The Future Stinks

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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 thoughts on “The Future Stinks

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

    Electric Eye

  2. 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 is his brother’s keeper. He’s saying that Abel has his life, I have mine, what is it to you? I’m not saying that these assumptions are wrong. In these cases those assumptions were used to ill effect; I am simply pointing out that they are there. We use those same assumtions and justifications all the time in situations of much less import and with results lacking in consequence. Note that the desire to make property of something we think we have, let alone have in actuality is something that got worked into our understanding of natural law over the millennia. But just because we sense that something is our property and that we have a right to it, does that make it so? This is a tough question to answer.
    An incident that occurred many years ago had an impact on my thinking about this. I was a resident and a man was admitted to my hospital for a major operation. Back then people were admitted the night before or even days before sometimes for big operations. I asked him why he was coming to this facility for the operation knowing that he could have gotten it done in his home town and he told me it was for privacy; he didn’t want people in his home town knowing that he was having it done. I went down to the medical records department to see if he had an old chart. The woman who looked it up came back and said: Hmmm. So and So is having such and such done, eh? He’s my next door neighbor. This gentleman had perceived property in his privacy and went to great lengths to protect something that turned out to be a mere vapor.
    And yet we all value this mere vapor and go to various lengths to protect it. It may be that expending great resources on a vapor is a sign of affluence, but man in his most primitive condition has the same motivations. The most wasteful example I see today is HIPAA. Very stupid law that does next to nothing. And all because of the vanity of thinking that we can maintain property in a vapor.

    • At some point, everyone is going to realize that anything about them that can be recorded and stored electronically will be made public. The dumping of e-mails from public officials is the sort of thing that reveals this truth. If John Podesta can have his private thoughts made public against his will, no one is safe. People now assume that their relative anonymity shields them. After all, no one really cares what they are doing in private, outside of friends and family and maybe a nosy neighbor or two.

      The question to ponder is what happens when people stop thinking they can have any privacy? The Orwell fans think this will result in people being more cautious, but it could work the opposite. People could become more reckless. A culture devoid of shame is one that will require many more laws.

      • Podesta is an absolute idiot who used “password” as his email password. I’m careful about what I put out there, and not quite that stupid about how I do it.

      • Years back there was a book series produced called The History of Private Life or something. I only bought the first book in the series, which covered Rome through Byzantium. The thing that disappointed me most about it was that it simply covered the mechanics of living in those times without even broaching the subject of the title. No discussion of the concept was even attempted. And Paul Veyne, one of the authors dedicated his portion to the memory of Michel Foucault, whose idea of private life was to see how many times he could get fucked in the ass by strangers. Some of the material in the book itself was interesting, but the lack of insight was as apparent as an atom bomb going off.

      • That is the Breitbart technique. When confronted with accusation of wrong think, his response was to reply “So?”, and then ignore. He was fortunate that he had no fear of being fired from civil service or business. Some of us retiree are relatively free, but I suspect each and every one of us has some secret or trait of which we are ashamed … even though nobody else would care about it. We become our own warders.

      • Z. Your last sentence above is still a work in progress. Oh since the…..70’s. In my opinion as people continue to make personal choices outside the realm of biblical principles we’ll continue to see what you’re describing. Sort of the “government picking up the slack where current Judeo-Christian values have left off”. As we get away from J-C values something foreboding looms. Big Brother. Myself being born ’69 I feel has enabled me to have caught the tail end of Divinity being celebrated. Ie; Christian values, which were a larger influence in ones lives back then. Therefore the role of government? Less influential/intrusive. As atheism ( small “a” out of a lack of respect) explodes? So too must something else, to “pick up the moral slack.” —> The government. Probably preaching to most of the choir I know….. Toss in islam as well. Small i. They are advancing because of the natural vacuum created amidst the lack support in general for J-C values. All that is my opinion of course. I will debate this until I’m dead or something else shows me 2+2 = 4. So the one common denominator for me in all of what is happening to our wonderful country is simply a lack of those J-C values. We need to reapply the basics but when one (too many today) isn’t familiar with the basics there is none to apply. I get it. Lots of folks rearing their children as if they’re friends. Kills me every time I heard a gf say that…..smh.

