no, it’s probably real and, in this dumb blogger’s opinion, very predictable. will update with more later, but for now consider this: Traditional-Communist/Neo-Conservative nation with a history of fascist censorship tendencies under-reports their casualties from a novel virus that is currently upending the world? Pre-emptive saving of face in the wake of a pandemic that has caused all of humanity to reflect on its mortality? No- who saw that coming?
Vetted or not, it won an IRL belly laugh from me, nonetheless. hope you’re well and staying safe!
I’m no doctor, or scientist, but it seems that we’re in it for the long haul, which is to say the least. It’s only been about a hundred years since we had a global pandemic, and the best part is that this thing snuck up on us. Well, not me… I’ve kept my at-least-two-weeks-worth of apocalypse rations close to me since I could vote. Actually, I’m in the middle of a move and had started getting rid of extra food-stuffs – Perfect timing, right?
Anyway, history has been made. All over the world, the streets have that prelude-to-apocalypse vibe – government warnings everywhere, yet people are out in the streets like it’s a holiday. Official warnings against mass gatherings and your general vicinity to other humans, yet the bars remain open [update, the bars are now CLOSED]. I don’t have anything against small business having bills to pay, but wanting to stay open for opportunities’ sake is perhaps a little irresponsible, given the circumstances. Although, that’s not strictly their fault – who blames them for wanting to stay open, when the threat is as vague as the messaging? Also, I suppose there’s no real way to distinguish how bad this gets without that control group…. kidding! Jokes aside, things have been feeling a little “band keep playing” around here lately, if you catch my drift…. 😉
That’s not to say it’s anyone’s fault, whether scared or nonchalant. I just don’t understand how we let ourselves experience denial like this. On an official/government level, we really do take for granted things like disease prevention, education, and training that saves us time, money, and precious life. The word “protocol” hasnever been so important, yet meant so little. In these early stages, no one seems to have one worth its salt, and if they do, they don’t have the resources required to execute. During this pandemic, I’ve come across so many different outlooks, but the one constant is that ‘element of surprise’ – not at the virus’ existence, but at how our societies are handling it – and it seems that everyone’s palms are up and pants way, way down. Very few friends, colleagues, and acquaintances seem to have heard any clear message of protocol from an “official” aspect, from their employers, or the government. And by “clear”, I mean ’not-ambiguous’, ’not-vague’, ‘expedient’ and generally characterized by appearing as though what is going on, and needs to be done, is known. I’m of the opinion that this culture of “being caught off-guard” has progressed to the point where we can’t even understand how we’re doing it; we just do, with our fingers crossed. Real hard.
KEEP CALM AND WASH YOUR HANDS, DESU
As I watch all of this develop, it’s not surprising to me that the level of panic coincides with the level of official ignorance. Pardon my candor, but we know how to do this. Ever notice while driving how there’s a sharp decrease in human intelligence that coincides directly with precipitation, of any kind? It drizzles, someone gets creamed on the highway. To me, this COVID-19 debacle is a lot like that – yes, it’s hail, but you know what to do. You are prepared for this. Remember your lessons. Slow down, get off the road, perhaps find somewhere to park, get out of the car and wait safely while you watch your car get pummeled to pieces (and hope insurance will cover it).
Blame isn’t the issue here, so much as is prevention and containment culture. I don’t think there’s any need to go full-fascist with wrangling this bug, rather I simply think a lot of what has now become a full-blown crisis could have been averted. The “authorities” in the US, at least, missed, and then misused an opportunity to band together and send a unified message to their citizens. Because the political atmosphere has been so badly fractured lately, that unified message was perhaps drafted, but never sent. Actually, the closest thing was a text, initially thought to have originated from the State Department, which turned out to be just a hoax. So, we were all just left fend for ourselves for a few weeks, in confusion and reserved caution, continuing to go to work while the virus continued to spread country-to-country, then state-to-state, while the official response was, “Don’t Worry.” Not, “Don’t worry, and here’s some tips”… just “Don’t Worry.” So, naturally, we worried.
This isn’t to say that effort wasn’t made – plenty of officials touted reasonable and clear warnings about the dangers, and the responses of local government around the land was surprisingly efficacious as it was, in some cases, downright Puritan. I’m proud of people, in general, for caring so much about their communities, taking matters into their own hands, and promoting healthy (not paranoid!) hygiene culture in healthy, effective ways. It’s the official responses that irk me… and I’m not necessarily talking about the White House – theres nothing official about grown-ups playing President.
