The End of the Ephemeral

The theme I am discussing in this post, regarding the ongoing transformations covered by the “Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the year 2020”, was termed: the end of the ephemeral. It is one of my favorites. I suppose my background in Psychology resonates with this concept and the implications it covers and subsumes.

The end of the ephemeral relates to the fact that computational artifacts are increasingly being able to record people’s daily activities,  in the realms of virtual and physical places (once again the mingling of the two places is quite evident). The recording can be conscious (in the sense of someone aiming to extend his memory) or it can be “less conscious” if the thing being recorded is not the direct result of the person intention (for example, some organization collects data about individual purchases, or other ubiquitous activity). Of course, one of the immediate concerns is: how can we set and assure people’s individual rights (and in fact, establish the boundaries on these considering the “new reality”) and understand and protect ownership? These are difficult ethical and legal issues.

There are no clear solutions because the interaction between new technologies and media are, themselves, transforming the way people see their public appearances (just consider reality shows… and how they are “maintained in, say… YouTube?).

Quite curiously I recently came across a project called “Vanish”. According to the project’s website (

“Vanish is a research system designed to give users control over the lifetime of personal data stored on the web or in the cloud. Specifically, all copies of Vanish encrypted data — even archived or cached copies — will become permanently unreadable at a specific time, without any action on the part of the user or any third party or centralized service.”

This seems to be quite relevant for the theme I am now considering…

The authors of the “Being Human” report divide the “end of the ephemeral” in two lines: the notion of digital footprint and the monitoring of daily human activities. In the following posts I will address these two topics one after the other.

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