        • @Brian-guy. I think what you are talking about is why many societies in the past chose to have a state cult. People have a tendency to forget the origins of things and this can result in disruptions that have consequences that are much more far-reaching than one could anticipate. Chesterton talks about this a lot, as did Cicero. Consider Cicero’s defense of augury.
          Part of the genius of the English through their many upheavals is that they were able to incorporate the many changes in their society into the greater culture over the centuries, giving an impression of much more continuity than was actually there. I have a suspicion that Robespierre sensed the lack of that in his own revolution and his uneasiness about it resulted in his desperate attempt at forming the cult of the supreme being. The impasse over religion ultimately resulted in civil war, the necessity of total mobilization and absolute disruption of society from which France has never quite recovered.

    • 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?

  3. 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!

  4. “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 class windows, lace curtains wrapping around 3 sides. Two families and various relatives, friends, shared living there, us kids until we where young teenagers would go to the bathroom with mom’s aunts and grandmother, it was a kind of tongue in cheek affair remembering back. We had a well under the kitchen table with a hand pump hooked into it and a soapstone and copper sink for running water, so bathing was taken care of down in the brook or in winter in a big old tin washtub in the kitchen by a double oven wood stove where it was the warmest part of the house. I remember seeing all my relative nekid’, and like the outhouse, much mirth was made out of it. But it all was wholesome, it made us closer, it was intimacy and much love and tenderness was created. And in it’s own way it was really a private affair. I still live in that kind of very rural setting, my neighbors and friends, we all have that kind of wholesome intimacy, it is far more subtle than my upbringing, but it is community and tribe. When I venture out to the world sometimes it feels like you have to be a stainless steel rat in a maze of industrial espionage and culture to survive.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 least those who drive there frequently, know where they tend to hide. Radar detectors are illegal, and in Switzerland, it’s a 10,000-CHF fine if you get caught with one. But the speed cameras generally give you 3-5kph window and in Germany, if the violation is around 10-20 Euros, they usually don’t even bother to fine you.

    Everyone knows getting “blitzed” (flashed) has nothing to do with road safety, but everything to do with generating revenue from drivers. In Zurich, speed cameras generate upwards of 2-million Francs annually. But as long as you’re 20-kph under the speed limit, you simply get a ticket in the mail with a “konto form” (direct bank transfer – we don’t have checks like you do) and that’s it – no points against your license, no traffic school, no visit to he traffic court.

    The idea of being chased down and pulled over with flashing lights and a siren is unimaginable and it’s why you never see it over here as is so common in the USA. We do have highway police and they’re usually in unmarked cars. But they only pull people over for serious violations such as road rage or any display of unsafe driving such as passing on the right or suspicion of drunk driving.

    Back to the privacy issue – as some of you may know, not all German streets can be seen in Google street view as private citizens can opt out and Google must blur their house. Some years ago, various German news agencies interviewed people who were against Google street view. What was so ironic is the people who were against street view invited the TV crew into their house – which was broadcast on national TV. So much for privacy!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Street_View_privacy_concerns

    http://www.speedingeurope.com/switzerland/

    • 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.

    • We are doing the speed camera thing too. In many locales, the police have stopped running radar as it cuts into their sleep on the side of the road time. The speed cameras are essentially electronic bandits that tax people as they drive.

      Where you still see a lot of cops chasing speeders is out West. It’s impractical to use cameras so they hire cops to rob people instead. In New Mexico, they really get aggressive with people.

      To your point, Washington is planning to mandate “black boxes” for all new cars. These will allow cops to tap into the vehicles driving history, including location, speed and so forth.You just know where that is headed.

      • I wonder if some future IRS ‘scandal’ will involve them paying a future ‘Geek Squad’ to reprogram our self driving cars to speed or make illegal right turns whenever the Government needs a little extra revenue?

        But only the cars of white drivers…of course.

        • It is a hideous equation. Those running our governments extracts under ultimate threat of bodily harm, if you defy them, tax money, our hard earned property mind you, to fund the whole equation to extract money to fund what is a means of lucrative elite class employment.
          There is something terribly wrong with this picture. I don’t know what “stinks” worse, what they do to us or our self slavery to the State?

    • 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.

