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“You can’t be human without having a digital footprint anymore.”
The statement is harsh but increasingly true—an off-the-grid existence has become less than attainable. No one knows the particulars of this statement better than its author, Dr. Lisa Strohman, whose work hones in on both the detriments and enhancements of digital lifestyles.
Dr. Strohman, though, inhabits duality herself. As a lawyer, she uses her expertise to advise forthcoming policy initiatives facing privacy and the digital realm—notably, the CCPA; and as a licensed clinical psychologist, she works to inspire healthy balance in technology use, particularly in children. The intersection of these two paths lay the groundwork for her expansive repertoire.
Dr. Strohman’s path to her dual calling was, like the duality itself, a distinctive one.
Dr. Strohman found her initial bearings as an honors intern at the FBI and later as a visiting scholar at the bureau’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime division. But what set off her interest in psychology and tech was the tragedy at Columbine. She was a grad student at the time.
“That was really probably the first time where I realized that these kids for 18 months posted everything that they were planning to do,” she said. “And I thought about the psychology of a person needing to share their story and having a platform to do it.”
Indeed, the combination of the rogue platform—in this case, Myspace—and the warped psychology of the perpetrators was an indirect call to action to her future endeavors.
“[I was] sitting on the sidelines watching, and I just thought, shoot, we’re the adults here, and we missed this… we should be doing something.”
After completing her Juris Doctorate, Strohman simultaneously worked at a large law firm and completed her residency at the Arizona State Hospital in a clinical and forensic rotation. She eventually started practicing clinical psychology at Lifescape Medical Associates, and continues to practice therapy, working mostly with young patients facing a growing dependence on technology.
Alongside her practice, she’s the founder of the Digital Citizen Academy, one of the first organizations to address technology addiction; authors informational texts, including Unplug: Raising Kids in a Technology Addicted World, with Dr. Melissa Westendorf JD, PhD; and frequently guest speaks about technological detriment to schools and parent organizations alike.
Dr. Strohman doesn’t think the internet is “worse” than it was in its inception—but we could, as a cohort of users and regulators, “do better.” But we should be careful in doing so.
“We don’t want to come down hard on these early systems and thwart growth and development, right? It would be like cutting off the water and the food if we were going to hobble them by legal liabilities and litigation,” she says. “But I feel like we’re worse because we essentially put fertilizer on the ability to just kind of grow without constraint and without any oversight, and no protections on board. And that’s the part that I think is worse today, because there’s just no ability to systematically change it.”
Her psychology work deals with the educational side of technology’s unfettered growth. It’s the small instances of data collection, she says, that have the greatest impact on the layperson.
“If you have a device with you, it’s like a personal tracking system. And that the corporations are buying and selling the data, they’re looking to see how long you might stand in front of the produce department. Or they might look and see how much time you spend in front of the frozen food section. And then these data brokers are going to make determinations [based on] that.”
Systemic issues—issues pertaining to gender and sexual identity, specifically—also take shape in the data collection space, according to Dr. Strohman.
“Based on race, people might be offered different interest rates, merely because of their race. I think that that would upset people. But that’s reality. And that’s what’s happening in our data world, this data is being bought and sold and shared without our knowledge, and we’re getting an ancillary effect on that whether it’s insurance rates or car rates.”
But mental health advocacy can also do so much, alleges Strohman. Policy change is our likeliest avenue, yet politics are a chief inhibitor.
“I think the politicized nature of it is going to be our biggest challenge,” she says. “It’s a challenge in that we are so independently fierce in our state rights, compared to our federal rights… I can just see that there’s a lot of people that instead of thinking as a human, they think, what is my party line? And so we have to separate that in my belief, because there’s a lot of people that believe privacy relates to independence, and they think that you can separate them.”
It all goes back to the inextricable nature of existing in today’s world and a digital footprint.
“So you better start paying attention to who’s tracking [your footprint],” she adds. ”It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you’re on.”
Dr. Strohman’s unique outspokenness has garnered her substantial notability in technologist and political circles over the years. It led Alastair Mactaggart, the spearhead of the CCPA, to approach her at an event she was speaking at about technology use among children.
