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.