What do we do about the ghosts in our machines?

Are you concerned about your ability to retain your privacy in today’s world?

Do you ever check the privacy settings on your phone and disable location services so that installed apps can’t determine and share where you are when you utilise their services?

Have you ever felt uncomfortable when you notice ads appearing on sites that are directly related to what you’ve been searching for?

Are you discussing privacy in today’s world with your students and making them aware of how corporations are tracking their locations, keystrokes and search habits?

If you’re concerned about any of these privacy issues, then I suggest you read Walter Kirn‘s excellent article in the November 2015 issue of The Atlantic entitled, ‘If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy‘.

If You're not crazy...

While I don’t subscribe to the tinfoil hat brigade level of paranoia that some people endorse, I am concerned about surveillance and privacy issues that emanate from our desire to remain connected for most of our waking hours. Walter’s final paragraphs tell the story of the consciousness level we all need to have as we move to a society that wears its devices and allows them to control our home systems.

But I am too old for this embrace of nakedness. I still believe in the boundaries of my own skull and feel uneasy when they are crossed. Not long ago, my wife left town on business and I texted her to say good night. “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite,” I wrote. I was unsettled the next morning when I found, atop my list of e‑mails, a note from an exterminator offering to purge my house of bedbugs. If someone had told me even a few years ago that such a thing wasn’t pure coincidence, I would have had my doubts about that someone. Now, however, I reserve my doubts for the people who still trust. There are so many ghosts in our machines—their locations so hidden, their methods so ingenious, their motives so inscrutable—that not to feel haunted is not to be awake. That’s why paranoia, even in its extreme forms, no longer seems to me so much a disorder as a mode of cognition with an impressive track record of prescience.

Paranoia, we scorned you, and we’re sorry. We feared you were crazy, but now we’re crazy too, meaning we’re ready to listen, so, please, let’s talk. It’s time. It’s past time. Let’s get to know each other. Quietly, with the shades drawn, in the dark, in the space that is left to us, so small, now nearly gone.

Sidenote: I discovered Walter’s article after listening to him interviewed on Note to Self, an excellent podcast about the effects of technology on our lives, hosted by Manoush Zomorodi. The episode was called, ‘Is my phone eavesdropping on me‘ and I suggest you follow the link to take a listen. While you’re there, take in some of what’s on offer there. Latest episodes about sexting amongst young people, how texting can improve or replace real life face to face relationships and an excellent interview with Sherry Turkle are well worth your time. I’ve subscribed – great listening and learning as I make my way to and from work. 🙂

 

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