Arthur Dent could change your mind about GDPR

As the first ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy’ book explains ‘space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind bogglingly big it is.’

The same can be said for cyber-space.

And something’s coming for cyber-space that’s also big. Really big. It means there’s gonna be big change. Really big cha…

Well, you get the idea. GDPR is coming and we’re all feeling overwhelmed, annoyed, and a little lost.

Cyber-space is big, really big. And we’ve got to keep ourselves safe while travelling through it.

I know I’ve felt a little lost. I’ve been reading lots about GDPR for the last couple of months while doing (what i’m calling) ‘communications housekeeping’. There are resources on the ICO website, a lot of great blogs, and even the actual legal document itself*. I’m a copywriter, but now I’m almost a data protection expert. Almost.

It’s amazing that I’ve found the time to re-read the first ‘Hitchhikers…’ book by Douglas Adams, a book I love and think many others should too. And reading it lead to a couple of serendipitous discoveries.

Firstly, in a delightfully odd coincidence, the deadline for GDPR – May 25th – is also Towel Day, a day that celebrates the life and work of Douglas Adams.

Accurate mock-up of what I’d prefer to do than GDPR related things

Secondly, I’ve found that I can really relate to Arthur Dent right now. I too would much prefer to be at home, in my dressing gown drinking tea, rather than dealing with these really big problems. And Arthur Dent has a lot of them.

In the first few pages Arthur’s house is bulldozed down by the council to build a bypass. If that wasn’t bad enough his friend reveals he’s an alien who writes an intergalactic travel guide. And if that wasn’t bad enough they then hitchhike away from Earth before it’s blown up by the Vogons to build an intergalactic bypass.

That’s Thursdays for you.

I am exaggerating, but Arthur’s Thursday was a lot like my Thursday* the time I first heard about GDPR. OK, so maybe it wasn’t that bad. Unlike Arthur, who was told about the bypass (and the intergalactic bypass) that very morning, I had a few months to prepare.

But I still felt like I had been left out of the communication in a way. GDPR has been in development since 2016. According to the Vogons, the intergalactic bypass plans had been on display for fifty Earth years.

At first I was left feeling feeling a little disgruntled, which has made me wary of others feeling the same, especially when you consider where the regulation is coming from. Is it safe to utter those two letters yet?

GDPR could be perceived as is an invading bureaucratic force, let’s say, a little like the Vogons. They love forms, they love processes, and they love punishing people. Just check out how big the fines are for non-compliance!

But it would be way too easy to think of GDPR in this way.

If we all cast our opinions of the EU aside we can probably agree on a few things about this regulation: Yes, it’s quite bureaucratic. Yes, they could be more efficient with communication. But, at the end of the universe, it’s here with good intentions. It’s here to help us travel through cyberspace.

Like a guide, maybe?

You can see where I’m going here. GDPR is more like the Hitchhiker’s Guide, rather than the Vogons. The guide reassures Arthur and helps him to personally protect himself while lost in the galaxy. GDPR is trying to do the same: help us protect ourselves while lost in cyberspace.

GDPR tries to do what those big, red letters on the back of guide saying ‘Don’t Panic’ do. Help us to stay calm in a crisis.

The two most reassuring words in the galaxy

Now, we can admit that GDPR and the guide both has its flaws. Take as an example the moment Arthur searches the guide for Earth to find it laconically describes our home simply as ‘mostly harmless’. As he discovers – and we have with GDPR – things written by flawed people are rarely perfect and sometimes lack full clarity.

But this is a really good start to something with great intentions. Let’s be honest, in the face of so many threats to our privacy, what GDPR will do is pretty good. So, I hope you don’t forget this on the 25th May.

Oh, and don’t forget your towel too.


* It was actually a Tuesday. But so what?

**OK, I only ‘looked’ at sections of the actual regulation. I mean, have you read the whole thing?

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