Throughout this class I had more than once the opportunity to get a taste of what modern technology and software are capable of. And I´m sure that what I learned so far, is just the tip of the iceberg. So I wondered, are we straight headed towards a scenario similar to what George Orwell described in his famous novel “1984”?
I checked with the most known search engine and apparently I´m not the only one wondering.
Is it Watching or Sharing?
Since my awareness of the “web” and its data collecting of me and my surf behavior rose during this semester I noticed the little things quicker. For example a Google all-time classic: it fires all sorts of commercials at me when I visited a webpage more than once. Or personalizing my search: When I was looking for good posts for this topic, Google offered me a bunch of literature reviews on 1984 on the right side of the search results within two minutes. Tom Hodgkinson points out that with the gathered information Google builds up a picture of your interests, that is used by advertisers and of course Facebook.
This is already classic as I said. Pete Cashmore, reporter for CNN, lists quite a few gadgets that help us to share our lives with the world and help others to track us simultaneously, that are maybe not so familiar.
There is for example the, for me unknown, Fitbit Aria, an “Internet-connected scale, that tracks your weight and provides the option to share it with friends on the Web”. The first question that popped in my head was: Why would someone even wanna share his weight? Seriously? Maybe for athletic reasons? What brings as right away to Nike.
The sports label announced the upcoming launch of the Nike “FuelBand” last month. This is a wristband that collects data of your physical exercises like jogging or other workouts. With this data you can create a “FuelScore” of your activity level and you can share your score with friends via Twitter or Facebook.
Facebook´s Timeline of Your Life
Since we were already talking about Facebook, what is it with this new timeline? The social network announced, that this addition will allow the users to share more of what they do online automatically. You just click once on the “okay guys, go nuts and track my every move” button and voilà you don’t have to click “share” anymore – what a relief.
And what does Facebook wants us to share? Well that would include: travel plans, meals, cooking activities, drinking activities (thanks to a wine app), shopping sprees, youtube sessions, books, our location and more.
I immediately thought “woh slow down, not everyone has to know that.” It sounds pretty invasive, but users choose to share all this information about them. Do we really have such a need for sharing everything?
You can´t secretely Spy on Us, if We don’t Mind
Pete Cashmore has a very interesting view on the matter I think. He indeed acknowledges that George Orwell’s 1984 is “incredibly present yet woefully incorrect”.
How so? He states that the conscious choice to share so many details of our live with our friends and the world online, is the little difference that will prevent Big Brother from emerging. He concluded his thoughts in a wonderfull sentence describing the situation pretty good:
“The world of 2012 is both reminiscent of Orwell’s vision and radically at odds with it.”
But I wonder, just because we disclose, almost every itsy-bitsy bit of our lives voluntarily, does that really make that big of a difference to what Orwell feared?
If Big Bro is Watching Us, then We´re Watching Him too
Now here comes the really interesting part of Mr. Cashmore´s thoughts: “While Orwell correctly predicted that technological advances would let authorities track our lives, he failed to predict the inverse: That we would use these new technologies to keep an eye on them, too.”
He backs that theory with the SOPA situation (If you don’t know what that is, check the latest post of Fernanda and me!). The protests against the bill climaxed in the 24 hours shutdown of Wikipedia, Reddit and other websites.
These measures were extremely effective, as the bill was pulled “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”
Still I´m not convinced of that view, since this was not the first protest having success and because the protests against the follow up to SOPA, the “ACTA”, weren´t nearly as successful (so far).
Mr. Cashmore states that the internet and its opportunities help to connect our society better (on that I agree) and thus is empowering people in new ways, providing a counterweight to big business and big government. About that I´m not so sure, because the internet, that gives us the opportunities to balance big government and big business out is actually ruled by only a few big businesses: Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Amazon and ebay. How is there a counterweight I wonder?