It’s odd to me that no one is talking about the end of lies, because it’s inevitable. It flows from just three simple premises:
- More and more of life is happening online. Eventually, it will all be online. (Or at least recorded by someone else who is online).
- What happens online leaves permanent traces.
- Given enough time and resources, anyone can access those traces.
There will come a time when every word you say will be publicly available and searchable. Gone will be the days when your acts would fade away into the fog of forgottennness.
Another way to think of it: karma is about to become real. Nothing you do will escape the watchful eye of the public — no act good or bad. So better start being good now, while there’s still time to make mistakes.
Everything you do will be subject to scrutiny — what time you wake up the morning, your excuse for skipping work on July 7, 2022, what you say to that guy who bumps into you on the subway, what you say when you’re venting to your coworker behind closed doors, what jokes you laugh at, how big you smile when you see Jane Doe, how often you stalk your ex-girlfriend’s facebook, etc. What porn you watch. How many drinks you had before you drove home. Every word you mumble to yourself while you sleep (and while you dream).
This will not just affect you, but those you love too. Your internet history and comments may well be used to decide your grandchildren’s credit score, whether they get into college, whether they get hired, etc. See, e.g.: In insurance Big Data could lower rates for optimistic tweeters.
When people take to Twitter to comment on the great evening they enjoyed with good food and wonderful friends, reducing their monthly insurance bill is probably the last thing on their mind.
But such tweets could help insurers to price premiums for individuals, with research suggesting a direct link between positive posts and a reduced risk of heart disease.
This could lead to future insurance cover based on “sentiment analysis”, in which Big Data and artificial intelligence make predictive models ever more accurate.
Even so, as new inputs ranging from social media to call center recordings offer information that could be relevant in ways that individuals may not realize, Chief Executive Christian Mumenthaler saw reason to exercise personal judgment as well.
“I personally would be cautious what I publish on the internet,” Mumenthaler has said.
What will this mean for us, on a human/emotional level? It’s hard to know. This podcast raises some good points — but I suspect the effect will be much more wide ranging than that. Those with boring lives and boring desires will thrive; those with more eccentric proclivities (who currently tend to cling to the shadows) will be exposed and may see their stature fall. All political figures and private sector leaders will undergo a level of vetting previously unfathomable — which likely means that we will see a shift in our leaders towards the boring/risk-averse. Perhaps human relationships will crumble, as being able to tell white lies does seem essential to being able to live with/get along with others — but I think long-term, we will probably adapt, and re-calibrate what it takes to offend or disgust us. Plus, not every hidden thing that comes to the surface will offend, disgust, or disappoint us. Who knows how many quiet sacrifices are being made out there, every day, unsung only because they were done under cover of privacy? How many beautiful and brilliant souls walk among us today, unnoticed for shyness but deserving of the utmost adoration?
On a political level, I see there being three primary effects (similar to the above):
- Boring people will gain more power (as they are subject to less leverage).
- The will likely be a chilling effect, as people realize that all (non-vanilla) speech and opinion-expressing creates liability. This will, in turn, have an enervating effect on our body politic. Debate and free speech are vital for democracy.
- A likely follow-on effect is that people will become more tribalistic. Like-minded people will tend to clump together, both for protection and for the sake of having an outlet where one can speak one’s mind freely without fear of retribution or negative reaction. We see this to a certain extent already, but I have a feeling the end of privacy will intensify this greatly.
Given that we aren’t there yet, what is one to do in the meantime (i.e., during the transition phase)?
For now, it is absolutely imperative that we censor ourselves on the internet. Consider the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of people who have been fired for off-color comments made in private. What’s the lesson here? Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. Be careful what you say, because you won’t be able to take it back, and it may well blow up in your face down the road. To best prepare for what’s in store, you’ve got to get in the habit of not saying things in private you wouldn’t say in public. (Which in most cases is really what you should’ve been doing already.)
That’s not to say that we should give up on preserving our privacy altogether. While data leaks and cybersecurity breaches are more common and wide-reaching than ever, there are still measures we can take to carve out some small measure of privacy — at least temporarily. The way I see it, the forward-looking citizen does two things simultaneously: you need to (i) up your (healthy) voluntary disclosure of information as fast as possible, to get in the habit of living and speaking in a way that’s fit for public consumption (and to get comfortable with your “personal” info becoming widely known), while (ii) taking care to minimize your involuntary exposure of information as much as possible, to minimize the fallout from your inevitable failures to live according to the public-friendly ideal.
