Monthly Archives: February 2016

They’ve Taken Care of Everything

A few years ago, I asked my college-age son how his friends organized and stored their digital photos. He said, “They put them on Facebook.” According to George Dyson in his 2012 book Turing’s Cathedral, one of Facebook’s founders described the goal of the company as, “How much human life can we absorb?”

In 1976, the Rush song “2112” portrayed the rulers of a dystopian future society who claimed to have achieved the end of that goal:

We’ve taken care of everything
The words you hear, the songs you sing
The pictures that give pleasure to your eyes
It’s one for all and all for one
We work together, common sons
Never need to wonder how or why

We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
Our great computers fill the hallowed halls
We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life are held within our walls

Melodramatic? Perhaps, but also poignant, prescient and a strong warning against blindly handing over my personal information without being mindful of how it’s being used. Brands don’t ask me to “like” them because they “like” me, but because my information is their capital and currency.

Algorithmic analysis of my personal data—captured and stored in corporate and government networks—can spawn spurious comparisons, equate correlation with causation, and project self-fulfilling prophecies.

Networks and devices can be intoxicating and insistent (the web never sleeps!), and it’s easy for real-life relationships to be crowded out by virtual connections which provide no emotional depth. Social media do offer some benefits, but only as my slave, not my master.

When is it rational and beneficial for me to cede control of my personal identity to faceless entities in exchange for convenience and indirect interaction? Only when I retain control and am aware of “how and why” they “take care of everything” for me.

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