While spying and surveillance have traditionally been important tools for terrorizing and subjugating populations, I believe that recent technological developments (ubiquity and negligible cost of communication) may have made them worse than useless. On the other hand, there are those who believe that technology has made spying and surveillance easier. As I will try to show in the rest of this post- both views are true, but not for the reasons you might imagine. So let us begin by looking at how those who believe that technology facilitates spying and surveillance are correct.
I will be the first to admit that services such google, facebook, twitter, email, IMs, texting does make spying and surveillance much easier. There is however an often ignored cost for this ease of data collection and classification. The sheer volume and multiplicity of data requires extensive and automated computerized analysis leading to a problem that I had discussed in a previous post on a related topic- a high percentage of false positives if you tighten the criteria for flagging and a high percentage of false negatives if you loosen them. Both result in an exponential increase in the cost, effort and disruptions caused by implementing such systems- albeit via different pathways. Couple this with the tendency of bureaucracies to expand and consume more resources and you quickly end up in a scenario where the society spends most of its time spying and monitoring itself- with disastrous effects of productivity, morale and the social contract.
There is however another way for technological advances in communication to negate traditional ideas about spying on and monitoring people. To understand how it works, one has to start by looking at what people typically communicate about.
The vast majority of inter-personal communication isn’t about seditious ideas or actions. It is about everyday “stuff”.. what is happening in their lives, what they ate that day, what they are read or heard about, how their jobs are working out, how other people are behaving etc. Paradoxically, it is the discussion of these everyday topics (gossip) which poses the greatest threat to any hierarchy. People learn a lot about what is happening around them and elsewhere through these casual and often oblique titbits of information. A substantial part of their world view comes either directly from such casual information or its extrapolation into their lives. The most frequent source of exposure to new ideas and concepts is also via gossip.
Cynicism about the world and loss of faith in the ability or power of institutions occurs via steady and constant exposure to common gossip. However it is hard to stop gossip because most human communication IS gossip. Furthermore, gossip almost never corrodes belief in the system via a single large hit. It does so through an incessant shower of small facts and titbits from different and often unrelated sources.
Therefore efforts to spy on and monitor populations in our highly connected era to preserve the status quo are, at best, a waste of time and resources. They do however enrich a few and give others a false sense of security.
What do you think? Comments?
I found this gem on the intertubes.
The following are 20 signs you might be a typical American worker….
1. If you are working three jobs and you still don’t have enough money at the end of the month, you might be a typical American worker.
2. If your job involves asking the question “Would you like fries with that?”, you might be a typical American worker.
3. If you shop at the dollar store because Wal-Mart is too expensive, you might be a typical American worker.
4. If your job requires you to wear a smock, a brightly colored polo shirt or lots of “flair”, you might be a typical American worker.
5. If people are constantly asking you where the restroom is while you are at work, you might be a typical American worker.
6. If your employer hires extra part-time workers in order to avoid giving anyone full-time hours, you might be a typical American worker.
7. If you are required to watch a mindless “training video” after being hired, you might be a typical American worker.
8. If the company you work for is owned by someone on the other side of the world, you might be a typical American worker.
9. If a trained seal could do your job and you feel like your expensive education is going to waste, you might be at typical American worker.
10. If you don’t have any health insurance at all, you might be a typical American worker. Only about 25 percent of all part-time workers in the United States receive employee benefits such as health insurance or paid sick leave.
11. If your car is older than your kids are, you might be a typical American worker.
12. If you can’t afford to buy the things that you are selling to the public, you might be a typical American worker.
13. If the balances on your credit cards are larger than your bank accounts are, you might be a typical American worker.
14. If going to Burger King is your idea of “fine dining”, then you might be a typical American worker.
15. If it costs more to fill up your car with gas than you will make at your job today, you might be a typical American worker. The price of gasoline has increased by 83 percent since Barack Obama first took office, and the average cost of a gallon of gas in the United States is now up to $3.52.
16. If you eat your cereal with a fork so that you can save milk, you might be a typical American worker.
17. If your electricity bill keeps going up but your paycheck never does, you might be a typical American worker.
18. If it feels like you are losing an organ every time you pay for health insurance each month, you might be a typical American worker.
19. If you feel like your employer is constantly tempted to replace you with someone younger and cheaper, then you might be a typical American worker.
20. If you are so poor that you cannot even afford to pay attention, you might be a typical American worker.
What do you think? Comments?