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The Luxury of Privacy


Michele Dutcher



As you well know, one of the byproducts of science fiction is to predict upcoming technology. HG Wells wrote about a spinning disc that, when set in motion, played a 3D image of  a message - and obviously Star Trek predicted the IPad.  Another thing science fiction can do is predict what might happen in the future on a sociological level, using its stories as an alarm, warning its readers about global mistakes that humanity might be making, and what might be the end result of those mistakes if left unchanged.  


When I was first introduced in college to the classic sci-fi novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, it was with the proposition than George Orwell should have pushed back the date even further, to somewhere beyond the turn of the 2nd millennia. I can’t fault his logic, for the tri-goals of the Big Brother government – perpetual war, omnipresent surveillance, and manipulation of the populace – seem to be occurring right on schedule, and I find the process almost ordinary, almost unstoppable. 


The thing that I do find surprising is the predilection of the populace of the workers to freely and joyously give away chunks of information on themselves. At least in the fictional Orwellian society, the populace kept in line with two-way telescreens that the workers could not turn off.


I ask people in their twenties and thirties why they are so eager to tell everything about themselves in online surveys.  They look at me and say, “Well, we aren’t doing anything wrong, so why not.”  The question is, why does anyone want to know where you went to high school, or what your children’s names are or where your closest friends live. With all the hubbub about ‘stranger danger’ why are adults so eager to tell the world everything about themselves? Once that information is given away, there is no way to get it back.


Facepage will tell you up front that they have 1500 pieces of information on over two hundred million Americans.


“(Other) examples that could be added are facial recognition, retinal reading from a distance now in place and connected to central monitors.  Look at England, one of the most watched western societies.  Our vehicles have transponders that catalog where we’ve been.  Our cell phones are ‘on’ all the time.”  (Richard Tornello)


 No, children, Home Station does not need your telephone number and zip code to sell you a replacement cord for your coffeepot!  Pay in cash: they’ll still have a videotape of you buying it if they need to contact you.


A survey online for a legitimate college asks you to test your vocabulary.  At the end there is a ‘check this box’ if you’re okay with them sharing your geolocation.  Do not check the box! Who are they going to share it with? – and why do they know need to know  where my computer is anyway.


In Mike Lofgren’s essay, the Anatomy of the Deep State, talked about by Moyers & Company on PBS, we may be peeking into the birth of Big Brother proper.  Deep State is an alignment of the NSA, Silicon Valley, the government on The Mall, and private enterprise – all overseen by what Orwell referred to as the ‘Inner Party’ – the upper 2 percent of the population who control 96% of the world’s wealth. Big Brother had to start somewhere – will it later be said that it was in the early 2000s that it was given birth?


Perhaps the only reason we’re having a glimpse of the birth may be whistleblowers like Edward Snowden who had the audacity to stand up and cry out – trying to pull the majority of the populace back from the edge like a modern day Catcher in the Rye.


In Nineteen Eighty-Four the Inner Party was allowed to turn off the telescreens in their homes. Will there come a time when privacy is the ultimate luxury? – Is that time already here?   


2014-04-23 05:58:57
Edward Snowden - criminal or supreme whistleblower? How will history remember him? How should history remember him?

2014-04-20 15:17:28
BTW, good article BD, JDR

2014-04-20 15:15:51
When the majority of society decides privacy is not that important by giving up their information on Facebook or Twitter, or when applying for a credit card, or just buying groceries or surfing the internet, what can the few who do worry about privacy do? Stay offline? As a society we've traded privacy for convenience and access. I think social media is antithetical to privacy. Unfortunately, I think the horse is already out of the barn on this issue. And as much as we root for Winston Smith in 1984, in the end he is crushed by the society he is a part of and is forced to conform. I just hope we don't all have rat cages in our future.

2014-04-07 13:14:45
The thing about surveys and facepage is that everyone wants to feel as if someone is interested in them. If kids knew it was the FBI who wanted to know all this stuff, maybe they would quit.

2014-04-05 08:17:49
GordonRowlinson - The govt spys on us and we are asked to trust. Corporations monitor our online activity and we are asked to trust. There is facial recognition technology and other advances coming where we lose more privacy. At some point, they won't ask us to trust, we will be told to trust.

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