The Future Stinks

Try to imagine living as a hunter-gatherer 25 thousand years ago. Naturally, you’ll think about the cavemen you recall seeing on TV or in movies. Museums used to have life sized figures of early humans in their exhibits to give visitors an idea of what it was like to be a person in the Stone Age. Maybe it sounds appealing, maybe not, but most people focus on the material differences. Living in a cave, wearing a loincloth or bearskin, depending upon your locale, would not be fun after a few days. Modern man likes his modern things.

If you think not having cell service would be terrible, imagine a total lack of privacy. Humans in that period did everything in full view of everyone else. They ate together, slept together and did all the other things together. Of course, the lack of complicated shelters made this necessary. It’s hard to have privacy when you don’t have walls. But, there was also the fact that people had no concept of privacy. They did not think of it because it had never existed.

In fact, privacy in the way in which we think of it is fairly new. The Romans famously had public baths and public toilets. Very public toilets. Everyone has probably seen pictures of the remains of Roman public toilets. Here’s a recreation of what it was like to pinch a loaf with your pals. Well into the 19th century, outhouses were common in the West and some of them were two-holers. Abe Lincoln had a three-holer, which was the height of luxury for his day.

The point of all this potty talk is to make the point that personal privacy is relatively new. It is the consequence of wealth and leisure. It’s not just things like flush toilets and indoor plumbing. People’s attitudes about personal privacy changed. We expect our financial affairs, private correspondence, personal foibles, private appetites and so forth to be off-limits from scrutiny. Health companies are required to go to great lengths to guard your medical data, even though no one knows why it matters.

The technological age is promising to change that and maybe do so in a hurry. The roads are now littered with cameras to monitor you as you drive. Street cameras are increasingly common in cities. In the UK, CCTV cameras are everywhere. Big Brother is literally watching you. Of course, big tech companies track your internet habits. The cable companies track your viewing habits. The “internet of things” means your house will be reporting on you to Google, Apple, Amazon et al.

The unwanted gaze is not just at the personal level. Retailers are encouraging people to put themselves into the big database voluntarily. This story about how sports teams are “offering” easy access as long as you let them scan your eyeball on the way in. Of course, they keep track of what you buy and probably how often you cheer. The new payment services are letting our overlords connect your shopping to your mobile phone, which links to all you internet habits.

It does not stop there. The FBI pays computer repair shops to dig around your stuff and report you to the Feds. The tactic is very old school, but the concept is very modern. The combining of our corporate overlords with our government overlords is a handy way around our remaining constitutional protections. How long before your Alexa gets a guilty conscience and reports your drug taking to the Feds? How long before your copy of Quicken starts talking to the IRS about your cash deposits?

This is not a libertarian vision of hell, but a plausible reality that faces us in the technological age. High speed communication, massive data storage capacity and sophisticated search algorithms means all of the particulars of our daily existence, even our private correspondence, can be easily assembled to provide a pretty good picture of our life, without much effort. If the Eye of Sauron falls on you, the authorities will have no problems knowing everything about you but your thoughts. Even those can be surmised by the facts of your life.

So far, people seem to be OK with living in a fishbowl. Maybe they don’t think about it much, but there have been no protests or movements to arrest this trend. Go into any retail shop and customers gladly offer their discount card so the store can put their buying habits into the database. Most people cheer the implementation of video surveillance, in the name of safety. Even the reports of wholesale government surveillance have not been met with much pushback from the public.

Assuming there is no turning back and the surveillance state is inevitable, the question is how does this change how people interact with one another. If you know your most intimate thoughts and deeds could be made public, will you be more careful in your private dealings? Or, will you simply care less about who knows and also stop caring about the private things revealed about others? Hollywood stars live out their lives in public and it has no effect on their conduct. It may even make them less prudent.

Up until fairly recent, people were disgusting. They blew their noses on their sleeves, they farted in public, they went to the bathroom in communal toilets and were generally foul and disgusting. Public manners developed alongside personal privacy. The line between what you would do in public versus what you would do in private, was only possible when privacy was possible. As the material wealth increased, the available privacy increased and good public behavior became enforceable.

If everyone sees you at your worst, there’s no point in hiding it so in a surveillance state, where all our secrets are made public, maybe people will just stop caring. Hollywood always imagines the future to be sterile and clean, a land of stainless steel and glass. Maybe the future will be the opposite. Instead of tidy androgynous people in Lycra jumpsuits, its people with bed-head wearing sweats, scratching themselves in public.The glorious future will be people with nothing to hide and nothing you want to see.