I remember just days after the virus was identified as a possible threat to the global community, seeing articles about the World Health Organization playing down the severity of the outbreak, so as to not create a fear-based reaction. This is a difficult sell, when the CDC was doing its very best to trumpet the warning at the same time. I simply think that, as far as ‘authoritative’ public health organizations go, that was quite the responsibility to shirk. Then, all of a sudden, just days later WHO invoked the “P” word, despite their earlier, strange reluctance – I can understand not wanting people to panic, and even not wanting to jump to conclusions prematurely, but I expected at least a little more effort; more immediate/urgent advisories, signs and notifications, requests to redirect funds and resources in preparation, calls for the community to donate, as well as prepare themselves in a more civilized manner for the mere possibility. Come on, it’s your job. What about that creepy thing they do when they text your phone about emergencies?? I didn’t get a single one, which is strange, given the obvious opportunity to creep.
Here we set the stage for an unmatchable drama: with circumstance set thus, we got the predictable media firestorm, mire of poilitics, and the spirit of casual denial toward any real threat followed by immediate, preternatural panic, as usual. This time, however, it was a little different – the threat was very real, novel, and taking lives. For each day in February, then March, there were more than a hundred new cases, with more than that mis-or-undereported. Soon, globally, cases numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and mortality – well, no insignificant portion of that, was growing too. What began with a few isolated cases in China, continued on with quarantined cruise ships (a whole dystopian novella in its own right), then eventually whole countries on lockdown, some building massive trenches for which to bury their dead. The Great Global Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 is a real page turner, complete with silent streets and people on house arrest singing solidarity from their balconies. This is real opera. You literally don’t have to make any of it up, because it’s all non-fiction. In what some argue is still the beginning, we are actually afraid, and just now doing all the things we should have been doing when this virus surfaced – from washing our hands, to cleansing our souls.
‘CAUSE YOU’RE EMPTY, AND I’M EMPTY, AND YOU CAN NEVER QUARANTINE THE PAST’
That said, there’s very little we can do these days to protect ourselves from bad culture, especially when we trust our faulty, dysfunctional governments to lead by example. Right now, despite the warnings, people are continuing on with business as usual, and I mean that quite literally. There are, and were, a lot of opportunities to understand this virus, but a lot of our attitudes are on a “La-Di-Da” while we allow a poorly understood disease to threaten and destroy a significant portion of the population, all due to a poor effort given by official channels to educate and tranquilize. Again, I’m not saying there has been no response. I’m saying the response has been that of a child who has been told not to go out after dark, and hears this advice, clearly and distinctly in his mother’s voice, as he’s being beaten and mugged. Sometimes rules are a good thing, because they aren’t rules, they’re consequences, and knowing about them can save you from yourself.
On a biological and geological level, I do think these things need to happen to the species, you know? But the response on this one has been terrible. The psychological environment for something like a pandemic are terrible. We, as a species, have gotten way too comfortable with, well… everything, really. More specifically, we got comfortable with the gravity of the concept of a pandemic, merely considering it, as though it could never happen to us, or that if it did, we’d all be simply doomed to die some romanticized version of your favorite zombie film. Through tv, movies, video games, music, and also the news, we got used to a conceptualized trope of a pandemic, without actually talking about it or learning anything from past mistakes. Having nothing real to go on, we allowed our defenses and infrastructures to weaken. This attitude bled into our politics, our protocols, our knowledge, and training. This fictionalized, arms-length take on reality infected the very way we handle things. Well, now we have something real to go on, and it’s better than most pandemic fictions currently available. And if that’s only because we weren’t prepared, well…. let’s use what time we have left to redeem ourselves, so we don’t go down as that species.
It seems that every few years there’s a scare, and we, as a species, drum it up to be something fierce, threatening in not only a physical, but also morbidly existential way, when it really isn’t, with the right knowledge and preparation. The flu was once ‘incurable’ too, but perhaps we need this experience, like we needed that one. Perhaps this will be a teaching moment, if the victories aren’t too Pyrrhic. Or perhaps we’ll learn nothing more than that we like to be afraid, even more than we like to be in control. Remember when Ebola came back? Yeah, we handled that great.
So…what’s with all the privacy and security-based firms violating our privacies?
I thought it was your job not to do that? Maybe quit, then?
I’m being facetious, but more seriously, my comments do originate from a place of deep and brooding concern; yes, there will always be hackers and boogie men, but let’s be honest – we are WAY too nosy, as individuals, and as a culture. Like, in the dumbest ways possible. As far as codified norms go, we wonder and know way too much about the next person, and let me tell you… self-reliance just doesn’t hit like it used to. What’s more is that the “you” people see, that you share, isn’t even the real you, and yes, you can get jailed for that. Even worse than that, it was all an accident – not so much the “haha-we-were-painting-the-fence-and-saw-the-neighbors-fucking-on-the-lawn” type, moreso a horrible-100-car-pile-up-because-“oops-we-rubbernecked-too-hard-at-that-horrible-wreck-on-the-other-side-of-the-highway” kind of thing. Yeah, we let this happen.
