The Future Of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st Century Technology, the latest book by professional futurist Tracey Follows, explores how our personal freedoms have changed as a result of our use of digital technology, and will continue to do so.
The book is organised into seven chapters, and each chapter pretty much does what it says on the tin:
- Knowing You;
- Watching You;
- Creating you;
- Connecting You;
- Replacing You;
- Enhancing You and
- Destroying You
Written primarily from a British perspective The Future of You places the spotlight on identity management around the world, but with a particular focus on how your identity is managed here. In addition, it looks at the wider digitisation of the world – digital identities, block chain, money, artificial intelligence, healthcare to name but a few.
As a digital marketer, as well as a heavy social media this subject is extremely important to me. Elements of the book reminded me of conversations in a previous role where we discussed how one could verify another individual is who they say they are. In my previous working life this discussion took place during my time on the Identity Cards Programme, which got subsumed into the then Identity and Passport Service (but at the time of writing is now called HM Passport Office). The examination of how people identify themselves in the developing world compared to us in the developed world. It’s interesting to see how people were resistant to give their personal information, but are more than comfortable doing so with private companies.
Due to the recency of the book’s publication, it would have been remiss of the book to omit any reference to the COVID-19 pandemic. It explored vaccine passports (as we call them in the UK) but in reality a digital certificate. The distrust of the proponents of such a scheme (Bill Gates and Tony Blair to name a few) is coupled with the fact our Western governments don’t have the systems in place to ensure there is a robust data management system in place. This was juxtaposed with the handling of the pandemic in South East Asia.
The book also explored the Social Credit System, which has been established in China. As someone who has read about this from thousands of miles, the concept seems alien, but The Future of You reveals that 80% of Chinese respondents do not have an issue with this form of social management.
I particularly liked the examination of social media personas, and the reference to Shudu (at the time of writing Shudu has 215k followers on Instagram) and Lil Miquela (3m followers) – two computer generated models/ blue tick verified influencers on Instagram as it truly reflected the blurred lines between real and virtual. This is particularly true when you consider we are now living in a time where people will ask social media platforms to remove natural unfiltered photos of themselves.
An interesting fact, that is particularly relatable was the insight that participation in The Sims reached an all time high of 20 million unique players worldwide, during the pandemic. If you’re reading this statistic, you have made your virtual acquaintance with one of them. Given the backdrop of the pandemic, this insight makes sense as the escape from the daily briefings, as well as death and illness one can’t control is counteracted by creating towns, nurturing families, and being in charge of the destiny of others is more appealing.
As we have adapted to living in a more virtual world, with virtual meetings and a reliance on artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are seeing technology as a true virtual assistant – being used to help hire people and detect illness for example.
Considering the complex nature of the book’s subject matter, it is written in a relatable way, so even those who are not professionals in this space would be able to understand and digest well. It was also a relatively quick read.
The book is ideal for anyone who is interested in identity management, data privacy and social media. If you’ve watched Netflix documentaries like Coded Bias or The Social Dilemma you will probably like this. You may also find books by Jaron Lanier (eg Who Owns The Future) a welcome addition to your library.
***Thank you Netgalley and Elliot & Thompson for this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review***
The Future of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st Century Technology is available now, and retails from the £14.99