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42 Comments on "The Future Stinks"

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Ace Frehley
Guest

You think you’ve private lives
Think nothing of the kind
There is no true escape
I’m watching all the time

Electric Eye

Member
I think that the very concept of privacy begins with the realization that there are things that we don’t know about others, and this realization is in turn used to assume that there are things that others do not know about ourselves. We then turn this lack of knowledge in others into a kind of property that is to be protected as a right. This is normal human behavior that has been exhibited since the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve made the assumption that God was unaware of their activities. After the Fall Cain asks God if he… Read more »
Severian
Guest

Side note on HIPAA, I had some research derailed thanks to that silly law. N.b. that the patients concerned had all been dead for at least a century. Guess I should’ve called the Russians, eh?

ganderson
Guest

Public behavior and demeanor has visibly declined in my lifetime. (born in 1954) Look at how kids dress at a public school; heck look at how the TEACHERS dress! Also- take a stroll around a mall sometime. The days when hockey fans at Maple Leaf Gardens were expected to wear a coat and tie are long gone!

Clare
Guest

Lord Ganders, is that you?

ganderson
Guest

Not something I’ve ever been called, and I’ve had a lot of nicknames…

Drake
Guest

Other than the plumbing, those Roman toilets look just like the crappers in the Parris Island barracks.

Doug
Guest
“The Eye of Sauron”, heh. And he has his black robbed Nasgals to legitimize from their holy bench such meddling by the amerikan Nomenklaturer class in every facets of our affairs. In relative terms this industrial grade spying on us by the corporate and state entities is unholy and destructive to us because ultimately it is all about squeezing out of us every last penny of wealth because all the low hanging fruit of our prosperity has been stolen. I grew up in a 1600’s colonial inn which had a 4 hole outhouse, it was actually very stylish, with leaded… Read more »
Member

I’ve been in a couple of small towns lately that seem to be on a cash economy: no one takes credit cards except the gas station on the edge of town.

I think the puritans, nags and scolds with love the digital panopticon. The Mennonites and Amish will live outside it. The rest of us will need to make some tough choices.

Karl Horst
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I often wondered how long it would be before our cars, which know where we are and how fast we are going, automatically make withdraws from our bank accounts when we violate the speed limit. The technology is certainly there. Go too fast and instead of being pulled over, your smart phone simply sends you a WhatsApp that you violated the speed limit and your bank card has been charged. Across most of Europe, we have speed cameras, not traffic cops. Most cameras are fixed so everyone knows where they are. We also have mobile cameras and most people, at… Read more »
Drake
Guest

The GPS in my car warns me whenever I’m approaching a know speed-camera location.

Many local cops in the U.S. do almost nothing except write traffic tickets. It is a pure revenue exercise, although those traffic stops are also how suspects with outstanding warrants are often apprehended.

Member

Just as likely someone in police HQ will be able to flip a few bits and force every vehicle to slow down to 15 MPH in the event of snow or ice or force everyone to pull over if an emergency vehicle is coming.

Doug
Guest
The main thing is it’s just a new system of stealing wealth of a nation. To do that today, in the economy the same sonofabitches have created, to retain power they need ever greater amounts of money. There is another facet to this whole spying on us to rob us thing. It costs more to spy then they get out of it, because of two things. One, enough people find workarounds to resist and avoid, that it never reaches even a break even point, and 2, people who run these operations are not business men, they are government leeches, they… Read more »
Severian
Guest
If my students are any indication, we’re already there. You wouldn’t believe the stuff they talk about — in person, on the phone, online — broadcasting their every thought and deed as far as their excessively loud voices can carry. I actually learned of a new sex act by overhearing a student conversation (every time I hear “dude, I got so wasted last night” I cringe automatically. They expect their parents to be checking on them, and every level of school, K-thr-PhD, has an online system where parents can check their progress. They haven’t got around to just unzipping and… Read more »
Casher
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In grad school, I did a stint in student government to help out a friend who got herself in a bind. The undergrad and graduate student governments had their offices in the same suite. One day I overheard the undergraduate President describing to the other officers how he got so drunk he soiled himself and a friend’s jacket in his sleep. I’ll spare you the lurid details of the rest of the conversation (which went on for about 15 minutes), but as I got tired of hearing it, I suggested that perhaps the President may someday regret revealing this story… Read more »
Member
Big Brother is not watching us all the time, but we are definitely at the point where he can if he wants to. What happens if the time comes when he does want to watch us all the time? Heinlein said that the human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. I wrote a short story about a future America where computer chips are implanted at birth to monitor every thought as you go through your life. You are punished for bad thoughts. It might be far fetched to… Read more »
Member

“people with nothing to hide and nothing you want to see.”

