Who’s Watching the Watchers and Who Cares?

I’m intrigued by the case of Edward Snowden. Is he a traitor or a freedom fighter? Is he exposing us to potential threats to national security or revealing domestic political corruption? Anyway, if you want to equal my level of sophistication on the NSA watch this: http://youtu.be/UrOZllbNarw

More and more I hear people talking about surveillance. I was surprised to hear that an Indian bio-medical researcher I go to school with says he’s afraid of being flagged by Homeland Security. I think  hardliners might presume he has something to hide but I think in reality i think he simply knows he might have to suffer a lot of inconveniences if he checks out the wrong library book or visits the wrong website.  I don’t think he’s afraid of jail time. He just wants his passport to work like mine does.

Implicit in all these conversations is the debate over surveillance in our lives. Specifically, do people have a right to privacy at all? Is that something we should protect as we do the Freedom of Speech?

I’m in discussion/absorption mode on this issue so I can’t speak as a (fake) authority but I did come across a fascinating article on the implicit metaphor of God in surveillance.  That someone who does not believe in God musing that a higher power might exist is parallel to suddenly feeling that “you’re being watched.” This excerpt explores a scene  from a very popular futuristic book called Homeland, when the protagonist Marcus feels that the camera and mic in his computer have been hacked.

From the First Things article:

Marcus sits frozen: “My computer sat there, staring at me from its little webcam, a ring the size of a grain of rice. The mic was a pinhole-sized hole set into the screen’s frame.” After a moment, he begins to speak to whoever might be watching him: “You’re in there, aren’t you? I think it’s pretty creepy, I have to say. If you think you’re helping me, let me tell you, you’re freaking me out instead. I’d much rather that you talk to me than sneak around spying on me.”

Here Doctorow makes the theological metaphor explicit. The “stupid and awkward” feeling of talking to his computer leads into a page-long excursus about the only time in his life he ever prayed. When he was about ten or eleven years old, Marcus was temporarily obsessed with the idea that God was going to damn him and his family because none of them believed in him. After a week or so of anxiety about the “insurance policy” (his version of Pascal’s wager) represented by belief, he knelt down beside his bed and tried to pray, at which point he found himself pouring out all sorts of worries that he had not even realized he had. Despite the revealing effects of this experience, he felt no response from “the universe.” As Marcus puts it, “no words had come back. No feeling of presence. No feeling of being listened to, or heard, or understood. I had spoken to the universe, and the universe hadn’t given a damn.” As a result, in the space of an hour, young Marcus went “from an anxious agnostic to a carefree atheist, and I’d stayed that way forever after.”

When Marcus speaks to his computer, “the universe” answers him back. A new text document appears on his screen with the words “ooohhh busted.” Marcus realizes that he has been witnessed in ways that terrify him: “I tried to keep a poker face, staring into the eye of the camera over my screen as one of my biggest fears in the world came to life before me.” What kind of fear? Fear of total surveillance, of being “pwned” in some absolute way.

What  a modern and relatable idea. We all encounter doubts whether we believe that God exists or doesn’t. As with surveillance, many don’t care is they are being watched by cameras or God. Or they believe the Watchers don’t care about their little lives.  The metaphor is endless.

The article mentions the afterward by Aaron Swart, the founder of Reddit who died earlier this year under mysterious circumstances.

 Swartz was under indictment for downloading academic documents owned by JSTOR with the intent of releasing them into the public domain. Surveillance tracked a leak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology back to a laptop in an unlocked utility closet. The university put a hidden camera there that recorded him. The police arrested him two days later.

Swartz writes to Doctorow’s young readers: “I can tell you something you wouldn’t believe if it came out of the mouth of any of those fictional characters: This stuff is real.” He means, of course, that the powers of surveillance and everything they represent are real. Swartz goes on to urge readers to get politically involved: “I know it’s easy to feel like you’re powerless, like there’s nothing you can do to slow down or stop ‘the system.’ Like all the calls are made by shadowy and powerful forces far outside your control. I feel that way, too, sometimes. But it just isn’t true.”

Now to get familiar with my Iphone and its sweet mic and camera.

A New Age

This blog’s original purpose was to chronicle using a pager and later a flip phone as my primary mode of communication. The removal of the internet from my hands was an extreme divorce from how I had been operating, whether looking up directions to familiar destinations or using text messages to remember where I was last in a text relationship. It was a leap backward into unknown territory. As Herodtus said, “You never step in the same river twice. ” Trust me, flip phoning was different in 2004 when everyone was painstakingly punching in “cu l8tr.”

