Thursday, August 8, 2013

The mark of virtuality

Facebook is a virtual world with a population of over a billion people, uploading their interests, activities, and photos for their friends, family, and associates to see and comment on. That information constitutes the bulk of Facebook’s value, which the market prices at a shade over $100 billion.

If my profile is worth only about $100, then a single check-in or status update is worth a fraction of a penny, basically nothing. The data only has value when it’s looked at in bulk. Companies love to research the market for their products on Facebook. Short of actually getting to know someone, Facebook is the best place to get a complete picture of him: where he lives, where he works, who he knows, etc. This information is yours to own for about $100 per person.

Facebook is only the most prominent example of a searchable, virtual society. All our Internet communications, from emails to instant messages to video chats to Google searches, are broadcast from our computers and smart phones and stored on servers somewhere. Insofar as we’ve uploaded ourselves digitally to the web, we have exposed ourselves to a surveillance regime that no tyrant in history dreamed about. You can’t put a price on that.

But! fortunately we live in a country that prizes limited government and strictly adheres to its Founding documents, including the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...

You should feel sorry for people whose government is freed from the constraints of morality and decency. Since such a government views itself as the arbiter of the law and thus above the law, it may confiscate the data and mine it at will. If and when it’s caught, its agents say they did it for the people’s protection.

Maybe some of them did. But positions of power do not always attract angels. They usually attract people who want to use the power of their offices for a singular purpose, some cause to which they are personally devoted, some pretense of knowledge or wisdom they can put to work to correct the wrongs they see in society.

When these people rise to power and wield the alphabet soup of agencies and instruments of government, the data offerings of the virtual world are like lemons waiting to be made into lemonade. By studying the patterns of large segments of the population he disapproves of, the technocrat can begin to work on coercive formulas that, when implemented, will effect the change he’s always wanted.

“Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals.” (Source: Fox News)

Here you can see the pretense at work. The technocrat speaks of his designs for mankind as “their goals.” Don’t be fooled. No one knows better how to achieve his goals than the individual himself.

The only way for the technocrat to determine whether his formulas work is to gather live data and look for the desired bend in the curve. He notices some people responding to the incentive structure he has put in place—that is, contrary to their desires and their nature—and he feels a warm glow.

“Now more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.” –Barack Obama

Some rugged individualists, however, resist. Their continued participation in society becomes a nuisance, holding up “progress.” The Air Force chaplain at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson sticking to a tried and true moral ethos is one example. The technocrat, fed up, drunk with power, tests their mettle. He brings forth the data as prosecutorial evidence, and he issues an ultimatum: Change your ways, join mankind in unity on earth, or we’ll leave you behind.

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