If that all sounds a bit ‘Big Brotherish’, as predicted by George Orwell when he wrote 1984 in 1948, perhaps he got it right. Certainly, we’re three decades beyond his nightmarish vision of the future, but there can be little doubt that we are being watched, and in some detail. The trouble is, we don’t know by whom.
And the next casualty could be that fragile concept of democracy. Did Russia hack the west to influence elections? Who knows. Does the technology even exist to make that possible? Who knows that either.
What we do know is that it’s possible to be anyone you want to be on social media; to say just about anything about just about anyone without fear of redress. Invent a persona; say what you like. At least some people will believe it. The result is a growth in the politics of hate; the erosion of a consensus view; of the ability to appreciate that someone else is entitled to a point of view different from one’s own.
There’s no doubt that technology is good for us. Who’d be without a washing machine if they could afford one? It certainly makes life easier than bashing clothes on a rock by the riverside, even though there are places in the world where people still have to do that.
But we need to be in control, as far as possible. We need to think about what could happen to the information we share so freely, that is chipping away at our privacy.
We need to be aware that our phones can track our every move and turn that feature off.
We need to think about who’ll use information the social media post in which we say we’re having a good time in whatever restaurant we happen to be in, and what they’ll use it for.
We need to spend hard cash with the greengrocer or the corner shop or the butcher down the road, rather than with the supermarket, where the constant blipping of tills records the details of our lives. (And what business is it of the supermarket to know what size pants you’ve just bought? Oh, yes; they know all right.)
We need to think about what we’re doing.
We need to work out what technology enhances our lives, and what doesn’t.
In short, we need to think about what we’re doing, and take back control.