The book 1984 by George Orwell is an in-depth portrayal of life under totalitarianism with “big brother watching”, life where every act and thought was monitored by the state ‘ big brother, where privacy and individuality disappeared. Corrective re-education was employed to suppress individual expression. Orwell’s warning was of a megatrend – the accumulating power of government – the state, over it’s citizens- the people.
Orwell warned us of the intrusion of “the state” on personal expression. On reflection, it would appear Orwell was correct in his warning that personal privacy was at risk. What he cautioned about was the state’s activism and intrusion. What he failed to see was that people were so ready to give up privacy seduced by state programs and corporate trinkets of the information age designed to save or serve us.
Here we are in 2020, half a century after the book was published. We have experienced several mind numbing global events: Y2K, climate change, 9-11,, several financial crises, and now our first pandemic. For most of us – untouched, these were only news events. Until Covid-19 these events were in the background, but we live in the foreground.
Each global event alerts us to a personal vulnerability serving to heighten our personal “anxiety”. Each event also serves to elevate “trust” in the sources of the authority “saving us” through a $ grant, a regulation – social distancing, the introduction of a technology – contact tracing apps, and/or a change in public school curriculum so that children as adults would not repeat the sins of their parents. Covid is in the foreground…here and now. The state and technology are reassuring…to be trusted.
Our saviour is “the state” and it’s regulatory authority and capacity to mobilize corporate technology. Saving us has meant that we modify our behaviour in the interest of saving the community – the public, with the “help” of technologies designed to protect us: scanners and monitors, cell phone apps and personal recognition devices.
The dichotomy of living in the public as a private person has become VERY complicated in ways that George Orwell didn’t/ couldn’t imagine. Educational curriculum is preparing our children to comply. And technologies are putting us each in the public eye and exposing us to the behaviour of others – all the time. Covid as a global pandemic has amplified this new reality – control is no longer subtle.
Orwell imagined the state as accumulating excessive power over the person – and their thoughts. Here in 2020, the internet of everything has exposed us and everyone else to one another instantly. “Thoughts” remain private – for the time being although algorithms exist that anticipate and so can manipulate our choices/ behaviour. The foreground is cluttered with views of others and seemingly random events worldwide. Rarely do we attend to the background – the fundamental shifts in our culture.
The emergence and impact of personalizing technologies cannot be ignored. They are designed to customize “our” every need, want, wish. All we need to do is to allow our “self” in the form of personal data to be shared. This privatization through technology extends into healthcare with wearables that monitor an array of personal biometrics. Into education with access to Google and 24/7 on-line access to learning and knowledge. Into transportation and logistics with on-time delivery. And retail through eCommerce. Fintech is offering a cashless society. All capitalizing on the technology of the internet, apps, and algorithms allowing access to – and analysis of, data: mine, yours, others.
The trend of personalization is fueled by out appetite for immediate gratification, and sustained by our trust – non-critical thinking, in suppliers. Read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. We rarely have to engage in analysis; it is done for us. But the associated comfort comes at a price. Read The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff warning us of the threat posed by data, analytics, and algorithms to personal liberty, autonomy, and well-being.
We are captivated by attention-getting activities brought into our foreground. A shooting in Wisconsin or Minnesota is felt personally and acted upon worldwide. We are on alert to a hurricane in Texas, a poisoning in Russia, an explosion in Lebanon, a blackbear killing in Saskatchewan. Each capture and sustain our attention. A butterfly flapping its wings in Malaysia may indeed trigger a riot in Belarus.
Our obsession with media particularly youth and social media reflects is a form of “globalization” – a connectedness and preoccupation with the immediate, making us vulnerable to what is most exciting. – the next crisis. There is always something – real, imagined, or fake. Our brains are activated and programmed to the immediate, the crisis. the short-term. The rise of social media are symptoms of just how strong is the appetite for socialization particularly when in crisis – real, imagined, or fake. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs positions social needs one level above safety.
We are connected. We are also compliant. We are incessant consumers of news and tweets and apps without regard to safety – trust/ safety, level one is assumed. There is flagging interest to resist, even if there was somewhere to hide.
Now to the point. We are living in the moment, constantly in crisis, with need for the comfort of belonging. We care little about why – the background, the meaning of it all…and the loss of privacy in the quest for comfort by connecting and being connected.
The pandemic has intensified two Megatrends. First, personalization through technology by customizing services/products. Second, socialization through the intrusion of the state in regulating our personal welfare and behaviour. In combination – a first, we are experiencing a not so subtle form of 1984.
What are the MEGATRENDS shaping our future? Think slow – share your view…complete the SURVEY HERE.