Editorial: The 21st Century

Not long ago my two daughters admonished me for being stuck in my old-fashioned ways. I had just stumbled trying to do something simple (for them!) on my “smart” phone: “Come on dad, get your head and your butt wired together and join the 21st century.”

OK, so I like old stuff. When I have something old that still works just fine, I’m loath to replace it just to be “up to date.” I would still be using my old Motorola flip-top cellphone if it hadn’t suffered an unfortunate accident. My replacement phone was a Blackberry with a hard keyboard; now it’s out of date too. My daughters say it’s time to upgrade again. Damn it all anyway – an old guy just can’t win.

Yes, I have Internet and WiFi in my home, an iPad tablet, an iMac computer and a smart TV. But I still use my 20-plus-year-old Maytag washing machine and dryer. Each has been repaired; the key is that they were built to be fixed – not replaced – although finding parts is getting to be rather difficult. And my 25-year-old Maytag refrigerator is still going (touch wood); it’s missing several door shelves, but at least the world doesn’t know how old the lettuce in the crisper is!

Then there is social media. Recent revelations indicate that as many as 87 million users of Facebook have had their personal profiles, and those of their “likes,” compromised; most are in the US, but also include over 600,000 Canadians. According to Canadian whistle-blower Christopher Wylie, the data was mined by the British company Cambridge Analytica together with the Canadian company AggregateIQ, and used in attempts to influence elections in the US, Africa and the Caribbean, and the Brexit referendum in the UK.

Of course, political parties have attempted to influence voters for decades; they all do it, using main-stream media, door-to-door contacts, and polling surveys. What’s changed in this case is that the data was obtained without the owners’ consent (depending on individual privacy settings), and certainly without their knowledge. Welcome to the 21st century online.

Some US tech companies are going to apply the EU’s new data privacy law (the General Data Protection Regulation) to everyone. It gives Europeans the right to know what data is stored about them and the right to have it deleted. Apple (and some other tech firms) plans to give everyone the same protections and rights that Europeans will get. Notable holdouts: Facebook and Google. Caveat emptor!

I don’t subscribe to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any of the many other social-media vendors. So I feel somewhat vindicated when my daughters tell me to get with it. Simple, old-fashioned email serves me just fine.

Don’t automatically abandon the old to embrace the new. New is not always better. Join the 21st century with a healthy dose of skepticism.

BW