Over my many years trolling round the sun on this rocky planet, technology has slowly been intruding into ever more areas of the human experience. When I was young, technology knew its place: generally tied to a wall by one or more cables. It also never tried to out-“think” its operator as the very modest computers of those ancient days needed a large room to themselves and a dedicated team of nursemaids to keep the them in fettle. How things have changed…
I well remember being issued with my first mobile phone by my then employers. This phone was mobile in name only, as I tended to keep it my desk where it would not trouble me when I was “on the road”. Eventually, my secretary started to insist that I lugged it around with me – and then that I actually switched the wretched thing on. Over the years there have been ever fewer places to escape its demands – the tube is no longer inviolate and I fear it is only a matter of time before aircraft follow suit (thus removing one of the few pleasures of flying). Luckily, I can use my age as an excuse to forget to carry it from time-to-time and regularly leave it on “silent” for days at a time which does spare me from its siren call. I fear that the widespread use of mobile phones has had an adverse effect on my ability to properly organise any sort of physical meeting or to remember the contact details of friends and acquaintances – or perhaps that’s just the silken fingers of senility encroaching on my cerebellum?
Recent news has rather brought the more sinister aspects of technological intrusion to the fore. Apparently, when we give our information to major corporations – usually without paying for the privilege but always without being paid for this valuable resource – they might not be treating it with quite the sanctity we might have imagined (though only if we were afflicted with an abnormally poor imagination). Obviously, we knew that they would be using it to try and sell us stuff (either themselves or by selling it to others with similar objectives). This should be very worrying, were it not for the completely useless nature of the attempted sales being facilitated. I have yet to have anything even remotely relevant pushed at me by the supposed masters of this dark art (though I am often offered other examples of things I’ve just bought) – though I think by pointed at a discrete catheter by Facebook was possibly the low point.
In the days before one rather ill-considered blog post, I used to order my books from an online retailer. This would always recommend further books for me to buy – but never once offered anything tempting. Now that I visit real bookshops, I am constantly stumbling across desirable books – to the extent that my bookcase is no longer large enough and I have a Foyalty card (it’s like a supermarket loyalty card, but from Foyles). The other major driver of book purchasing has been the public libraries of Sawston and Cambridge. Rather than the soi-disant corporate giants of the internet driving a significant chunk of my economic activity, it is the old-fashioned and underfunded world of the bookshop and library – without them, the contents of my bookcase would remain under control.
With PRISM, it would seem that internet corporations are not just selling us out to the world of commerce but also to the intelligence agencies of the US (and elsewhere). Not much of a surprise it must be said – but I think if our governments are spying on us, then we should remember that we are paying for this intrusion and should be getting something back. The very least they could do is provide a helpline to remind us of our forgotten passwords – but I’d like them to go further. As they are reading all of our stuff anyway, could they not provide some basic editing and proof-reading? Certainly, this blog is crying out for that sort of input. Perhaps they could hold texts or email sent in the extremes of anger or drink until more sober reflection has had time to kick-in? GCHQ (or the NSA or local equivalent) would also be in a very good position to provide a back-up for all our files and would save all this pfaffing around with the “cloud” or external hard drives. Was it not that doyen of modern philosophers, Stan Lee, who said that with great power comes great responsibility? Perhaps oddly, I have more faith in our governments not to misuse our data than our commercial corporations – though this may only reflect my view of their even lower levels of functional competence.
Google, a serial offender, when it comes to take our data for its own nefarious (but not actually evil, at least according to their mission statement) purposes, is about to launch its own range of glasses (though these will not will hold a pint). As a man well stricken in years, such specs have one very obvious benefit: they could remind you of the name of the person to whom you are talking. Sadly, Google have said they won’t be used for facial recognition – so it would seem you will be spending your money to wear dodgy glasses and be advertised at. Count me out – I shall continue to use my existing strategies for not revealing my nomenclative ignorance (one really doesn’t need to name one’s interlocutor anything like as often as you might think).
Talking of Google, my mobile phone has recently started telling me how long it will take to get home. I am far from convinced that it know where I live, though it clearly has some idea. However, it does seem to think I will be driving up the M11 for my return (well, it does when I’m in London) – and in this it is sadly mistaken (or perhaps, it is planning to go home with someone else, a driver no less!). Once again, technology tries to be clever but falls rather a long way short of the mark. I think Skynet may be a little way off yet…
Despite my rather frivolous take on the subject, I do suspect that we should probably be a little more careful in guarding our privacy – or one day we will wake up and it will all be irrevocably gone. Some might think that this blog has already rung the death knell for my own privacy, but frankly if the world’s “intelligence” agencies can learn any thing useful from it they will probably be doing a lot better than most of the readers. In the meantime, perhaps I should retreat to the West (well, Cornwall) or Norfolk where modern technology does not yet seem to have intruded to quite the level it has elsewhere – it’s either that or buying a cave and some lead flashing to line it for my “private” moments!