According to Google’s Chairman of the Board, spying is part of the nature of society. He’s right. That much isn’t in question.
What is of much more concern is that because he’s right and because society has become completely dependent on technology to keep the various logistics of day to day life in order, should we all consider de-digitizing those aspects of life where technology is only a mild addition? I’ll expand on the concept further, but first let’s look at exactly what Eric Schmidt said in New York at an event held by the New America Foundation:
“The real danger [from] the publicity about all of this is that other countries will begin to put very serious encryption – we use the term ‘balkanization’ in general – to essentially split the internet and that the internet’s going to be much more country specific,” Schmidt said. “That would be a very bad thing, it would really break the way the internet works, and I think that’s what I worry about. There’s been spying for years, there’s been surveillance for years, and so forth, I’m not going to pass judgment on that, it’s the nature of our society.”
He brings up a great point about passing judgement. We all hold the US government responsible for maintaining our safety when it comes to threats that are not in our control. While many would say that the government meddles in our affairs too much, few would say that they should just let any threats, foreign or domestic, go unchecked and unpunished. In essence, we want them to keep the boogie man out of our lives whether that means stopping terrorist attacks like 9/11 or preventing cyberattacks that could cripple our infrastructure.
With that said, the outrage over the spying techniques and data collection/storage practices of the NSA has been righteous. We should be outraged. We should be demanding accountability for the fact that they have us “wired” in ways that most didn’t realize, that our “private” conversations aren’t nearly as private as we expect and deserve, and that everyone seems to be a potential target for inquiry. They want to know what we’re doing, what we’re saying, and who we’re saying it to even if they don’t want to admit that they want to know.
It’s every bit as bad as the concepts detailed in 1984 and worse in many ways because this is a gradual change that is sneaking up on us rather than a totalitarian shift in what we consider freedoms. This path is a much more dangerous one than anything fiction had ever hypothesized.
Now, there is no amount of outrage that will change the facts. We cannot put this genie back in its bottle. The government was exposed, but that only means that it will bury its activities deeper. It doesn’t mean that they will change.
Based upon this understanding, we should consider de-digitizing non-essential elements of our lives. Those of us who are conscientious about what the government and any other entity knows about us should start the long but important process of making as much as possible in our lives analog rather than digital. It sounds crazy considering that so much happens online, through computers, and through our phones, but it’s a worthy process if privacy is important.
This cannot be mandated. It shouldn’t be. There are plenty of people who could care less what is known about them. The rise of Facebook and other social networks is a clear indicator that we like to show our lives to others. That doesn’t mean that everyone does. It also doesn’t mean that getting off of Facebook is the only thing that needs to be done. Those who take it serious should start by eliminating social network activities, but that’s only the beginning.
First and foremost, it’s important to have the mindset that nothing is private if it’s placed online, sent through technology in any way, or voiced over a telephone. Pretend like everything is monitored and the data is stored. Setting your Facebook profile to private does not mean it’s private.
The next step is to find alternatives to those things that are made better through technology but not essential. One of the biggest things is cash. There is a huge push being made towards a cashless society. Those who want all transactions tracked and cataloged should like this. Those who want privacy should use cash to pay for just about everything they buy.
Last but not least, look at your activities as a whole. What things do you do that require technology? Are there things that you do that could just as easily be done without technology? Even if it makes it a little harder, the extra effort might be worth it. An example of this would be something as simple as going down to the bookstore to buy a book (with cash) rather than ordering it through Amazon.
The nature of every society is, as Schmidt said, geared towards suspicion and spying. Espionage is not new. Spying on one’s citizens is not new. The venue and practices have changed, but only because they’re available now. The mindset has not. However, the acceptance of these technological advancements are considered by many to be the necessary tradeoff for us to maintain our tech-driven lifestyles. Nobody wants to be tracked and recorded, yet we’ll gripe about the fact that we’re tracked and recorded by posting about it on Facebook.
If society isn’t going to change, than those who care about their privacy will have to change the way they interact with society. It’s not as hard as it sounds. The hardest part is making the choice.