The company OnStar – the GM satellite navigational system that can unlock your car for you, or help you in the case of an accident, has also announced a new technology to slow down or stop your car, or cut off the engine in case the police are chasing you. As I was listening to the news report, I was thinking that we now have technology that:
1) Allows the government to know your cell phone calls and who you made them to.
2) Know where you were standing when you made those calls.
3) Track your internet usage, including sites you’ve visited and products you’ve purchased.
4) Your Internet preferences and behavior.
5) Track your purchases and locations through credit cards.
6) Track our credit history, list our firearms purchases, and know our medical history.
7) Search sites like Google know what you’re searching for and keep those records for a period of time.
8) Satellites that can read a license place from miles in space.
9) Closer to home, we now have video cameras installed throughout cities, in stores and ATM’s, and along streets and highways.
10) And now, they can shut down our car via satellite if they’re chasing us.
And here’s the thing: we WANT this. We WANT to have the convenience of debit cards, cell phones, online cookies, and navigational systems. We’ve gladly laid down our private space – not for our security, but for our convenience. It makes me think of the competing visions of the future from Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984, Animal Farm).
Media theorist and writer Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) has a pretty brilliant comparison of the two visions:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with feelings instead of facts. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions. In 1984, Huxley added, that people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. We must face the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
I’m not a conspiracy theorist or apocalyptic type, but suddenly I’ve started looking over my shoulder…