[continued from part 1]
So forget impending government doom for now. The far more realistic threat of a totalitarian surveillance and censorship state will not arrive via that route in the short term, but by one less anticipated. One could argue that it is already here. Of the twin dystopias of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Huxley’s Brave New World, it would appear that Huxley’s vision was by far the most prescient – and the reasoning for that is captured with absolute perfection in this web comic by Stuart McMillan. [Far too big to reproduce here, but you can also download a 7.5 meg .pdf copy. Bonus trivia, McMillan is an OzBrisbanite]
The absolute policing of our thoughts and (except for Britain where its already a fact of life) saturation surveillance will not arrive by gunpoint and anonymous spiffily uniformed thugs. It will be (and already has been) invited in the door by the general public that is oblivious to what they are enabling. The ubiquity of portable imaging devices (there’s cameras in ever cell phone now remember?) and unrestrained, free-for-all social media conduits (Facebook, Twitter etc.) mean we have a full surveillance state right now – with every person around you a potential policeman / informer capable of capturing and disseminating “evidence”, and nowhere does your consent even enter the picture. There is no hiding from this surveillance beyond the sanctuary of your own home, and not even there if you live in shared accommodation. These data fragments, denuded of all context and meaning, become raw material from which new and unrelated narrative can be drawn. There is no obligation of any kind for this participatory neo-mythology to have any consideration for you, nor any requirement for it to have any factual basis. This is a far more horrifying proposition than anything Orwell could ever have dreamed up. It means reality can be deconstructed and reassembled in ways only limited by imagination. If you do not consider this to be disturbing or believe you are safe and it does not affect you, then you need to pick up a newspaper every now and then. You don’t need to look far –
UNIONTOWN, Pa., Jan. 21 (UPI) — A high school teacher in Fayette County, Pa., was suspended for 30 days for an online photograph featuring her and a male stripper, school officials say… The offending photograph, reportedly taken during a bachelorette party, has since been removed… School director Sandra Chan said the teacher, whose identity was not released, is fully clothed in the photograph, but is posed in a sexually suggestive manner with the stripper.
NowPublic.com: Ashley Payne, Former Teacher Fired for Facebook Pictures — Ashley Payne was a teacher at Appalachee High in Barrow County Georgia up until a short while ago, but claims she was fired after some pictures of her on Facebook drinking and an expletive were shown to her superiors… The Barrow County school district claimed that Ashley had to go because her profile page had pictures of her with beer mugs and wine glasses from her European vacation.
NBC4i: Teacher Fired After Candid Facebook Comments — A Massachusetts teacher has been fired from her job for making some candid comments about the school’s community on Facebook… Talvitie-Siple is upset at what she terms a witch hunt at the high school involving union teachers gunning for her non-union teacher supervisor position in the math and science department… She posted, “Residents are so arrogant and snobby,” and also wrote, “So not looking forward to another year at Cohasset schools.”
Adults being adults and doing adult things in private adult lives. Not a right anymore. These are real people having their real lives destroyed by trivia and malice. Consider, were it possible, even trying to explain these types of stories to folks from the pre-internet, pre-instant media capture and dissemination era. They would look at you as though you were insane, or lived in the Soviet Union. This is raw mindlessness, in its dictionary antonymic to mindfulness.
Of course it wasn’t always like this. Unbelievably there was a time when the ‘net demanded and silently enforced intellectual and social standards for behaviour and it did so without sacrificing freedoms or diversity (and it should be noted it was just as filthy and perverted then as now). How did we arrive to this state of vapid moral, ethical and intellectual destitution? To my mind, a trio of key events (with far reaching implications) occurred in the early ’90s, when the ‘net expanded it’s demographic from being mostly geek and academia to include an ever growing number of commercial ISPs and general public consumers, that signaled that ‘net life as we knew it had changed forever –
- Ethics became optional. The Canter and Siegal greencard spam. Not the first example of spam certainly – MAKE.MONEY.FAST pyramid spam was there from the very beginning – but the first in terms of scale and organisation. It is difficult to convey the extent of the outrage this caused at the time. It was tantamount to the very ‘net itself getting raped, exacerbated by the fact that C & S were entirely unapologetic and went on to write books on the subject such as How to Make a Fortune on the Information Superhighway : Everyone’s Guerrilla Guide to Marketing on the Internet and Other On-line Services.
- Know-how became optional. The Mark of the Beast was welded onto the desktop of each and every Windows OS user. Commencing with Windows 95a and NT 4, and all releases since, Internet Explorer was not only installed as a default package with the operating system, but installed at such a deep, system integrated level that its removal was close to impossible – and, courtesy of impenetrable user license agreements, its removal would void all warranty and support entitlements. This spawned an orgy for lawyers and its very own cult obsessed with removing IE without destroying the whole system. It can be argued, without sarcasm, that IE is the most sophisticated malware delivery backdoor ever created and is responsible for turning a whole bunch of backyard software security companies into multibillion dollar global enterprises (which in fact kept me employed for 10 years).
- And coherence became optional. Perhaps the most devastating blow, America Online unleashed itself on the planet. What was a closed “walled garden” dial-up service, predominantly as a BBS for Mac ‘tards, sealed off from the rest of the ‘net by a digital Iron Curtain, decided in September 1993 to begin tearing down the wall. Overnight, illiteracy, incoherence and caps lock keyboard slapping became a new acceptable standard for communication, and along with it, the preposterous claim that this idiocy was a “free speech right” became entrenched. Again, the carnage is difficult to convey, but as an example, the Usenet (the original, and best, distributed discussion forum system) servers at the university where I worked at the time ground to a shuddering halt and took close to 2 years to recover from the onslaught of gibberish and in the end required a major hardware upgrade. Anywhere on the whole ‘net with white space where user commentary was permissible was soon overwhelmed with “WHATS A JPG!?!?!WAHT DO YOU DO WITH JPGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and similar profound insights. The naive fool’s hopes that this amazing phenomenon that was the ‘net would somehow usher in the second great Age of Enlightenment were exterminated forever – instead we got the Eternal September.
So this is where we are – at our fingertips we have the Internet, possibly our greatest accomplishment as a species, greater even in real terms than putting a man on the moon, and this is what we do with it.
We have become a culture of convenience and complaint. Instant gratification and instant vengeance. My bosom swells with pride.
I still haven’t gotten any closer to the point have I? Continued in part 3.