A few lessons:

1. Outdated technology can be worse than no technology.

2. Convenience can consume your time and conserve it.

I have my new IPhone and the number is migrating as I type. I am excited to group text, send a photo and shazam.

I love technology and I’m hoping/aspiring to have the discipline to make it my servant and not my master. Wish me luck!

I’m not going back to facebook or instagram.

And, I’m 30.

So I’m probably going to except this 3rd

So I’m probably going to except this 3rd offer I’ve received for someone’s old IPhone. It was generous each time and I appreciate the two would-be givers and, Libby, the actual gifter.

I guess you could say I learned a few things during this time. One is that it’s easier to have no phone than a glorified walkie-talkie. People seem to be able to accept an extreme level of dysfunction more than the inability to text fast or accept most messages. 

I feel some sadness as this experiment ends. Not because I will miss my flip phone but because I feel like so few people understand why I value being disconnected. My desire to unplug is sadly written off as I don’t even know what. I try to not to imagine how people interpret my actions unless it serves some purpose. 

I guess I can leave my new IPhone at home sometimes or maybe let it die more often than I should. It won’t be the same as when checking my phone 

PROBLEMS: My Flip only Accepts about 80% of messages

So, it appears that only 80% of my texts are going though. I don’t fully understand it but I think that group messages and texts with photos basically implode inside my motorola. I may have seen smoke.

I think a normal person would care but I seriously don’t. This is another way where people’s mass communication is being eliminated from my life. If you have something to say or show me then email ME or visit with ME.

Nothing fancy shall pass through my Flip. And I’m okay with it. My sisters are annoyed.

Research: Experts warn Smartphones Destroying Your Brain

Clifford Nass, professor of communication at Stanford University, reckons, “It is not physiologically healthy for you because (humans) are not built to do a multitude of tasks at one time. Your phone makes you feel like you have to respond, which then increases your stress and harms your cognitive thinking.”

Dr Bhinderwala agrees. Multitasking, he says, lessens our ability to focus on what is relevant, and rewires the brain to make us shallow thinkers. Varied communication features (SMS, video, Whatsapp, BBM, Facebook, Twitter) available on our finger tips, makes us less responsive to the immediate environment.

Dr Sandy Chapman, chief director for the Center for Brain Health in Dallas, who has studied the effects of technology on the brain, was quoted in nbcdwf. com, saying: “It’s really keeping us at this distracted level, so everything that we’re thinking about tends to be quicker, less synthesised, and that’s what’s making us dumber.”

Read the April 22nd Times of India article yourself

Research: Fastest growing group of Smartphone Owners make less than$30K

According to a 2012 Pew study, 34% of Americans making less than $30k a year have a smartphone, a 12% jump from the year before which is the greatest percent increase in any income bracket.

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 9.07.36 PM

This could be a positive in terms of closing the digital divide but unless they are using a supercheap service like a prepaid monthly plan at $50 a month and a used phone, they are spending over $700 a year+ and it seems more like conspicuous consumption than an appropriate line item. It’s way too much money considering what this group’s fixed expenses would be. Also, I believe this is close to what is considered poverty in the US according to federal standards. The question is whether there are benefits to these families and individuals in terms of earning potential, educational attainment and overall well-being that justifies the expenses.

“U.S. median household income fell from $51,144 in 2010 to $50,502 in 2011.[3] Extreme poverty in the United States, meaning households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits, doubled from 1996 to 1.5 million households in 2011, including 2.8 million children.[4]

Problems: Losing my flip.

In the last two weeks I’ve repeatedly found myself searching for my flip thinking I’d lost it. I’ve found it in my purse most of the time but once I’d left it on my bed —  it had been hidden in the folds of my duvet. (that’s a lot of past participial right there) The vibrate sound is subtle in cloth and I had to walk around my apartment several times, macbook air in hand, calling my own phone using Google Voice and listening closely for the soft drone of my muffled flip.

This is a serious concern. If I lose my flip I lose the 12 numbers inside it which probably took me 90 seconds each (or more) to enter. I also have to activate another one of my free flips which I think takes 2-4 days to complete. During that time, I could miss an important text or call. In reality, that’s unlikely but I can’t really escape the cult of now and accessibility entirely.

Also, you can’t be without a phone unless you notify everyone via facebook these days and I’m off it. If I post it on G+ only Guy Kawasaki will know. And if I post it on twitter, I might lose even more followers than I already do with each retweet or post I make. That’s how I know my diminishing flock aren’t bots. They abandon me.

Anyway, I don’t really have a plan for finding my tiny phone. It’s tiny and untrackable. This is a going concern.