May 30th, 2007

obscure mythologies (photograph)


One of the most observant things I ever said was something I first pointed out four years ago: "There is no international crisis so major that it can't be interrupted by a small, stupid crisis close to home."

I wouldn't be surprised if a decent chunk of my friends list is devoting mindspace to Strikethrough 2007 right now (short summary: yes, LJ is actually deleting accounts based solely on their user interests; but before panicking, please click through the link and get all the facts).

Dealing with that is not a bad thing. It does hit close to home. It's something worth taking action on. I spent an hour or two reading up on it, and have taken a few protest actions myself.

But don't forget what's going on in the rest of the world.

And please take a moment of silence with me to mourn the age of personal privacy. It was a good age. We'll miss it.

This development by itself -- Google is apparently driving vans down the street, running cameras and getting still photos of individual buildings for Google Maps -- isn't going to singlehandedly destroy anything. But it is another line being crossed, another step down the slippery slope.

By itself it might mean little. But we're also in an age of YouTube'd cameraphone videos, overnight internet celebrities, personal blogs with global reach,, dirt-digging via search engine, ubiquitous surveillance, and terrorist watch lists.

I don't know who, for example, this guy is. But his face is already being passed around the internet (as for why, see the background of the photo. Worksafe but suggestive). Someone probably will ID him. And when he does, the odds are good that there will be bad consequences.

What stops that from happening to the rest of us? As of now, only sheer weight of humanity's numbers. There is nothing stopping random and equally embarrassing photos of me, or you, from being spread around the planet at the speed of light; all we can rely on is the fact that with so many targets out there, the odds of instant notoriety are about the same as that of winning the lottery.

Numbers will be a good defense for a while, but as the sheer amount of data and the computing power available to sift through it increases (never mind the development of increasingly sophisticated AI), even that cover will get stripped back. Fifteen to twenty years from now (assuming of course no energy crash, world war, imperial collapse, complete financial meltdown or technological singularity), I suspect we'll be at the point where basically everything we ever say, except in the most secret and encrypted spaces, will be available for endless scrutiny.*

* As opposed to now, where we can choose to put the things we say on the public record (such as here, in a public blog), but that's not the default choice for all of our communication. I read a great essay some years back -- and my google-fu is failing me at the moment -- about how the Internet was drawing a bright dividing line between hidden communication and exposed communication. It argued we're losing the ability to speak in "semi-public" space -- where we can speak up to those who want to hear without the rest of the world beating down the door to listen in. I need to find that essay again.
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