Megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes, exabytes, zettabytes… yottabytes. New COVID-19 subvariants? Not at all. They are the measuring sticks of our digital lives.

Humans are creating data at an exponential rate – faster than any society has ever created any other type of waste. While the exact numbers are still being quantified, humans were expected to create, capture, copy, or consume over 79 ZBs of data globally in 2021. Not many people are talking in zettabytes, so the conversion is 1 ZB equals 1 trillion GB.

How do we generate all this data? Consider a day in the life of an average American consumer. Are you using a connected thermostat? Do you use a sleep monitoring app? Do you have a smart light or a connected fridge? Do you have a car made after the year 2000 in your garage? You generate data.

Generating active data happens with almost every move we make. We check email, check social media, go to work with our phones connected to Bluetooth streaming content to our cars, work in connected environments, transact at lunch, or grab something for dinner on the way to work. return. We broadcast data that resolves into image and sound on our television. We send data that resolves to images on another phone or in an app. We are part of a society that has focused on connectivity, with little discussion of the data byproduct such a connection creates.

And it’s a ticking time bomb.

Like any volatile substance buried in the ground that could explode with the right source of ignition and cause damage, data leakage can backfire in our lives and cause problems.

Marc Hodges

With the explosion of data, each breach has proven that we cannot rely on others to manage our data waste. It will become increasingly impossible to avoid creating or consuming data (estimates have us creating and using over 181 ZBs of data by 2025 compared to last year’s estimated 79). So what can a smart consumer do to manage their data depletion? Every consumer should develop a responsible data stewardship ethic that matches the ethic of not littering the highway or throwing used oil in your neighbor’s yard. Consider these three practices:

  1. Understand your data. We are well past the hour of the retreat, “I don’t even know how to turn on a computer”. It’s no longer an excuse. Every adult should understand the difference between “blind” data and what the industry calls PII (Personally Identifiable Information). This includes information such as name, address, phone, email, date of birth and any other data fields that can be used to identify you in some way.
  2. Organize your data. Be careful what personal information is captured and where you put it. Treat it like a house key. If this does not seem correct to you, do not provide the data. It is high time that consumers discern how to manage their data and where they put it.
  3. Protect your data. Ask yourself: what information about me is essential to accomplish what I’m trying to do? Learn how to manage privacy preferences across all your social media.

It is not rude to protect your data. For each of us to learn to swim in the ocean of information transmitted around us (and in some cases, through us), managing your personal information is a giant step towards better security and a step leaps and bounds towards better digital citizenship. w

Mark Hodges is vice president of sales and customer management at the Arkansas IT Services Company Edafio technology partners. The opinions expressed are those of the author.