How to be a person among persons

This week I read Kevin Simler’s Personhood: A Game for Two or More Players, a sociological essay on what it means to be a person. It’s a really interesting piece, of the type that makes me pause every few paragraphs in order to highlight a really interesting point. For example, this explanation of the benefits of personhood:

Being a person entitles you to conduct yourself among persons. Or to be more precise: The more personhood you display, the more you’ll be welcome in the society of persons.

And what I thought to be a quite brilliant summary of transitioning to adulthood in society:

A large part of growing up consists of internalizing the social consequences of failing to maintain integrity.

He also talks about personhood in terms of being a fictional construct, which I found particularly interesting because I’ve recently finished reading Yuval Harari’s book, Sapiens, which also talks about culture and humanity in terms of fictions. But I’ll write more about that separately.

Personhood is always a fiction: the fiction of being a consistent, singular agent.

I probably haven’t done the article justice with my choice of quotes here. It’s really quite fascinating, and I recommend it to you.

Data Privacy, Control, Transparency, and Regulation

I’ve written about privacy and personal data a few times before, and my conclusion generally remains the same: our data has value, and we should be able to benefit from the use of it, but we must be provided with control and transparency, backed up by strong regulation.

Pertinent to this, I was interested to read The Future Is Data Integrity, Not Confidentiality. This is an extract from a talk by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia, where they’re creating a digital society. In this talk he says:

“We have a law that says you own your own data. And you can see who has tried to access your data.”

And in What Happens Next Will Amaze You, the latest in a long line of excellent talks/essays by Maciej Cegłowski, he lays out six fixes for the busted internet power model (where users are somewhere near the bottom). These fixes include:

You should have the right to download data that you have provided, or that has been collected by observing your behavior, in a usable electronic format.

You should have the right to completely remove [your] account and all associated personal information from any online service, whenever [you] want.

Companies should only be allowed to store behavioral data for 90 days. Companies should be prohibited from selling or otherwise sharing behavioral data.

And, perhaps most important of all, there is a requirement for:

A legal mechanism to let companies to make enforceable promises about their behavior.

This is exactly what I mean. This is what I think the future should look like: we benefit from our personal and aggregated public data, with control and transparency, backed up by strong regulation. Who do we talk to, to make this happen?

Thinking about how someone else is thinking about a thing

After I write blog posts here or (more often) on Broken Links I tend to watch Twitter to see who’s interacting with the post. On occasion someone who interacts might work in a field strongly related to the subject of the post, or have some other relevant attribute, and when this happens I go back and re-read the post I’ve written from what I imagine that person’s point of view might be.

For example, today I wrote about innovation in mobile browsers, and the iPhone, and after I’d published it, saw that a FirefoxOS developer had favourited my promotional tweet. So I went back and read my post again, imagining what a FirefoxOS developer might think of it.

Working like this doesn’t really give me other people’s points of view, but it makes me think about my articles in a different way, to consider how certain phrases could be interpreted. Sometimes this thinking about how someone else could be thinking about what I’ve written causes me to make changes or clarifications to the post.

Today I named this editing process attributed empathy. I find it a useful technique in better communicating what I want to say.