“Alastair and his group of founders had really done 99.9% of all of the groundwork. And they called me and said, ‘Here’s where we are now—we’re trying to get it across the finish line.’”
Shortly after bringing on Andrew Yang, they tapped Dr. Strohman as an advisor.
As it stands, Dr. Strohman vehemently believes in a regulation template for the internet. And although the CCPA is confined to California, Strohman argues that it’s not yet a standard, but no less a solid “test run” for larger, forthcoming federal policy.
“The CCPA is a good model to see and test the market to see how it works. [California has] a big economy—it’s got a lot of people in it that are sharing information. If we can look and see how it impacts businesses, the fiscal structures, the emotional, and those things, we can really jump into it and track it. It would probably be our template to say, ‘Okay, what worked? What didn’t work? And how do we merge this into a more national or global system for the world?’”
In terms of the law’s future implementation, she bases her prediction on GDPR, the European Union’s equivalent to the CCPA.
“They’re probably going to do it through fines,” she says. “If you look at the European model, money is king in that sense, and industries respond to that. It seems to be working.”
In the same way that data-based corporations like Facebook, for instance, transcend geographic—and geopolitical—boundaries within Europe (she names Ireland, a standing member of the EU, and Britain, who is no longer), Dr. Strohman believes California’s new law will act no differently.
“Internally, if we can kind of peel back, like the Wizard of Oz behind the industry doors, I think that they’re already treating us like these siloed entities based upon what the countries are actually pushing back on,” she says.
The law is necessary, but it will require work. “They’re going to have to track us through IPs, identify who that person is, and then manage it accordingly.”
Behind these momentous moves, though, there is a person who is deeply embedded in children’s well-being. It’s why she does this work.
“My husband says that, if [I] could adopt one thousand kids, [I] probably would,” Dr. Strohman jokes, but the tenor behind it isn’t so lighthearted. “I just think that there’s a lot of kids out there that are struggling, and they don’t recognize how it’s going to impact them later in life. I think it’s unfair to them. They should learn the rules of the game.”
She takes it upon herself to inform her own children, for example, on the importance of internet safety from an early age.
“I talked to my kids about the kind of metadata that’s attached to any picture that you take, and how any sort of digital image that you take is basically split into two—you get the actual picture of you and your friends. And then you have this back end that tells you the longitude and latitude and the time, the date and what region you were in, and all of these things.”
Oversight comes with limits. As her children grow, too, she plans on teaching them—and her varied audiences—what digital accountability should look like.
“As [children] become independent adults, your job is to transition them into independent thinking. And if they choose to share that kind of data on their own, when they become aware of their own choice and their own brand of who they want to be, your job as a parent is to recognize that and respect that because it’s not your job anymore to do that for them.”
As she discusses the delicate yet thorough way she oversees her children’s technological interactions, it becomes ever clear that Dr. Strohman isn’t a character of dual occupational natures, but of plural ones—not just an attorney nor a psychologist, but a mother, an advocate, a teacher and a guide.
Her plurality informs both her take on the future of tech, and her take on what comes next for herself.
“We’re going to have independent access to reports,” she answers, when asked about what’s in store for the tech space. “If you went into your Google account, or you went into Facebook and you asked them for a report of everything that you’ve ever done, you can request that data. And it gets downloaded to you and it’s a massive CSV file that 99% of people have no idea what to do with.”
That’s going to change, according to Strohman. “There’s going to be people that are in that place that understand that access to data, and being able to interpret, translate, disseminate to a consumer to be able to understand what their digital resume says, and how can they now flex back and say, ‘this is a misrepresentation,’ or ‘here’s how I’d like to be able to pull this offline.’”
And as for her own goals, they’re less profit-oriented.
“My vision is to create that K-12 program,” she says. “To partner with somebody that can really take it to a different level and get it to a large population of families and kids, just to give them their voice and inspire them to be [digitally] better.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Olivia Baker is a tech editor and journalist at Identity Review, where she writes on tech policy and national digital identity technologies.
Contact Olivia Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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