Hover and hoover
What a week we have had. Just look at the stories we were contending with:
- National security and self-deluded ‘do-gooders’ in charge of more information than they can responsibly handle
- 9/11-style terror threats
- Predators, traffickers, watching and waiting
- An infamous politician and a sexting scandal
Reports on these incidents swirled around like an organizing tornado and when the spiral finally formed, it shaped the cloud of influences that hang over us all the time and permeate our psyches in an inchoate and insidious form. We are all affected continuously by the specter of fear and vulnerability to scrutiny and exploitation. It is a heavy burden to shoulder, exacerbated by our relative unawareness that it permeates our mental environment in a way that nothing else can. And it accumulates rapidly now, part of our daily lives in the 2000s.
I remember at the close of 1999, wondering how the new millennium could possibly be substantially different from the previous one. Things were so bright, the economy was steaming onward and upward, there were no major wars, people were talking about what they would do with all their leisure time during retirement, where to buy that vacation home and what they would drop into their bucket lists next.
How things changed in just a few months. When 9/11 occurred, even though I could piece together the puzzle in hindsight, it came as a shock to me. I remember watching those towers fall on television, like two giants dropping to their knees and I was devastated. I had lived just a few short blocks from the WTC and had only recently moved away, narrowly escaping a potentially life-shattering trauma.
Since that moment, it seems, we are never alone or at peace, in a social and societal sense. The world has become one big screen, a giant camera trained on all of us all the time. Even the Google maps bot has been incorporated in our living template, unquestioned, roaming around unseen, snapping updates of our homes all the time. Where once it only showed the outlines of our yards, it now zooms in, depicting small features in great detail.
We are all broadcasting continuously, through our blogs, cell phones, Instagram, FB, Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr along with emails, chats, phone calls. We are ‘out there’, all the time, relentlessly and thus, watching ourselves and each other in a way that has never been possible before. There are surveillance cameras increasingly on every corner, on our freeways, in stores, banks, gas stations. And this is just the beginning.
It’s not a new idea — think Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World — but its reach and pressure had to be experienced to be understood. Merely imagining a world in which all this data was being scooped up and collated, then assembled into algorithms for all and sundry uses, could not be conceived even by such visionaries. It has literally exploded exponentially into our current reality.
What interests me is the psychological impact this will have on all but those who hold the reins of power, who are in a position to apply these formulas to meet their individual ends, to drop this data into giant virtual honeycombs, that are ready and waiting, suspended in stasis until just the right moment when they will be wordlessly deployed like the Tripods in H.G. Wells’ Martian-controlled earth. Now we know that the wizard behind the curtain is not a Typhon but someone as small and inconsequential as a private contractor, who in a few short strokes can unravel all our lives from any spot on this planet. Much like a drone operator can wordlessly, anonymously and mercilessly troll the skies with a few computer levers from a tiny hidden cubicle.
How does our collective and individual psychological architecture morph to incorporate the weight of this knowledge, that nothing we do is any longer our own. That we haven’t an ounce of privacy, and must be hyper-vigilant (once the domain of only those with certain classes of psychoses – remember the joke “…even paranoids have enemies”?) for life.
Add to this the sense of disempowerment the lobby-dominated corporatist culture that is fully entrenched in our centers of governance have created, and I wonder how any one of us ever gets a good night’s sleep again.