I find it laughable and ironic that people who cheer on Edward Snowden, who freak out that 'someone is watching' them with every online purchase they make, even those Gmail users suing Google, are also engaging socially on the internet in very intimate ways. They post pictures of kids' first and Grammy's 100th birthday on Facebook and Instagram, but damn anyone who sees them without being invited! Our paranoia, as well as our full disclosure, seem to go hand in hand.
Thanks to Snowden, WikiLeaks, and the recent trial between Google and Gmail users, people are beginning to realize that when using the internet, ‘somebody’ is indeed watching them. For some, this news is met with terror. The idea that someone is watching every communication is humanity’s worst nightmare. It has Big Brother and 1984 written all over it. And yet this fear doesn’t stop many users from continuing to use the web as a confessional for their daily adventures. Which ironically leaves us in a strange social dilemma as human beings.
If we crave attention so badly we’re willing to post our anniversary pictures as well as our crimes on the internet so they can be seen, then why does it also bother us so much that Google, Yahoo, the NSA, and even NFL football players are watching, and noting, our actions?
The internet is private, but not in the way that most want their secrets to be private. No, it's private in the sense of being owned and operated by big businesses. Many different players have come together to bring the world this ‘free’ product. Their investment into the technological efforts of creating this wonderful thing called the internet wasn’t free. Billions were spent creating it. And every internet financier has an interest in how their product is used.
Thus, every keystroke is watched. It has to be, so that those who own the technology can cash in on their investment. Just because applications like Facebook, Snap Chat and Kik are free to use, doesn’t mean they're without cost. There’s an actual financial cost to building and maintaining the internet. And here’s the kicker, there’s also a cost to society for accepting this ‘free’ gift. Gmail may be free, but the cost is that the users are not considered customers; rather, they’re considered data sets. It’s the user’s electronic footprint that big business is endlessly parsing, analyzing and sharing with others.
What is it then about our electronic footprint that makes us so nervous when business giants and government officials desire to see it? Are we more real out there than we are in our hearts and minds? Are we ashamed of it? Are we invested in it? Why do we cringe when our data is used by others for profit?
Perhaps this gut reaction is more of an omen about the future than anything else. In reality, we know that anything we post online is public, at least to those who own the technology. We know that when we use the internet and all of its wonderful offerings, we're putting a part of ourselves out there, and by taking part in the game, forum, blog or post, we're exposing ourselves. But at this moment in time, we can choose what part of our selves we expose. Our online personality is ours to create, it doesn't even have to match who we are in reality. There is a buffer between the real me and the one Google knows.
But with the movement towards machine-based singularity solutions for humanity marching ever closer to reality, perhaps the real reason we cringe when Snowden releases more and more data about how we're being watched is because we know what's coming – that there's only a small step between what I chose to put online to reflect my personality, and becoming an online device myself, where all my thoughts, desires and needs will be known to those who know how to mine the data.
On their website, the creators of Kik have this to say about smartphones and the future, "We believe we’re at the beginning of the smartphone era – one of the most transformative changes of our generation, comparative to the rise of the first personal computer or the creation of the Internet. For the first time in history, we have a device that isn’t just a tool. Your smartphone is actually part of you: always on, always connected, and always with you. We see it as an implant. It just hasn’t been implanted yet."
Always on, always connected, and always with you. This is one of our potential futures, and we all know it's coming. In my novel, eHuman Dawn, I've attempted to create that world, and I’ve spent the past three years writing that story.
Trust me, there are a lot of great aspects to being an eHuman.
But there are also consequences when we allow those who own the technology to be a part of our minds – to be the ones who hold the keys to life or death.
Do our business leaders have our best interests in mind? Or will they have an even easier time marketing to us, perhaps being able to actually create a desire for their products within our minds with simple suggestions, like auto-correct works now? In such a world, how could we ever know whether what we thought or did on the network was truly ours?
Perhaps this is what's behind our paranoia and anger when we find out Google sells information mined from our email. Because we know what's coming, and we know deep down that perhaps our business leaders can't be fully trusted with our thoughts, desires and dreams – in essence our very being.
It all comes down to this: Will those who own the technology to use it for good? Forever? Because that's what machine-based immortality truly means.