You Get What You Pay For

I bought a smart phone yesterday. I didn’t really want to – none of its added functionality really appeals to me as worth the extra charges – but my ancient dumbphone is on its last legs and the ‘new’ dumbphones were all of worse design than the one I bought in 2007. Society has sent a clear message: buy a smartphone, you cheap bastard. So I did. Ah well. Thus I am compelled to shell out an extra 30 bucks per month in perpetuity in order to keep pace with the world.

Technology is a difficult master. It moves along (note I refuse to say ‘forward’) and compels us to keep pace or be shunned. This happens in every sphere of life – military, social, agricultural, architectural, etc., etc. – and it is almost impossible to stop it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I do think the human race, on the whole, is better off today than it was in previous eras, and the numbers bear this out on balance – but it does require human beings to acclimate to something we fundamentally despise: change.

The world always changes. Always. Sometimes by degrees, sometimes all at once, but it always happens. Those who succeed in the world (whether we’re talking humans or animals or plants or whatever) are the ones that adapt best to it. We humans are probably the all-time adaptability champs, or at least the current title holders. It’s funny, though, how much we like to complain about it.

private investigator with magnifierAnd so that brings me back to the smartphone. The smartphone is the poster boy for the New World Order, and people have been lining up to hop on board ever since the iPhone was trotted out. It represents an age of unparalleled interconnectivity, of convenience of access, of freely flowing information, of the world at your fingertips. We, as a society, love these things. We really, honestly do. If the smartphones were to all be packed away, the internet dismantled, and the world to be disconnected, we would be miserable.

So can we all please stop bitching about losing our privacy?

Much hand-wringing and a metric ton of wailing and teeth-gnashing has accompanied our new era of connection. We keep hearing about privacy being lost, freedoms curtailed, and so on and so forth. Wired’s Marcia Hoffman writes a column about how Apple’s newest gadgetry may compromise the 5th Amendment and, you know what, she’s probably right. The thing that bothers me, though, is what did everybody think would happen?

How can you be alarmed that corporations and governments are acquiring your personal information if you spend almost ALL OF YOUR TIME shooting it through space to be intercepted? Spy agencies spy on people – it’s why they’re called spy agencies. Corporations will do anything to make money – this should not be new. How can you be so alarmed when these entities (most of which predate the Information Age) have adapted themselves to capitalizing upon the Information Age? Shouldn’t it be OBVIOUS that the NSA can hack any site on the internet they want? I mean, if they couldn’t, would they be very good at their jobs?

The crazier thing to me is that we’re acting like this is a brand new phenomenon. Businesses and governments have been doing this stuff since FOREVER, folks. Ever since there’s been secrets whispered in alleys, there’s been people hanging out in alleys to hear secrets. The only thing that’s changed is the amount of stuff we’re saying to each other and making available to each other. It only follows that the listeners would also grow.

The idea of online privacy is a charming myth, like El Dorado or the Fountain of Youth. You can’t have it. There has never been a vehicle of communication that wasn’t compromised by people wanting to make money or secure power. Never. So, if you own a gadget that connects all of your information to the rest of the world at the touch of a button, it’s merely the cost of doing business to accept that somebody else could, if they so wish, acquire that information. Get over it. Move on. Technology works both ways, folks. It always has and it always will.

Or, you know, toss out the Internet. Melt down all the smartphones. No more Facebook for you. No more blogs. Because that is the only way you will get your mythical ‘privacy’ back (assuming you ever had it in the first place which, if you ever had a credit card before the internet, you didn’t).

Unfortunately, if it’s gotten to the point where I purchased a smartphone, I think the cat is pretty well out of the bag at this point.

About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on September 16, 2013, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. For me, at least, the issue is less the privacy and more the transparency. Much as I and everyone don’t like to think about it–yes, our data is surveilled and used and spied on. But let’s also be honest, the guys and gals who have to review that info? Their day jobs are pretty damn boring. Even if most of it’s done by programs now.

    The transparency of companies (and government) in doing this is I think what really upsets people. That they let you think you aren’t being surveilled (which I apparently don’t know how to spell and neither does Chrome) when you really are. Like when Facebook changes it’s privacy policy to use your photos wherever it wants for commercial gain but doesn’t tell you that–it just quietly does it. It’s more odd to me that this still happens after it’s happened dozens of times before and it never goes over well. Seems like they should try maybe announcing these changes FIRST, and that you can opt out (or can’t), rather than letting everyone find out later and getting pissed about it.

    That’s just a small scale example. But overall, it’s more that the surveilling happens even when they (whoever “they” might be on a case-by-case basis) continue to claim it’s not happening. Come on guys, just be upfront with us already.

    • Not being upfront, though, is the whole point. If they *were* upfront, then they couldn’t do it, because everybody would complain.

      The thing that primarily frustrates me is that we keep acting so shocked that it’s happening. I just fail to see the surprise, here. I *know* that Facebook is using my data to sell to people. I get it. Fair enough. If it upset me that much, I wouldn’t be on Facebook.

      Therein lies the crux of my argument: we act so angry about this, but we still consume/buy into/accept the benefits of the arrangement. I just wish we’d collectively admit to ourselves that either it isn’t that important to us after all (and stop complaining) or actually do something concrete to stop it (by which I mean ceasing to be a party to said arrangement).

  2. Also, to add to how it works both ways, even though increasing profit is of course the underlying goal in the corporate use of all the information, many people don’t understand that the use of their “private” information enhances the products/services they use, and that the increased profit actually comes from something real, and that is an increase in quality and people buying what they perceive is valuable. So the whole “I’m being used” complaints are mostly incorrect, because first of all there is more or less a fair market exchange of value taking place, and second, the info that the person complains about being ‘stolen’ by a service, is in part a reason for why they choose to use the service in the first place. They do use your info to make more money, but it isn’t a ‘you use my service, I get your information’ deal. It’s a ‘you are willing to pay X amount for my services because you want them’ exchange. That’s what capitalism is.

    And like you said, what do you expect? Your private info isn’t intended to be used to harm you, it isn’t like they’re reading your diary to the world. It’s stored in databases for statistical analysis, and no one really cares about an individuals specific data. In that sense it is still kept private anyway.

    • Very true. This even reaches to the NSA thing, too. Yes, they can get your data and have probably stored stuff records of you somewhere in their gazillion bits of stored data. The odds of an actual human ever seeing it at all are extremely slim – they’d have to want to look for your first. Even before this kind of data exchange, if the NSA had wanted to find you, they could have done it then, too. You aren’t really any ‘safer’ from them than you were before. And this is even presuming the NSA is an evil organization bent on doing (something) to you, everyday average person.

      • Great point, I suppose it is true for many organizations that keep personal data. It’s just the reality of the whole connected world. One can’t really expect to be able to connect while remaining completely outside and independent, sort of defeats the purpose.

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