How best to go about upping your voluntary disclosure? If done properly, this can actually be a life-affirming, quite positive thing. Don’t just give your secrets away for free, but they’re going to get out there eventually, so try get something for them. Make people work for them, sharing secret for secret. After all, sharing secrets is attractive. Don’t be afraid to open up — if you do it right, it may well open some very interesting doors for you.
If you’re scared of what happens when you’re open in a public, permanent way, first of all: you’re right. If you’re human, you should be scared. You will make mistakes, and suffer for them. But remember: the way to address this fear is to not become more reclusive, but to become a BETTER PERSON. There is only so much you can do to hide who you are. Use the pressure of publicity to push yourself to be better in every way. In a way, we are blessed. We are the first generation for whom karma is real. We are the first generation to have some tangible assurance that our good acts will not go unrewarded, and our bad acts will not go unpunished.
For the sake of democracy, for the sake of relationships, for the sake of your sanity — please, keep speaking. Right now, I am exposing myself to liability by posting this. I am exposing the inner working of my brain, making myself more prone to criticism and manipulation. But it has to be done. The speaker has to speak.
Additional reading, and related thoughts:
“If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” Don’t forget that there are various online service providers out there who are actively working to build detailed profiles of each individual who uses (or even just comes into contact) with their services, with the end goal of monetizing/selling those profiles.
More and more data is being collected each day. And we are becoming more adept at sifting through that data. What was once anonymized data will soon become carefully curated/labeled data. These data silos are a lot easier to breach than they are to protect, so you can be sure that with time, all of this information will leak out and become publicly available.
All of our devices are vulnerable to hacking. Even the airgapped ones. Even the “factory” ones.
The information gathered can and will be used to blackmail.
Hacked devices can and will be used to trick people — to distort reality. There’s a potential here for gaslighting on a level never before seen. (And I wouldn’t be surprised if stuff like this gets used to impersonate people, thereby taking the gaslighting and manipulation up one notch further.)
Malware will be used not just to steal information (and money), but also to commandeer physical objects, sometimes to physically harm people.
https://bananas.liberty.me/youre-a-criminal-in-a-mass-surveillance-world-how-to-not-get-caught/ (jump to “Anti-Surveillance Guide”)
There are steps you can take to protect yourself — but getting it right is nearly impossible for the average person…
http://daserste.ndr.de/panorama/aktuell/nsa230_page-1.html (NSA targets the privacy conscious)
… and if history is any guide, attempting to protect your privacy will only make you more of a target.
Misc. other reading:
http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-say-they-ve-finally-figured-out-the-identity-of-banksy | http://fortune.com/2016/03/03/banksy-identity/ | http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21693978-analysis-developed-crime-fighting-and-disease-tracking-points-artists
Is there a technology capable of reviving anonymous/impermanent speech? It’s an interesting technological question… and one I don’t have the answer to. This might be a “necessity is the mother of invention” type situation — if it turns out the end of privacy is horrible enough, that could be just the motivation mankind needs to pull a world-changing technological innovation out of thin air. Or, failing that, perhaps humanity will elect to rid itself of technology completely, destroying it wherever it appears and demonizing all those who use it or promote it.
More likely, though, the answer will be cultural one — we just become a lot more comfortable with shit that used to offend us. We’ll become a lot less bashful about naked pics. It’s hard to imagine given the current state of our culture (and every culture that has come before us throughout all of recorded history), but hey, humans are very adaptable creatures, right? If you’re scared, perhaps take solace in the fact that Slavoj Zizek, a man who can conjure up specters like no other, is still optimistic about the future despite this looming sea change:
One final thought:
What’s most shocking about all this is not that our acts are becoming more and more widely known and harder to hide, but that our true thoughts and motivations are still so damn impenetrable to ourselves. External acts can, and will be, endlessly catalogued — and yet, if any man were to come to truly know himself, that knowledge would be more potent than the entire catalog of humanity’s actions combined.
“What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a… scanner… see into me – into us – clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.”