Complex systems, individual and networked dependencies on technology, and an increasingly connected world have both expanded our potential and our vulnerability. Our lives, both functionally and socially, have become hopelessly intertwined with a series of systems that operate both outside us, in a global information network, and inside our lives and homes, as a life convenience. Artificial intelligence (AI) learns our preferences and needs in an effort to better serve us. Sophisticated systems are able to analyze massive amounts of data about our lives and activities and laser focus marketing efforts on what we like, value, or fear.
This is the age we live in. This is the reality of our days.
The alternative, the old notion of living off the grid, is becoming less possible. Data is collected about us and stored electronically by so many devices, businesses, and organizations, and the ability to monitor the activities of individuals through surveillance technology is expansive. And this is not just the Orwellian concept of Big Brother, this ability is within the reach of average citizens with technological savvy.
What is there to do about all this? I am not sure there is much we can do except to adjust our own understanding of our reality. The complex web that has become the infrastructure of our lives is not going away. Cars can already drive themselves and AI systems are acting as companions to humans. Technology is tied to virtually everything we do in the business world, and most of what we do in our social lives. There is no going back, there is only forward movement regardless of the challenges.
I think a critical starting point is to realize that the notion of privacy is a thing of the past. In an age where we gather information through technology there are no private things. We particularly need to embrace the reality that communication via technology, be it in words or images, is easily captured regardless of the security framework protecting it. The brilliance in cyber felons far exceeds our current protection. We also need to be at one with our activities outside our home being captured both by government and private interests via active and static surveillance technology and individuals ready to stream live on Facebook or post videos on YouTube. As for what is safe space in our home, we must all recognize that where technology lives privacy does not.
What does this mean for society? Interestingly, this may force folks to be more authentic, not because they are naturally driven toward that state, but because their actual behavior is subject to constant capture. Plus, historical capture presented by individuals on social media platforms allows for others to call out incongruent behavior with ease. The capture of who we are is not just a matter of government focus, but ripe for any individual with the interest and capability to gather data.
One would think that the ability to monitor so much activity might reduce crime, but I think that the roots of crime are more complex than just dragging such activities out into the open. Clearly, technology will help with investigation and prosecution of crime. But that is physical crime, cyber crimes – crimes aimed at stripping us of our identities, data, work product, and financial security – are rampant and as I stated above, we are ill-equipped as a society to address them currently.
Children now have a data bio from birth by virtue of their parents’ captured purchasing information, social media engagement, and online record access. The sophistication of marketing to them by all industries (the good, the bad, and the ugly) is increasing exponentially. Also, access to them is increasing as children gain tablet and phone access at younger ages.
Time will tell the myriad of ways our exposure will change us as a society, but make no mistake, the notion of privacy our grandparents enjoyed is dead. I am brought back to an old playground chant, “I see London, I see France, I see someone’s underpants!” Look around your life at the technology you use and live with daily and think about what is actually private in your world, your underpants may be one of the few things you have left.
Another day in the new forty – obla di obla da