We’re used to the fact that data storage technologies, once so sensationally expensive, are becoming drastically cheaper. What we don’t yet clearly realize is what that will mean for our everyday lives. Within ten years, it will be reasonably cheap to track every moment of your life. The technology already exists. You could each have a hovering Eye over your right shoulder, keeping an archive of all of your conversations and experiences. If you have an argument with your spouse in 2020, and disagree about something he said, you could simply ask the Eye to track back to that conversation and prove you right. Or wrong.
I sense an impending rise in divorce.
Drones are, as of January 2012, legal in US airspace, and are publicly available for sale. They will only get smaller, more powerful and more ubiquitous.
We are not just looking at a future of mass government surveillance of us, but of mass-mutual, peer-to-peer surveillance of everybody, at least in urban environments; though, if Indyposted is anything to go by, they expect the people doing the surveilling to mostly be … dads?
Are you ready for a world where all you ever do or say can be tracked, recorded and searched, not just by you but by anyone? Even now, a generation is growing up that has much of its life recorded and searchable online; real-time, always-on video tracking is merely the logical end point.
The implications are dizzying.
It will become more and more easy for political candidates to be torpedoed by digital evidence from their past. We’re already past the point where presidential candidates could do what Hubert Humphrey used to do – to go to the Farmers of America and promise corn subsidies, and then give a speech somewhere else repudiating them. We see in Congress that representatives can no longer so easily make deals in smoke-filled rooms that screw over their base, without the base finding out and primarying them. In a world of mass peer-to-peer surveillance, a hitherto unimaginable level of honesty and accountability will be required.
So what’s the problem? Honesty and accountability sound like good things, right?
The fact is that as humans, we’re simply not conscious of how much we lie. A University of Massachusetts study suggests that in ten minutes of conversation, people tell an average of three lies. People usually can’t sustain, even for ten minutes, a commitment to unvarying and unvarnished truth. And if it’s all tracked, recorded and searchable, and people are held accountable to a level of truth they can’t psychologically sustain, then as a whole society we’re going to have to start revising our expectations of how much truthfulness and consistency we expect from people in public life.
See, people who count themselves as honest do probably lie less than other people. But they also rely on fallible human memory, and like the rest of us, simply don’t remember some of the times they lie. In our relationships and in our political interactions, we’re no longer going to be relying on our memories alone. But forgetting is also psychologically helpful. Digital technology can revive every lie, every injustice, every hurt, every insult, in as vivid a form as when it was originally said. That probably doesn’t help people get along with one another, personally or politically.
To safeguard our own sanity, and our own stable conceptions of ourselves, it probably won’t be wise to track everything that technology allows us to, even if the Fourth Amendment can’t constrain our actions (it only constrains governmental actions). Once Eyes become more common, couples will have to talk more about what to store and what to discard, what to track and what to let slide. Similarly, in politics, the maintenance of a polis will require mutual agreements to not use certain kinds of information about candidates’ pasts, or to create spaces in the lives of all of us, elected officials included, that are not tracked and where we are not accountable. That’s the point of places like Bohemian Grove for the [male] politicians, and maybe of Burning Man for the rest of us. In a world of Eyes, we will all need something.