My last blog was a poem about my being robbed years ago and some words about all invasion of our privacy by technology. One of my frequent readers has asked me to say more about privacy rights here as opposed to in European countries, so here goes. As of May 2018, countries in the European Union (EU) are functioning under strict laws aimed at protecting individual’s privacy. There are strict fines attached if Internet companies or other commercial entities collect or sell your information without your consent. These laws will mean it will be harder for entities like Facebook to collect, store, and sell such information. They also make it easy for groups of individuals to file class action suits if the laws are not obeyed. In my last post, I argued that one reason European countries might be trying to monitor who knows what about all of us might be that they are a lot older than the United States and so have experienced what can happen if people we don’t know know lots about us.
If you Google “bright shiny objects,” you find that there is a formal syndrome by this name. What I know about such objects is they fascinate chickens. There are endless stories of people who play with or even try to train their chickens by tossing things like metal keys or little shards of brightly colored substances at the chickens. The fowls will immediately dash to the newly tossed item, demonstrating what the syndrome describes as multiple distractions. While this is amusing on a farm or in an urban back yard, it bothers teachers or employers who need their students or workers to concentrate so as to be the most productive. What I think about these days are all the rapidly appearing new ways to use smart phones and other electronic devices to let us act remotely. There’s a clever ad I see on television in which two young men approach a dark house or garage, only to hear a voice in space greeting them, followed by a literal bright light’s coming on and an alarm’s going off as the would-be robbers flee. This is all made possible by the home owner’s have an APP that lets her/him “see” what’s going on at their home while they are miles or even countries away. Or the newest hiding place for cameras in one’s eye glasses. Today’s consumers seem like those chickens in that we are quickly fascinated by the latest invention that gives us information or pleasure. The only problem is most of those inventions become available only after we have allowed yet another invisible company know all sorts of personal facts about us. And, of course, there are the stories that have become legion about parents or college admissions committees and employment officers who find out their child who is now a potential student or employee has sent friends some picture that never goes away and so haunts the sender, sometimes with decidedly negative consequences.
I’m not the only person worried about all the addictive distractions coming onto the market. Yuval Harari, the Israeli futurist philosopher recently published a book detailing just how dangerous all these fast-moving gadgets can be, not only to individuals but to the very idea of democracy itself. He believes that we are being lured into mindless consumption that dulls the brain and empties the pocketbook. As for the growing use of robotic workers, Mr. Harari predicts the creation of a literally “throw-away,” useless class of people in the not-s0-distant future. His personal way of resisting is to spend two hours a day in complete silence.
So what’s one to do about this conundrum that is spreading into more and more facets of our lives? Well, those sites that explore the shiny objects syndrome advise several obvious things, e.g., slow down and think about the consequences of engaging in or owning the latest technological “breakthrough.” Or at least ask basic questions about the storage and sharing of personal information before giving it away with the click of a key. For me, there is a simpler if potentially old-fashioned course of action (or rather inaction, as it turns out): I ask myself if what the new bright thing promises will have staying power, or it if really is just a shiny distraction that will need replacing by its technological cousin. And it seems more people are thinking about this loss of privacy as giant corporations like Facebook are having to admit that they exercise far too little control over what they collect and distribute. Maybe we are maturing faster than we might have thought possible as we try to keep up with the barrage of new “shinies.”