Sunday, September 13, 2009

Offsetting Your Digital Footprint

By now we have all heard about carbon footprints. We've been made to feel guilty about the tenticled trail of spent-energy tugging on that pint of shipped strawberries delivered in winter. The sensitized among us offset the climbing cloud of carbon dioxide trailing our choices by planting trees. Several nonprofit organizations sell measured units of carbon sequestration just for this purpose. The appeal seems to be that offsetting your carbon footprint reduces guilt. In a similar way your digital footprint can also be offset to better the world. It does not even require an additional purchase. Guilt too, is not involved. In fact, you are doing it right now whether you are aware of it or not.

If you are going to troll the internet, at least linger at sites that reflect your hopes for the world. Your visits will be noted, enumerated, and aggregated. Your visits create a virtuous cycle of ever-increasing connectivity. The more who visit a website now, the more who will be drawn to that website in the future. Your clicks and comments create buzz that strengthens the nonprofits you frequent. If you tweet, email, blog, and just plain talk about the nonprofits you like, more people will do the same. The more buzz created, the more people will find your favorite nonprofit.

Taking this one step further, given that your every purchase is going to be tracked by credit card companies, the products you consume recorded via the loyalty cards of grocers and other retailers, your current location and movements monitored by cellular and landline telephone companies, your frequent flier miles metered out by airlines, hotels, rental car agencies...(you get the picture yet?)...why not freely give your coordinates to that Art Museum that asks for your zipcode at the admissions desk, or provide your home address to a nonprofit you care about. The idea that you are going to limit your digital footprint by treading lightly with nonprofits is silly given the broad boulevards of data we tramp out each day. Stand tall and proudly lay down that tiny digital trail. Use your own personal data stream to carve a path toward a changed world.

In a world where our digital footprints are being tracked by those who may not have our best interests at heart, there is an offset. Take a path less-well-traveled. Make it more traveled. Help a charity mark your passing with really big signs. Blaze a trail so like-minded people behind you can see your digital footprints.

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