Monday, August 17, 2009


I have always been a fan of books on dystopian futures and alternate history. As someone who also tends to be knowledgeable on the first wave of technology (generally joining on the second wave after the kinks get flushed out but before it becomes very popular) it takes some maneuvering to settle these two interests. I feel that technology can be of great use to people if used properly. Research that would normally take months or even years can be done in weeks and even days. People can communicate instantly in multiple ways with all sorts of different people. On the other hand any casual observer of dystopian future novels (think 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World) or movies (Terminator, Idiocracy, Matrix) can tell you that the future is bleak because of technology. I will approach my concerns one by one in the following paragraphs.

As ironic as it seems modern day Americans are more concerned about our privacy and safety from our own government then if others are out to harm us. While government privacy should be a major concern many of us forget about the censorship that can be exhibited by the massive corporations that we buy goods and services from. Walmart, for instance, has been known to ban books that it finds mildly offensive. Amazon, acting as a witless giant, not only took 1984 titles off the shelves of its store (they were unauthorized) they struck them out of people Kindles. In many rural areas Walmart IS THE local book store, a fact many of us who live in a city that is still griping to many of it's book stores forget. If Walmart chooses to ban a book, then it is not available in large swaths of the country and puts people in rural areas at the mercy of the giant retailer (mind you pulling a book due to low sales is quite different then pulling a book because you do not like what is inside the covers.) On the other side of the seesaw is Amazon which is just as powerful as Walmart in many areas, if not more so. In an amazing move , even more so considering it involved the book 1984, Amazon deleted every copy of 1984 on every Kindle reader in the world. Within seconds 1984 ceased to exist in its electronic form. While Amazon was acting in a logical manner, after all it was a mistake the book was sold at all due to distribution rights AND they refunded all the buyers, it still shows how insecure information is when it is trusted to corporations.

Trusting the corporations we do business with everyday is important as Web 2.0 becomes increasingly mainstream. The question is should we trust these companies? After all many of them were all to willing to hand over information without a fight when the Government came knocking . Also let's face it while all these companies claim to be morally above the fray on many occasions they have been known to toss citizens to the wolves when it got in the way of their business plans, like this story from 2005 detailing how Yahoo China helped the Chinese government arrest of a pro democracy blogger. Even our own government has gotten in on the action, and I'm not talking about Bush, Obama at one point was trying to collect information about users that visited Government websites and created his own misinformation collection center .

Even when companies are attempting to be altruistic they can be brought down thereby causing issues for anyone who depends on their services for life or work. Blackberry has been known to go through black outs on occasion, cell phones were blocked after 9/11 (proving the government is capable of shutting down cell service if needed), in China and Iran it is common place to shut down cell phones and social networking sites if they sense trouble. Of course there are also common black outs like the one that hit the Northeast in 2003 and I am sure New Orleans was without the Internet during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Twitter has shown it is susceptible to attacks from foreign countries when the world went blank for a few hours as the Russians tried to silence one blogger. Twitter was also the epicenter of a controversy when it was found out that Twitters files , which were residing on Googles "information cloud" were hacked , rather easily I may add, by hackers thereby proving that the Google Cloud concept is not all that safe , and becomes less stable as more people join your circle.

In a world overrun by technology and failing newspapers it is important that we retain some vestige to the past. Technology is too easily changed, too easily controlled , too easily corrupted to be trusted 100 percent. In 1984 the protagonist had to change all the newspaper clippings by hand to reflect the new reality, in our future world that can be done with one click from the Amazon offices. Our technology has finally made 1984 possible, from web cams to flat tvs to citizens collecting information for the government. While we are not in that situation now we must remain vigilant to protect ourselves from the incremental increases that could ultimately lead us down that road. Books in their paper form, in their classic form are timeless creations. Newspapers are easily archived and hard to change. Printed pictures can be socked away for generations and found later on.

Even in the realm of the printed page we are allowing ourselves to be dumbed down. It is a sad day when Fahrenheit 451 comes out in comic form, FAHRENHEIT 451 IN COMIC FORM and this was seemingly done without any sense of irony.

Who will stand up for our rights even if we do not do it ourselves. Do you think that webmasters will defy government orders in the same way that librarians did in the face of the Patriot Act? How will you even know the change has been made? If done right there is no clear link to the former past because after all we have "always been at war with Eastasia" right or was it , no it has to be right that's what the web log says.

Mentioned by my friend

BTW I am not all that scared of security cameras as they require more man power then is worth it in most countries to track people.

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