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Editor's Note: If I Wanted to Be Naked I'd Be Naked

Dec 17, 2010, 23:03 (20 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

In my younger days I read a lot of science fiction, and a lot of it has come true. Smart people, those crazy fiction writers.

"The Dead Past" by Isaac Asimov is one that has stuck in my memory all these years. The story describes a device called the chronoscope, which is a viewer for watching past events, like a TV that tunes in to the past. Unfortunately it has limited usefulness as a tool for viewing historical events because it only goes back 120 years. The government does its best to suppress the chronoscope because they quickly figured out that people would use it as a near-real time snooping device, by tuning in a fraction of a second in the past to watch anyone anywhere. But the plans to make a chronoscope escape into the world. The final words of dialogue in the story are spoken by a government agent scolding the people who released the plans, something like "Happy goldfish bowl to you, and may each of you fry in hell forever."

The story's assumption that the government would actually try to do the right thing is rather quaint, especially for an all-seeing surveillance device. But I heartily concur with the agent's parting sentiment, because privacy protections for us ordinary, not-uber-wealthy-normal-people are of little interest to our fine elected officials, or our upstanding corporate citizenpersons.

An Economy of Parasites

Now we live in this shiny modern era of customer data being more valuable than actual goods and services. There is this whole huge new industry-- Facebook, Google, Doubleclick, Mediaplex, and thousands more-- that exists only to snoop, to collect as much of our personal data as possible, and to buy and sell it to each other. It's all marketing-driven as purveyors of way too much mediocre stuff try to find that magic exploitation button to sell more of their junk. They think they will find it by snooping into our lives and activities in every way they can think of.

Of course these titans of industry are well-insulated themselves. You can't stop Google StreetView from plastering photos of your home online, but you won't find Larry Page or Sergey Brin's homes online.

For all the advances in technology and hundreds of billions of dollars that these businesses represent, as far as I'm concerned they are parasites. They don't make anything. They exploit.

We all know the Golden Rule-- "the one with the gold makes the rules". Sure, we get a few token goodies in exchange for being bought and sold like chattel. We get Facebook, we get Gmail and Google Docs and Google Search. We get terabytes of free "content".

But we're getting the shaft all the same. In exchange for a few free toys we are giving up way too much. Advertisers now exert tremendous control over content, more than they ever did. Real independent journalism has taken a serious beating; there are few publications remaining of any kind with the resources to do the kind of hard daily investigations and reporting that are necessary parts of a healthy democracy.

Tech publishing has also taken a drubbing, with in-depth independent product reviews and good independent reporting gone the way of the dodo. You're more likely to see advertorial than editorial. It's all about clicks, lead generation, and collecting insanely instrusive quantities of our personal data.

Using Everything Against Us

Another downside in this Too Much Information (TMI) age is anything and everything you say will be used against you. Your boss, your insurance company, potential employers, landlords, law enforcement... it doesn't matter if you're joking or truthful, they're out there looking for leverage to use against you. Yeah, thanks a lot folks, we need a little more ill-will in the world, a little more mistrust.

"But I Don't Care, I Have Nothing to Hide"

Fine, expose yourself all you want. The problem is you're dragging the rest of us down with you. The prevailing principle is opt-out, which is impossible. Opt-in is the moral, responsible principle. So it will never happen.

I wish I had some kind of magic answer, but I don't. I am not optimistic. Money talks too loudly, much louder than silly things like principles and respect. I think all we can do is protect ourselves individually as much as possible, which is pretty much a joke. How many people can get your Social Security number? Every temp and clerk in your health insurance company and every medical clinic you've ever visited, every one who works for a credit reporting agency, your bank... How many people know where you went on Web and what you did? There is no way of knowing; for sure it is many. Happy goldfish bowl to us all!