    • 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 don’t know anything about creating things like wealth, they don’t care about running deficits.
      We are close to the point of running out of other peoples money to take care of the basic infrastructural needs of functioning towns counties states and nation, never mind dumb exorbitant amounts of it in ever increasing costly methods to extract it.
      All this spying is accomplishing is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
      When all along, the one way everyone benefits is just to leave us all alone, and in the long run and bigger picture more wealth than can be imagined is created. We where on the upward slope, till the sonofabitches created the scam known as “The Federal Reserve” which is neither, just a money laundering operation by a private banking cartel to strip mine the American people of 2-3% of the GDP every year under the ruse that inflation is good for us.
      And now that they are down to taking our seed corn, they are going to have to resort to drastic Orwellian methods to take what little remains.

  7. 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 letting go against the nearest wall, Third World-style, but give it a few years. Privacy’s dead.

    • 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 to others. His response was that he didn’t care, and why should he?

      This was around a decade ago.

  8. 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 believe that this can really happen, but look how far technology has advanced. What would Stalin have accomplished if he had had survelllance cameras everywhere and access to peoples’ lives via the internet? Probably killed another 100 million. What Z calls the cult of modern liberalism is the Beast that wants to control us. That to me is how the final battle shapes up.

    The story: http://jlepore.fineartstudioonline.com/blog/90517/gotham-iii-formerly-denver-2084–james-lepore

  9. “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.

  10. 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 down internal barriers so they can reprogram recruits.

    To your bigger point folks like Dean Ing have been warning that your TV could be used to spy on you for decades a long time before X-Box put a camera in your living room and kid’s bedroom. Your camera on your laptop can be turned on without your knowledge. The only thing that will change the government’s all seeing eye will be making the tech poison.

    Not laws, not punishing them when they are caught, not finding someone to watch the watchmen. Nothing will stop them except finding an end. In the sixties the government installed a fig leaf for itself with Miranda et al. Most cops already know who is doing what.

    Do you think that the beat cop in your town doesn’t know who the rapist is on the block? Do you think they don’t know which house is selling drugs? But the government put up a ‘privacy screen’ to make it harder to prosecute criminals. It’s almost as if they don’t want to prosecute criminals just control the law-abiding.

    So now they can watch you and that’s what the powers that be really want. Low-jacking the car? Sure they want to remind you they know where you are. Monitoring your purchases? Sure, they want you to know that they know what your habits are.

    It’s kabuki all the way from top to bottom.

  11. 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.

    • What Idiocracy needed was the marching Morons solution, but the point was to tell jokes so maybe it was fine just the way they made it.

      Still, we know that average IQ is the determining factor on whether a society can move into a complex social system. Therefore, a drop in average IQ will eventually lead to social decay.

  12. 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 big difference from the world one can see approaching. In the future, literally anything can be informing on you at any time and you have no way of knowing which one, to whom, when or how often.

    The other difference I can see is that while those in authority might have a good idea of what was going on, there were and still are, social norms of when ‘official notice’ could or should be taken. I.E. they had to catch you in the act or you had to report to someone in authority about the offense of your barracks mate. Also, there were cultural norms about which offenses were to be dealt with in official channels and which were dealt with in unofficial. For example anyone caught stealing in the barracks (not from the government, that was another matter) would be given a ‘blanket party’, i.e. a severe and unattributable group beating after lights out.

    Bottom Line: Sociocultural norms greatly mitigated the enforced lack of privacy and made it tolerable (for a time). These look to be gone in the future, thanks to the internet.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    • 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”.

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  16. “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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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…

  19. 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.

  20. 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 of America and Europe have not reacted to growing surveillance is because this is still Christendom, no matter how much the elites and the defiant would insist otherwise. Even those who don’t believe in a higher power see nothing unordinary in the tracking and cameras because that deep cultural faith still reverberates.

    Manners and good habits about privacy were never, originally, about pretense, but were born of sincere respect for those around us, like the kind of life Doug describes. The smaller and more insular a community today, the more mannerly it will be. The loss of manners and order are due as much as anything to mobility & the constant influx of strangers that pass across our lives and will not remain. I live in a tiny town where everyone knows everything, but because we know the good and the BEST about each individual as well as the flaws and the errors and the annoyances, we choose to respect them.. and to accede to a pretense of privacy for their weak spots. After all, “the benefit of the doubt” is what we hope they will give us as well.

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