This is “the future” that everyone from Orwell to Spielberg warned us about. We live in a rapidly maturing economy filled with shiny new gadgets and expensive technologies.
Apps can help you with everything from directions to diet plans. Computers and cell phones are basically considered extensions of the human body. Everyone and everything is connected through the miracle of the World Wide Web.
It’s a recent development; this rash of digital advancements resulting in America’s new high-tech society has really only boomed over the last twenty years. Products that wowed developers in the 1980s now fit firmly into your front pocket.
So what does a connected life cost these days? Your privacy, for starters.
While many were shocked and appalled when former CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden leaked documents proving that the NSA collects American citizens’ phone records from Verizon, I for one was not surprised.
I’ve seen Enemy of the State, after all. I considered this common knowledge (thanks, Gene Hackman).
Amidst the idealistic outrage that followed these most recent leaks, I found myself asking my peers and colleagues what they thought about the process of private companies passing over information to the government. “I don’t care” was by far the most common response.
Are those arguing for apathy indifferent to these “violations” simply because we consider national security a complicated and dangerous game with stakes high enough to warrant such measures? Or have we been slowly conditioned by the advertising industry to accept that our personal activities and preferences are no longer private matters?
In an age of unprecedented connectivity, life itself is lived out online. We buy goods. We discuss topics. We share information. The internet has effectively sewn itself into the fabric of our very being. It’s indispensable, and yet it constantly invades our privacy in the name of Big Data.
Within the advertising industry, tracking online behavior and monitoring site visitation trends in order to target a user with more relevant ads is nothing short of commonplace.
It’s a relatively harmless phenomenon, essentially developed to help advertisers spend their media budgets more efficiently. They acknowledged the new digital marketplace, assessed how best to manipulate it, and implemented practices that allow them to mine useful information.
Most internet surfers begrudgingly accept this premise because it’s a process that takes place outside of their immediate view. The frustration a typical user has upon visiting a website and then constantly seeing related ads amounts to the feeling one gets when they’re caught “dancing like nobody’s watching”.
It’s slightly irritating, but ultimately innocent.
The NSA’s ability to plug into our personal data is a direct technological offshoot of the advertising industry’s well-paved path down that same road. The groundwork had already been laid, so all that was left for the government to do was jump on board and repurpose the information accordingly.
Is it possible that this same groundwork helped train citizens to be more accepting of less privacy? Is political apathy a symptom of previous over-exposure? It may be impossible to separate those who simply “don’t care” from those conditioned not to.
Regardless, two things have become clear to me since I started discussing this issue with anyone willing: no one can stop it and no one really minds.