Why should we mourn the loss of technology

This morning I checked the weather app on my smartphone in hopes of seeing a forecast for the weekend sun. The answer I got was the phone asking me where I was. Wait a minute; who are you? My mother? What does where I am have to do with the weather forecast for a location already registered on the phone? Precisely nothing, that is.

This was just the latest reminder of the data that is collected on us all the time, and that we are apparently relaxed about giving away. The victim of this is already our privacy. Facebook spent several years allowing developers to collect data not only about their users, but also about their friends. Some premium teamwork app services allow buyers to download all the data from people’s workspaces, seemingly without saying they are doing it. Supermarkets know what you buy and how much. Facebook sold data on millions of people to Cambridge Analytica through an app called ‘This is Your Digital Life’. And now Apple customers in China find that all their iCloud data is stored on servers operated by GCBD, an Internet company created by the Chinese government.

An Orwellian view

If all of that sounds a bit “Big Brother,” as George Orwell predicted when he wrote 1984 in 1948, maybe he got it right. We are certainly three decades beyond his nightmare vision of the future, but we are certainly being watched, and in some detail. The problem is, we don’t know who did it.

And the next victim could be that fragile concept of democracy. Did Russia hack the West to influence elections? Who knows. Is there the technology to make it possible? Who knows that either.

What we do know is that it is possible to be whoever you want on social networks; say almost anything about anyone without fear of rectification. Invent a person; say what you want. At least some people will believe it. The result is a growth in the politics of hate; the erosion of a consensus view; of the ability to appreciate that another person has the right to a point of view different from their own.

So where do we go from here?

There is no doubt that technology is good for us. Who would be without a washing machine if you could afford one? It certainly makes life easier than banging clothes against a rock by the river’s edge, even though there are places in the world where people still have to do that.

But we must be in control, as much as possible. We need to think about what could happen to the information we share so freely that it is undermining our privacy.

We must be aware that our phones can track our every move and disable that function.

We need to think about who will use the information from the social media post that we say we are having a good time at whatever restaurant we are at, and what they will use it for.

We need to spend cash with the greengrocer or the corner store or the butcher down the street, rather than with the supermarket, where the constant blinking of the boxes records the details of our lives. (And what does it matter to the supermarket to know what size of pants you just bought? Oh yeah, they know that very well.)

We need to think about what we are doing.

We need to find out what technology improves our lives and what doesn’t.

In short, we must think about what we are doing and regain control.

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