Over the last four years, I have often been asked about what might be the next trends of the Internet and Internet usage. One of the answers I have consistently given is that there will be a new, accepted level of curation. With ever more web sites, ever more amounts of incoming information, we all get overwhelmed. This is now leading to sites that either curate or aggregate information, columns or videos about specific topics or around specific areas of influence. We decide that someone or some site is worthy of our trust to serve up information for us on areas that interest us or about which we feel we need to stay current.
We have just re-launched the latest iteration of the Future Wow! web site. Curated by this futurist as Executive Editor and Devin Lee Ostertag as Managing Editor, Future Wow! will provide regular visual looks into our collective future. Videos, photos and dynamic charts about some aspect of the future that will make you go "Wow!". We hope to make it fun, intellectually stimulating and offering insights about what may lie ahead for us all.
So, please take a look at Future Wow!
If you like it, please share it with friends. If you find something about the future that makes you go "wow!" please send it our way.
Privacy is one of the topics that is most often brought up in the Q&A sessions after my speeches. We all have a clear view that privacy is no longer what we thought it was or might want it to be. We worry about being under surveillance yet at the same time many of us openly share our personal lives - or at least a well scrubbed version of them - on social media.
The recent disclosures about PRISM and the reality that the United States government has been openly spying on all of us, brings the issue of privacy front and center. In this newsletter and on my blog I will be writing about this topic from the viewpoint of a futurist. Looking back and looking ahead it is clear that the definition of privacy is constantly changing. What our grandparents defined as privacy, what our parents viewed as privacy no longer exists. The privacy we think we have today, will most likely be non-existent to our children.
Many of you may well read my Evolutionshift blog. Many of you may not. For those of you that don't, below are the two most recent columns written on the topic of privacy. Apology and thank you for those that have already read these columns on the blog.
Privacy and the Two Realities
of the Shift Age
Now that PRISM has been revealed, there is and will be significant discussions about personal privacy and government monitoring of personal communications. There are several levels or developing issues and trends that this very significant revelation triggers for all of us to think about. Here and in future columns we will look at the major dynamics at play and take a look at what they suggest for the future.
It is the rare speech Q&A session that I am not asked about privacy and the future of privacy. The fast answer is that there is no longer any privacy. Privacy as our grandparents knew it is gone. The definition of privacy is mutable, it is constantly being redefined through time. What was considered privacy 100 years ago is practically non-existent now. What was considered privacy even 10 years ago is no longer existent.
A century ago, when the landline telephone business was starting to penetrate the marketplace in America the most cited reason to not getting one was invasion of privacy. Having a device from outside the home come into my home? That is an invasion of my privacy as a citizen! How quaint that sounds today. That is the point: what our grand parents or great grand parents though was an invasion of privacy is entirely different that our view today.
Generally speaking we as consumers have always allowed convenience to trump almost everything else. This is certainly true relative to our use of technology. GPS on our phones means we can use all sorts of great apps, but it means that other people know exactly where we are and when we are there. So we have often yielded privacy for personal convenience, which makes some of our complaints about privacy a bit hypocritical. What is that old phrase about cake?
In 2006, before the iPhone and all the handheld computing that has followed it, I wrote a column titled "Technology Advances, Privacy Declines". That is basically the bottom line on privacy in the Shift Age and the 21st century. Smart phones, tablets, browsers, video surveillance cameras everywhere, ATM machines and all form of digital records and communications that we so embrace basically are eliminating privacy as it has been defined for centuries.
Two Realities of the Shift Age
One of the defining characteristics of the Shift Age is the fact that we all now have two realities that we have to manage, two realities that we live in: the physical reality and the screen reality. For the last seven years I have been framing this concept as one of the ways we must look at our lives and what is going on around us. It was not until the cell phone ubiquity of the last few years - currently 5.7 billion cell phone users and 7.1 billion humans- that the screen reality has become as "real" to us as our physical reality. What happens in our screen realities can be as compelling as what happens in our physical reality. We sit, walk, work, and unfortunately drive in a physical reality always connected to our screen reality. We have all seen people walking down the street largely oblivious to their physical reality as they are absorbed in their screen reality.
The physical reality is based upon atoms and the screen reality is based upon digits. That is why the screen reality is morphing much more quickly than the physical reality. The cutting edge of human evolution is now on the screen reality. What is happening there moves to the physical reality.
