Was Orwell Right After All?

Cast your mind back a ways to the 1980s and early 1990s, and you may recall that our thoughts about technology started undergoing a revision—namely, that far from offering increasingly powerful tools for government oppression and control, personal computers, cell phones, and all the rest of the emergent technologies were becoming means of our liberation as well as barriers to oppressive government.  Certainly personal computers and new communication technology—or really the lack of them—played a role in the downfall of the Soviet Union.

The most memorable expression of this theme was probably the famous Apple Macintosh ad from the 1984 Super Bowl: “ On January 24 . . . you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”  The arrival of the Internet was like steroids to a body builder: the Net heralded the end of any possible government monopoly or control of information, which is the sine qua non of an Orwellian world.  The blessed world of self-empowered techno-liberty seemed to have arrived.

Maybe we were a bit hasty with this optimism?  We now know, thanks to the Obama campaign, that the massive capability of data-mining has been extended to political campaigns, and combined with the recent revelations of the extent of government collection of digital data, we ought to be reconsidering our views on techno-liberty, even if the current level of this activity is perfectly legal and reasonable.

Where might this lead in the fullness of time?  Will the government someday use an algorithm of our Internet searches to assign a “score” of some kind to our “patriotism,” i.e., friendliness to the Obama presidency?  Remember, the Obama campaign did exactly this with our Facebook data in the 2012 campaign.  Think about the capacity the NSA has with something like this.  Combine this capacity with the aggressively paternalistic disposition of the “nudgers” like Cass Sunstein, not to mention the “shovers” like Bloomberg, and one can imagine getting a visit from a social/nutritional worker if their database shows you buy too many doughnuts and potato chips at the store.  Or too many bullets at the sporting goods outlet.

And now we hear that Google’s CEO Eric Schimdt is investing in big-data capacity for Democrats.

A note from a reader asks the following sensible question:

Simultaneous to [Obama’s] high tech targeted campaign, the IRS was suppressing the Tea Party low tech grass roots campaign.  Also, simultaneously NSA had access to a tremendous—nearly universal—database that could support  “The Cave’s” efforts to re-elect the President.  The question about the NSA data is not “were they tapping my phone?”, but, “were they marketing the President  with that data?”  The new data analytics company founded by Eric Schmidt will work for corporations and political campaigns—but only Democrat campaigns.

I think Google’s motto, “Don’t do evil,” would send George Orwell into orbit.  At the very least, Google and Schmidt ought to be watched with the utmost suspicion.  (Hey—how come my Internet connection just crashed??)

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