It's hard to overstate the extent to which our lives have been changed by technology over the last few decades. The mass adoption of the Internet in the 1990's, social media and smartphones in the 2000's and now the advent of pervasive Internet-connected devices have all transformed how we work, live, and relate to others. We spend much of our day in front of one kind of screen or another, absorbing information and doing the transactions of everyday life digitally.
This dependence on technology for almost every aspect of our life is not just very new, historically speaking, it is also a huge vulnerability. Few understand the complex stack of technological capabilities that is needed to enable every way we interact with smartphones, computers and the Internet, and those that do, know that these underlying capabilities are quite fragile and prone to failure and malicious attack. The COVID19 pandemic has taken us to a level of critical dependency on technology that would have seemed extraordinary less than a year ago.
Digital Resilience is a way to mitigate some of these vulnerabilities. I define digital resilience as steps people and communities can take to make their use of digital technologies more robust and less prone to critical failure. To the extent the term has been used, it has been mostly focused on business processes as an extension of cybersecurity. My interest is in personal digital resilience, that is how we as individuals, families and communities can use technology in a way which mitigates the vulnerabilities and risks of using technology in the modern world.
There are four basic components of digital resilience. Reliability and redundancy is about understanding that any piece of technology will fail, and will sometimes fail spectacularly: as the adage goes, to err is human; to really screw things up requires a computer. Sometimes entire support systems will fail, such as in a power or Internet outage. Digitally resilient people bake this into their use of technology and have strengthened technologies and backup technologies in reserve ready to go. Security is about protecting the stuff that is most important to you from attack, from those with malicious intent. Privacy is about being able to make informed decisions about what happens with the streams of data that you generate every day, and how to keep information important to us from people you really don’t want to have it. Control is about being able to make good decisions about who controls the things that are important to you. For example, if you have a stash of dollar bills under your mattress, you have full control of your money, but it may be at risk – from fire or theft. When you open a bank account you cede a lot of control to the bank, relying on them to keep an accurate tally of your balance, and enabling you to access your money through debit cards and ATMs. A bank account is more resilient in terms of security and robustness (in some ways), but less resilient in terms of control.
Digital resilience will be an incredibly important skill for people to have over the next few years as our use of technology grows. Everyone who uses technology in their work or lives needs to practice digital resilience. To help you get started in digital resilience, check out the Personal Digital Resilience Handbook and the MyDigitalResilience website.