Now that we are years into the Shift Age and cell phone ubiquity and ever-faster internet connections, we are seeing how the screen reality is changing physical reality. The collapse of Borders and the closings of numerous big box stores across America can, to some degree, be attributed to Amazon and other on-line retailers. The business models, the language, the metaphors of the screen reality are affecting and changing the physical reality. That will continue.
PRISM exists in and because of the screen reality. PRISM takes advantage of our need for convenience, reliance on and obsession with this digital reality. As technology increases privacy declines. That is why those who want privacy and at least some independence from surveillance move "off the grid". We will take a look at the larger issues of government and citizen privacy in a democracy in the next column, as they need to be aired and understood. There are reasons to be irate, but not surprised.
If you fully utilize the dynamic efficiencies and convenience of your screen reality, if you choose to share your personal information on it you are leaving the world of privacy.
PRISM and Privacy
In the last column here I wrote about the decline in what used to be called privacy. The definition of privacy is mutable, ever changing. What was considered private 100 years ago, even 20 years ago is practically non-existent today. As I wrote in 2006 before the iPhone and all devices that have followed "Technology Increases, Privacy Declines" One of the characteristics of the Shift Age is that all of us now live with two realities, the physical reality and screen reality.
So, the uproar around Mr. Snowden's disclosure of PRISM and how much the NSA, with full backing of the United States government must be looked at within current context. That context is complex: ever more connectivity, ever more mobile computing power, an explosive use of social media based upon sharing, fear of terrorism, ever more information being created with ever more intelligent devices and chips and an ever greater integration of humanity globally as a result of all of this.
Edward Snowden is a whistle blower. It is because of him that we now know how pervasive is the accessing of personal communications of all Americans and many citizens of other countries. His revelations immediately caused NSA officials and others to "revise" earlier comments made about the program. So, the government response to Snowden's revelations confirmed both that these disclosures were correct and that our government officials lied to us.
We now have learned about the secretive FISA "court" that must approve requests for surveillance and that it is only the government that argues before the court, there is no 'defense' in the situation. Not exactly the checks and balances the founding fathers envisioned. It has been reported that in the last 33 years there have been 33,000 surveillance requests made by various intelligence agencies and only 11 have been denied. It could be said that the military industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us against has set up its own secretive Supreme Court, but with no counter balance and with no transparency.
Snowden is not a hero. If he was a hero he would have contacted the ACLU, a couple of publicity seeking top tier defense attorneys and used this high level support to return to the United States. This would have provoked constant front page, top of newscast coverage of this issue. Think of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. I wish Snowden had taken this route, as it would have forced a much deeper conversation. Those supporting Snowden would constantly be asking: "If Snowden broke a law, what exactly was that law and who of our elected officials approved it?" This would cause extremely high levels of squirming and linguistic hedging by many in Washington.
It is extremely disappointing that there has not been a larger, deeper national conversation about privacy, surveillance and what has and is going on. Predictably some members of congress are expressing outrage but others are not. Freedom and protect are two words that are and will be used a lot. Politicians know these two words will trigger Pavlovian responses by the citizens. That isn't a conversation, that is just rhetoric.
Since George Orwell's novel "1984" was published in 1948 we know that governments will routinely create enemies to both unite the citizenry and spy on them at the same time. [It is appropriate that sales of George Orwell's "1984" went up 5,800% on Amazon the first week of the Snowden disclosures. ] The common enemies in the last 100 years have been fascism, communism and now terrorism. All were valid enemies of the United States that triggered a lot of invalid spying on private citizens. However, PRISM feels a lot like the SS or the Stasi or the KGB of our enemies that wanted to take away freedom. Have we become our enemies?
As a futurist who looks at trends from past history into the future, it is clear to me that there will be ever less privacy as we go forward. The accelerating electronic connectedness of the planet, one of the three forces of the Shift Age, and the technologies that amplify this connectedness point to ever more personal information being shared and being available. It therefore serves no purpose to be Luddites about such technologies.
What we need to do as a country and as members of the human race is to talk about the new landscape of today. The privacy of today is much less than that of 100, 25 or 10 years ago and is much more than 10 years from now. No turning back. We have already given up the privacy of our grandparents and parents. Instead we need to have a refinement of the ethics of living in a world with no privacy. The one our children will inhabit. The privacy of the past is going away, so we need to think through how that affects ethics and behavior.
Individuals, corporations and governments must open up a discussion of what privacy means in a civil society for the 21st century.