Where’s the outrage?
The news media is atwitter with the revelation that the NSA is keeping tabs on all us honest hard-working Americans. And, to hear them tell it, it’s a political shit storm of umbrage. Americans are furious that their elected leaders would not only invade their privacy, but would do so on such a grand scale. Or so, once again, the media would like to have us believe. The problem with their story is a simple one. No one cares.
Oh sure, we all know that we should be outraged by the revelation. We all know that we should be terrified that the big brother prophesied in ‘1984’ is presenting himself before our eyes. We should put our feet down and take action to prevent this situation from escalating. We’re not going to, of course. We just know that we should.
What’s everyone’s problem? Why aren’t we as upset as we really should be (present company included)? I’ll answer that with an anecdote.
As anyone who at one point or another tried to friend a celebrity on any social media platform knows, it’s extremely difficult to make contact with popular personalities. If you have a public persona, there are tons of safe guards to not only prevent others from getting in touch with you, but to hide your very existence unless you are on the same level of general popularity. So, when a well-regarded, popular, and public TED speaker showed up on my LinkedIn “People you might know” suggestions, you could understand that I was more than a little surprised. We have never worked together in any professional capacity. Why would LinkedIn suggest us?
Truth be told, we were not total strangers. This woman and I once flirted on the subway on our way to Brooklyn. I had no idea who she was at the time, and she gave me her email address after our interaction. I sent her a polite invitation to a drink and she sent me a polite but firm rejection. C’est la vie. That was our only interaction. Ever. Yet, here she was on my list of possible contacts. The only way for LinkedIn to know that I knew her was for Gmail to be sharing my personal information with them. Since they’re both owned by Google, whats a little invasion of privacy amongst friendly companies.
The world as a whole is already in the process of surrendering its privacy. The prevalence of location specific technologies and personalized software has gone a long way to making our digital thumbprint easier to identify. Cloud based memory systems keep lots of our deepest secrets out in the ethers rather sequestered away. The idea that you can physically find someone from their digital activity is less the horrors of cyberpunk fiction and more the reality of a check-in to get a free drink. You can tell by the spam you get what websites you’ve been visiting and you never even had to sign into them.
Perhaps it’s because we’re a capitalist society that we understand all this privacy invasion from a corporate standpoint. They are trying to sell us products and will stop at nothing to make their dollar. The point is, we’re already used to being spied on. The idea that we’re ‘shocked’ by the revelation that the government is tracking our phone calls is insulting if for no other reason than the story already broke six years ago under Bush. It could be that the media thinks this is a story because Obama was supposed to be the president of change on now he’s making a wrestler like heel turn and keeping this wicked program going. The truth is, however, much sadder.
It’s in every government’s interest to keep the program going. Being able to keep track of your populace is the most important tool in governance. From keeping them safe, to keeping them suppressed, the ability to consistently view your people both and groups and personally is far too useful to ever give up. And they are never going to. From here on out, we are always going to be a society on camera.
Why aren’t we outraged that we’re being spied on? Sadly, because we are getting used to it.