Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Is Big Business another NSA, or is it the other way ‘round?



The Snowden leaks have America’s knickers in a twist on spying by our government
and the demise of personal freedoms. Well, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea, they’re quite properly twisted around our ankles and I’m a great supporter of whistleblowers. Without the Edward Snowdens of the world, there would be no crack in the door of secrecy.
“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” -Leonard Cohen
It is indeed, Leonard, but for me it begs other questions. Nearly everything we do these days is connected in one way or another with the Internet. Banking, searches for
information, newspapers, film and TV access, online shopping (or comparisons prior to purchase in shops), cell phone use, Facebook, Twitter, emails and the list goes on, if you stop to think about it—every step of the way, statistically sliced and diced by Corporate America for their own purposes (it’s no proofreading error that I have capitalized Corporate America as a single entity).
Take that little ‘terms and conditions’ check box we mindlessly mark off, as an example. No one willingly wades through pages of legal gobbledygook and what’s the choice anyway? If we want access, we click.  More and more, we’ve spun off our treasured United States of America, distorting it into the Corporation of America. With or without the mass surveillance of the NSA, Homeland Security, FBI, CIA and their 1,271 supporting government organizations, Big Business is already well ahead of the game.
The questions begged are ‘do we know?, do we care?’ and perhaps more importantly, what it says about the ‘Brave New World’ in which we live? If you disremember the reference, according to Wikipedia:
Brave New World is a novel written in 1931 by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932. Set in London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. – "After Ford" – in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and operant conditioning that combine to profoundly change society. Huxley answered this book with a reassessment in an essay, Brave New World Revisited (1958), and with Island (1962), his final novel.
What Orwell feared (in his novel, 1984) 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 egotism. 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 some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
The source of Huxley’s title is Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I; “O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in't.” The Bard thought these were goodly creatures, the beauty of mankind. Now here we are, 403 years after the play and 526 years before the date presumed in Huxley’s novel. A neat trick of history, skewered as we are, between nearly a thousand years of writing—pinned to reality like butterflies on a board.
First, tackling ‘do we know?’ one is forced to admit of course we do, if only in the vaguest of terms. Every time we press the ‘agree’ button to access a bank statement or Internet site, we willingly give up individual privacy. One might fairly argue that the choice is more desperately than willingly made, but we are wound tightly to the centrifugal bumblepuppy. That’s today’s price of access, unless you live in a cabin in the woods, hunting and gathering your own food.
Is a choice actually a choice if denial is crippling? You can see what a tasty (but indigestible) stew we’ve been offered, while starving for entry to worlds that didn’t even exist a generation ago. Overfed by the cornucopia the Internet lays before us, it seems the bill is finally presented at the edge of the plate, with a whispered “thank you very much, sir we hope to see you again soon.” It may have been an overly costly meal, but see us again they will.
The Snowden NSA leaks are bland as tofu by comparison, with no gustatory reward other than a tasteless, odorless “keeping you safe, sir” as the bill arrives, along with the sly wink of a used-car salesman. 

Big Business is made of stronger stuff. ATMs? “Certainly, sir” and $360 a year on average popped on the bill to access your own money. “Surfing the Web, sir? Easily done and, by the bye, we’ll delight you by sending ads directly to your cell-phone sir, especially chosen for you by tracking your very own buying habits. Oh no sir, no trouble at all.” 

Big Business intrudes into your life knowing what make of car you drive, how much
you spend shopping, the groceries you buy and where you buy them. It knows the deposit balance at your bank, the size of your mortgage, what books you buy (and where), if you’re late or on time with payments, where you work and how much you earn. It knows, if it cares to know, where you went yesterday—block by block and whether you were really ill when you called in for a sick day.

Relax, you’re in good hands with Corporate America and they’re pros, not needing anything so scary as a terrorist threat to set the hook, reel you in and toss you, flapping, on their deck. Oh and by the way, if you have an Xbox One Kinect™ hooked up to your TV, it sees and hears your every move with its eye and ear, from within the privacy of your own home. One might reasonably ask why it demands that ability as a requirement to function.

One might ask, but Microsoft has yet to answer. One can only hope it doesn’t choose to answer directly, through your Xbox One Kinect™.