Our digital shadows are the information that we leave behind us. Sometimes intentionally. For instance filling in a webform to renew our car registration takes all of about 5 minutes. However within that time the following takes place:
- Navigate to the website
- we leave behind a trail in our browsers web history folders
- we leave behind a trail on the web servers log files
- Enter our customer number in the correct part of the webform
- more browser history and log file creation
- our customer number is searched from a database leaving more log files linked to us
- If correct the webform moves to the SSL payment page
- more history, log files and database accesses
- we type in our credit card details and a transactional file, log and process occurs again leaving more information behind (supposedly secure though)
- transaction file is sent to our banking institution (we don't even know if that is correct or took place at the time of hitting the "pay now" button)
- The webform is processed correctly
- more histories, log files, transactions
- more database accesses
- files sent to printers for the registration papers to be printed, packaged and sent to our address
All of the above is intentional, yet we only see the "frontend".
In March 2008 the New Your Times posted a blog by Steve Lohr. The article was entitled "Measuring the size of your digital Shadow". Lohr mentions an interesting finding by IDC (a research firm).
"But the intriguing finding was that all the ambient digital information aboutyou — a person’s “digital shadow,” IDC calls it — now exceeds the digital information that you generate yourself by sending an e-mail, taking digital pictures, viewing a YouTube video, and so on." (Lohr 2008)
This is scary stuff, more information is generated about ourselves than we create ourself. I wonder what the ratio is? Just look at my simple example above and that was intentional.
The web has a habit of being indelible, just when you think you are safe...BANG!...someone knows something about you, or they saw reference to you online via someone else!
We need to be careful that our digital shadow does not become our digital baggage. Or even worse that our digital shadow precedes our reputation and skews our real identity.
Brian Solis has highlighted a couple of high profile examples of digital baggage in his blog entitled "Casting a Digital Shadow, your reputation precedes you" and its affect on peoples identity and the perceptions of those around them.
This great video on our reputations preceding us is a good education piece.
Don't let the internet sun cast a shadow that arrives at the destination before you do!