and advertisements being generated from their Internet search history. For them, the Internet is seen as a computer program, rather than a person monitoring them.  They point out that, as a society, we are already being monitored and tracked – banks tracking transactions, CCTV, airlines monitoring where you fly. It would be pretty impossible not to leave some sort of digital trail of where they have been.

As my children go to school I find myself having to manage the technology bubble. I question whether my kids should be using the Internet (and primarily Google) without fully knowing its full potential. Interestingly, I wouldn’t let my kids operate the kitchen kettle without them understanding what a kettle filled with boiling water could do to them and how to operate it safely.

Children need to learn E-technology from a very young age – but do they? I have watched people over 70 being guided through Seniornet courses learn about computer technology. They get it and they are senior. Am I wrong to ask for my kids to smell the air, feel the wind on their cheeks, see the leaves turn different colours, watch the stars at night all instead of bending (in hideous positions that only kids can achieve which I suspect will be a health issue for the Western world in later years) over a computer tablet?

My children’s teacher says they are lucky – the teens and young adults today have been the Internet’s ‘guinea pigs’ and my children will be better prepared to understand and manage the Internet than them. Their teacher has a valid point. However, I do question whether the teachers of today have enough knowledge to support and guide our precious and impressionable children through the minefield that is the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, technology is great to learn and has supported my business, my family and me. And, it has entertained my children and supported their learning in different ways than when I was at school. It has also caused long hours of wasted time battling technical issues and searching endlessly on the Net for an answer to how I can file something (and my physical filing cabinet is a metre away from me).

ph2I am not a Facebook convert and feel no desire to communicate all my social engagements and family life with the world. Rather, I use Facebook as a shop-front for my business. I have a cell phone to call or receive calls periodically on through the day. And, I turn it off when I don’t want to be contacted or disturbed. I have no need to be available 24/7 or to surf the Internet, Tweet or Facebook when I have a spare moment or to check my emails continuously at meal times or during social gatherings. I have the ability to use all these mediums, but choose not to. Instead I prefer to have real conversations, read a paper or a book and to face-to-face meetings with friends and clients.

As with everything, computer technology has its place. It has opened doors, provided opportunities and helped people learn. It has installed the ability to self diagnose and to question the norm. It has kept our medical profession on its toes and helped it to become a better communicator. It has helped make our politicians more approachable. It allows me to buy and sell goods from the comfort of my armchair. And, I admire people who use the Internet very effectively to improve their lives for the better.

I manage my digital footprint so my family and my own self-identity, privacy and self-respect are maintained. I remind myself to keep at the back of my mind that once I have put information on the Internet, it is pretty challenging (if not impossible) to reverse that action. I put parameters around my computer and the cell phone; if I didn’t these devices would intrude on my life and take up more and more of my family’s time.

Teaching my children to understand and use technology in a safe responsible manner is challenging and often daunting. As a parent, my responsibilities are to manage, get to grips with, and educate my children on their digital footprint. As part of this responsibility, I need to have knowledge of the technological tools my children are operating with and within.

While I have no set recipe when using technology, some general guidelines I use include:

  • Being aware: your information can be stolen, anytime. If private documents, photographs, etc, are on your computer, it has the potential to be used in a way that you may not like.
  • Back-up your stuff: preferably keep your hard-drive off-site and in a different place to your computer.
  • Strengthen your passwords: don’t have passwords that are easy to crack or specific to you, and please don’t use the same ones over and over for all your technological devices.
  • Don’t recognise it, don’t open it: if you don’t recognise material that is sent to you, don’t open it – don’t give those spammers any of your time and/or energy, let alone money!
  • Check your bank statements regularly and report any inconsistencies to your bank immediately.
  • Ask yourself: what is my child sacrificing to be on the computer? Does lack of computer time make them horrible? Have they got online ‘friends’ you don’t know about? Do they get out much or enjoy activities that they once did? Is your child able to create a balance between the computer being an education tool and an entertainment medium?

Some available sites for parents and kids on the Net include:

http://www.netsafe.org.nz/http://hectorsworld.netsafe.org.nz/

http://kids.ikeepsafe.org/

Lastly, put some parameters around the computer, get tech-savvy, talk to your kids about privacy, good behaviour and self-respect, know what they are doing on-line, and get out together, enjoy life to the fullest and be a real kiwi family.

Rachel Binning

Rachel Binning is a full-time jack-of-all-trades who has an extensive background within the health sector. She now wholeheartedly agrees with ex US President, Bill Clinton that “the toughest job in the world isn’t being a president. It’s being a parent”. Rachel juggles being a mum of two active boys with her business, Bella Photography, volunteer work for many and varied organisations that support families, and contributes weekly to community newspapers throughout Wellington.

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Please note that this article represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Kiwi Family Media Ltd.

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