“Even a casual glance at the media whether in print or streaming form reveals a distinct shift in energy and sadly not a positive one. Recent events from all over our little blue dot have shown that humanity appears to be on a disturbing downward spiral, towards a destiny I don’t think any of us can predict. Even the glass half full brigade is starting to see the drink drift towards the bottom of the tumbler.
The have been several events of late which have upset the balance in the Universe which even videos of kittens playing and falling off stuff are failing to have the desired uplifting effect”…
Those exact words were scribed here on the twenty sixth of July, twenty sixteen during the aftermath of the Brexit vote here in the U.K, my abject disbelief in the majority (not overwhelming by any means, but majority nonetheless) of citizens voting to go it alone, to disconnect from a union which gave more freedom of movement, more freedom of choice, more freedom opportunity for cultural exchange, just more.
The pursuing three and a half years in stasis were frankly embarrassing, like two school children endlessly bickering in the playground over which colour was best, blue or red, only to be resolved by asking the question all over again.
I was, as were many of my close friends and family, truly disappointed by the outcome of the general last year but it was apparent to us that a different type of politics had emerged. The time of robust, transparent and progressive manifestos had gone, replaced by rhetoric and hyperbole, and the more succinct the better. A manifesto of three words won the election. “Get. Brexit. Done”. That was all it took. No five-hundred page visions of the future required, no clear or quantifiable plans to take the U.K to the next level. Simply, these three words resonated with original voters and with new found sympathisers in socialist strongholds (depleted of energy in a stagnating country) who were targeted by social media campaigns and the less-than independent and biased views of the BBC.
As much as I admired Jeremy Corbyn in the past, it was clear that all hope was gone leading up to the election result, when so many people uttered the words “I cannot bring myself to vote for that man”, choosing instead to hand Boris Johnson a fresh set of keys to Ten Downing Street.
After the dust settled and a period of reflection, it was clear to me that the election was lost by a total destruction of the “Red Wall” due to the beleaguered populace wanting an immediate end to the vacuous stalemate in Westminster on Brexit which only the Conservatives were truly offering. It was a vote for capitalism and the self rather than for socialism and the many.
One thing that did concern me during the whole period (and even more so today) was the role media and social media organisations play in such events, and how much of our personal data is used against us to influence what we think, how we think and how we subsequently act.
The rules of the game have changed. Take a step back in time and look at the amount of information or personal data that was available to organisations in the past (government, civil service and private organisations). To say it was sparse compared to today is an understatement.
I grew up in the early nineteen seventies:
- We got the bus to school and work every day, no personal data at all
- We had newspapers delivered each day which contained information on current affairs, no personal data held other than our local corner shop knowing which publications we preferred
- We had our post delivered each day with letters and postcards from loved ones, no personal data captured other than offline credit card and bank statements
- We went to the shops to buy food, clothes and toys, no personal data held other than store receipts
- We had three television channels with one daily one-hour news bulletin on two of them, no personal data held other than we had a television licence
- We listened to music on the radio, vinyl, cassette tapes and watched films on video tape (eighties) and at the cinema, no personal data held other than store or picturehouse receipts
- We had a landline telephone, which allowed us to communicate with others, no personal data captured other than the more left-wing voters with affiliations to certain political groups having their lines tapped (and I know a couple)
- We borrowed books from the library to enhanced our knowledge on certain topics that interested us, no personal data captured other than which books we had to pay fines on as invariably they were overdue
- We went on holiday in the U.K due to limited funds to travel abroad, no personal data captured
- We had a voting card (well my parents did) and placed our X next to our preferred candidate, no personal data captured other than the binary choice (red or blue) we made on the day which made the peg count in election of the day
Life was much more private then, simpler, with only rudimentary individual/consumer profiling available to those who sort it, which in itself was minimal, marketing types really. Not so now. The migration from analogue to digital has heralded an unprecedented technological evolution the likes of which we could only dream of back in the seventies.
Clearly our lives are enriched by the positive aspects of technology advancement:
- The multitudinous, multifaceted and multifunctional devices we have at our disposal
- The wealth and depth of information that is available to us via online search engines and thousands of media channels
- The convenience of online shopping and having any goods delivered the very next day
- The immersive audio/visual experiences we take part in through online games, streaming films and music from all genres tailored to our particular tastes
- The majestic and global reach of contacting others via phone/video/email many thousands of miles away making the world a smaller place
- The ability to pay for goods, services and travel through credit and not cash, via a watch on a wrist, an app on a phone or a contactless payment/travel card
- The ease of voting online, never having to traipse in the English summer rain to the polling station
But as the late and great Isaac Newton famously once said, “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction” later paraphrased by Albert Einstein (“For every action there is reaction”).
Big data is big business and, in my opinion, a big risk that could lead to a Big Brother.
In the current capitalist/consumerist paradigm we find ourselves in, social and economic profiling by identifying the what we think, the way in which we think it and how we subsequently act and react is something a lot of people are very keen on understanding. Big business and big governments appear to be launching a crusade to uncover everything there is to know about us and how access to that data that can or will influence our actions and reactions.
The vast majority of us buy into that paradigm, myself included (although I am taking active measures to “anonymousise” my digital footprint). Take a step back if you will and see how proactively we are feeding the machine.
Every single digital transaction we make (from Google search, to Amazon purchase, to Facebook like, to Twitter retweet, to Instagram photo check-in and beyond) leaves behind a digital footprint, breadcrumbs of data which can be used to build up a profile of us.
Marry that up with every text or social media message we send, every phone call we make, every Alexa command we utter and we very quickly come to the conclusion that Edward Snowden was right, our social interactions, our online presence is being monitored constantly. We have all experienced an advert popping up on Facebook for something obscure we have just been talking about the day before.
The learned and the well-educated will know that already, but the less well-educated or socially unaware will remain in ignorant bliss. They will be blind to the more subliminal methods organisations are using to profile them, turning them and us into perfect consumers.
Events over the past few months relating to Covid-19 have, in my opinion, taken profiling beyond consumer and economic and are now venturing into a dark realm of social, physical and even DNA profiling. Only yesterday did we hear about the U.K government allowing a private AI company (Faculty) to access sensitive patient data against the rules of GDPR to execute algorithms and produce predictions on how things may materialise and how measures can be taken to combat the pandemic. We also heard that the government are launching a tracking app which will use the GPS signal on the smart phone to monitor the movements of the population.
Whilst I don’t believe that there is a covert operation currently underway towards the creation of an Orwellian-esque New World Order (I can’t see Johnson, Putin, Trump, Xi, Jong Un, Merkel and Macron collectively agreeing about anything just now), we do seem to be setting the foundations of Big Brother via big business and this pandemic, and that is something to keep a very close eye on over the coming days, weeks, months, years.
In closing, take a good long look at the Rehoboam in Westworld Season Three. How do you think something like that would start off, what foundational building blocks would need to put in place?