This one made me laugh out loud. Have you ever been to a nude beach?

If not, don’t. Wreck beach in Vancouver has forever ruined my belief in the natural beauty of the female form.

TWS
Guest
Our manners began to deteriorate a long time before the all seeing eyes were deployed. It has died with Christian morals and manners. As to the point of diminishing privacy it has always been a kabuki theater. You pretend not to notice your neighbors, family’s, friends’ issues/habits they want to keep quiet. You pretend not to hear the guy in the next stall emptying his bowels. Why? Because they pretend the same for you. As long as there is a fig leaf people will be happy pretending they have privacy. And groups like the military will use that to break… Read more »
guest
Guest

People better not watch Privacy is Dead – Get Over It.

I wonder how long they will keep up the whole “free world” charade…

Solomon Honeypickle IV
Guest
Solomon Honeypickle IV

the net effect will be a collapse of the public space (it will be avoided as much as is possible) as for the internet of things, that is driving many people away from the consumer lifestyle (to avoid being controlled by the devices). the society that is based on such things will collapse very quickly; if it can even fully evolve in the first place.

the one flaw in the plot of Idiocracy was how long a society based on stupidity can last. It’s not 500 years.

Al from da Nort
Guest
Along with Drake above, I too recalled my days in the military in the ’60’s. Not only were there communal crappers and showers, there were open bay barracks where your cot and locker were right next to the other guy’s. But we didn’t think ourselves as under constant surveillance, and, as far as the authorities were concerned we weren’t. I believe the difference was that once you got above a certain rank, you got separated from the common herd, either in sergeants or officer’s quarters (which were most definitely a privilege of rank). AND snitching was not anonymous. That’s a… Read more »
Member

Those of us who ever did a spell in the military know those old habits survive into the present. That is a major reason there is so much concern about trannies and other sexual oddities in the military, and even the mixing of regular males and women under field conditions. In the army only the general is private, while the private has everything in general.

Member

The more data there is, the more anonymous you become. The more people know about each other, the less reprehensible a lot of very common behaviors become.

Much of the power of the old Eye of Sauron comes from the ability to not just concentrate attention, but to isolate and control. What happened when the Eye of Sauron (and all his minions) focused on Trump?

He walked around them like they weren’t even there.

A lot of the power of information comes from the ability to control it. Those days are winding down.

Dutch
Guest

Something we talk about all the time at work–“Things go so much easier and go your way, when you act like you don’t give a crap about what anyone thinks”.

txjohn
Guest

“The glorious future will be people with nothing to hide and nothing you want to see.”
I think one trip through Walmart on Friday night proves Z’s point.

Dutch
Guest

For those who value Western Civilization, the future always stinks. For those looking for Utopia’s unicorn farm, the future is a bright shiny thing that the rest of us won’t allow to happen. The real future is some third thing, many elements of which nobody can predict.

kokor hekkus
Guest

Wait until the war on money comes to America, and the Government(s) start taxing your every move in the digital economy…Then we may see blowback…

ChiefIllinicake
Guest

I have to think that communal defecation like you depict would be a laff riot with the right group of guys. Especially when the mead was flowing.

I’ll let the ladies speak for themselves.

Tina
Guest
Christians grow up knowing that our every thought and act are seen by God, and that we will one day answer for all of that in full view of “God and everybody”. The fundamentals of forgiveness: being covered by the blood of Jesus, our sins being thrown behind God’s back where He no longer sees them, are fundamental to understanding we can stand unashamed. Most Christian denominations have some form of confession, often completely public, whereby we can face the consequences of privacy with boldness, and thus become immune to blackmail, immune to shame. Much of the reason the citizens… Read more »
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Bill
Guest

Maybe we should start being disgusting again in every bureaucrat situation we are dragged into…

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