The short end of the stick

-A A +A
By Mike Forster

    Life is a series of trade-offs.
    You want that second piece of cheesecake?  It'll cost you some extra time at the gym.
    You want to stay up late watching Twilight Zone re-runs?  You'll pay for that by feeling logy at work the next day.
    Regrettably, not all of life's trade-offs are as obvious.  Vaguely-perceived consequences of our decisions, however, can be just as acute in their impact.
    And nowhere might those ramifications be more strongly felt than in the area of personal privacy and dignity.
    Some of the cause-and-effect we're experiencing in this brave new world of ours is a result of decisions we've made as a society.  For instance, we've made the conscious trade-off between creating the TSA and putting up with its shenanigans so that we can feel safe when we fly.
    Some, thankfully, are still within our control.  For example, if you wish not to have a GPS device tracking your every movement, you can opt not to carry a cell phone.
    If you don't want the NSA vacuuming up every message you send, you can stop using email as a means of communication.
    How long you have those options, however, remain to be seen.
    For example, there is movement toward installing a "black box" in every American automobile.  These devices will record how and where you drive.  I strongly suspect they will include a transmitting device to allow for vehicular geographic/time tracking.
    Unlike cupholders, these devices are not optional.
    It is also becoming more and more difficult to navigate life without a cell phone.  At some point, I suppose, it will simply become untenable to try and function in this world without one.
    At that point, each of us will be paying for the privilege of sharing our conversations, messages and whatever business we conduct over those devices.
    In a little-noted news story, Google recently purchased a company which manufactures "smart" thermostats for the home.
    I suspect this is a small piece of Google's long-term goal of providing a host of services to turn your home into a "smart house."
    You will be able to monitor and run your home from a remote location.  Using your cell phone, you'll adjust the home's temperature, run appliances and monitor (via installed cameras) any room in the house.
    Some companies are already offering scaled-down versions of this service.
    But, the catch is, if you can monitor your home remotely, so can someone who taps into your system.
    And I'm looking at you, Big Brother.
    It's funny, but not in a ha-ha sort of way.  When I think back to books and movies which presented views of a dystopian society (such as 1984 or The Running Man), the big threats were "The Thought Police" and "Big Brother Watching You."
    Well, we're sure coming close to making those once-ridiculous notions into realities.
    If the government can (and does) monitor what you say (in your telephone conversations) and what you write (by reading your emails), has it not put itself into a position to police your very thinking?
    If the government can tap into a system in your home which has cameras in every room, can it not monitor your behavior for activities it deems not in the best interests of the state?
    They say that oppression comes not as a lightning strike, but as nightfall:  slowly and steadily–almost imperceptibly.
    We continue to trade off our right to be left alone for things that are not commensurate with that precious right.
    We trade our dignity for a perception of safety.  We trade privacy so that we're able to play "Angry Birds" on our mobile devices.  We trade the very sanctity of our homes for the convenience of adjusting our thermostats from afar.
    These trade-offs are suckers' bets.
    And soon, we'll have little with which to make any trades at all.