We are nosy not only because we lack discipline, but also because now our JOBS expect us to be so. Beyond the institutionalized narcissism, and the laziness, the permanent distraction-feed in your pocket, and the tendency to keep up with Jones’ phone, laptop, tablet, and game console, etc., we have been made more nosy by an economy that wants you to work to sell-out, spy on, undercut, or outright accuse your neighbor. In 2020, capital-c-“Capitalism” has successfully created a robust fiscal/industrial environment teeming with little pockets of secret police and gossip-philes, some of whom have written pages of code just learn a little more about you. Little changes in one’s life (which were not only once insignificant, but also private), matter just as much as the big ones – if you tag it right and post in the morning, you’ll hear about all of it from people you don’t even know by dinnertime. Even circumstantial selfies are fodder for the rumor-mill; if your photobomb is clever enough, well, that’s headline material; record yourself screwing something up in a purely fantastic manner, and Hey! You’re going viral, baby! The government is loving it, btw.
THAT’S FUNNY – I, TOO, CANNOT LEAVE ‘WELL-ENOUGH’ ALONE
Admittedly, I’m compelled to rant only for reasons of frequency. Being extremely introverted, I don’t like to complain as a rule, but y’all made me go and make a blog; if capital-P-“Privacy” concerns weren’t a thing, and the tech industry wasn’t so morally confused, you wouldn’t hear from me at all. I don’t have a Facebook, and all of my other socials, including my website, are treated like professional media galleries for artworks. Last year, I locked myself out of my website trying to make it more secure, and left it down for about 8 months because, somehow, it felt like a parable. I screen all my calls, leave my voicemail box full on purpose, and I’ve trained my friends to know I’m not dead if I don’t respond to the group text for a few days. I generally do a pretty good job completely ignoring social media and concurrent themes – I keep to myself in a misanthropic way, and you do you, you know?
So, before we go into why my opinion matters (it doesn’t), let’s just say that I have a friend working as a contractor for the CIA, who has told me, plain and simple, that he and his colleagues are, in fact, “trying to make ‘Minority Report’ real”, but using deep-learning AI technology instead of pre-cogs. While I’m ethically jazzed to know that the CIA hasn’t quite yet stooped so low as kidnapping poor, defenseless, psychically-gifted young adults, I have to ask – Why?? Why didn’t we just finish reading that novel on which Mr. Dick worked so hard illustrating a pre-deterministic cyber-fascist future, to tell us such viable warnings? Why did we have to take ‘being nosy’ to that irreparable, societally-damning, capital-g-“Government” level, for which I have to pay taxes and think about my social credit? Why did we, as a culture, decide to completely give in to one of our least attractive, most annoying, absolutely solipsistic traits? Is it just to feel safer? Or, just because we can? Just to make some more money?? All of it? Really? Ok.
This editorial is not about those people. This editorial is about the rest of us who cringe at the existence of those people, who know that there are at least a few things Dignity requires in order to possess a human being. If some of those people are reading this editorial, I implore you to stay awhile, it’s possible you might learn something about yourselves, and why I think you’re a HUGE part of the problem. Otherwise, please leave immediately!
COME ON DOWN, IT’S TIME TO PLAY, “THE PRICE FOR YOUR PRIVACY IS RIGHT!”
But did you also know that the databases of Clearview AI (yes, the controversial facial recognition company), were recently ‘breached’? That the company who is notorious for breaking your privacy and data boundaries just had 3 billion image files scraped (specifically not hacked), which means they possibly broke your privacy and data boundaries AGAIN, but this time, by ACCIDENT?
Here’s the real question: How many of you actually like it?
Government organizations like the DMV have even gotten into the game (and have been there for years). This breach was not one just of data, personal information, and privacy – it was one of the mind. You voluntarily gave your information to a company so that they could do what they wanted with it. Why? You think it’s because they owe you a service, but that’s wrong. You gave your information to them because you’re used to doing so. And at some point, they got used to selling it. And at some point after that, other people realized all that data is just flying around without anyone really watching it, or caring about who’s responsibile when it’s accessed in an unauthorized fashion.
The Great Equifax Hack of 2017 is a great example of this. I know lots of people who got their check, but I still haven’t checked to see if I have $125 waiting for me – why? If you said, “because you have trust issues, Mr. Ngtv”, you’re only half-right. It’s because I never had an account with Equifax, and was never made aware that they had any of my information. The settlement defeats the purpose of any lessons that should have been learned – in what world should I give more information (such as a mailing address or bank information) to an individual, organization, or company that allowed that information to be accessed in the first place?
A similar episode occurred with the 2019 CapitolOne Hack – just days after the hack made headlines (a spectacular one too, way off-narrative), I started getting gratuitous amounts of promotional mail from CapitolOne. Besides being creeped out that the barrage seemed to correspond with my news viewing habits, I mostly wondered, What for? If there’s one thing I dislike more than nosy people, it’s companies that do a bad job saving face. Honestly, what do you expect me to do? Look at your damage control and say, “My, they’ve done such a nice job cleaning up that particular mess – where do I sign up???” (I did make an effort to burn every piece of mail I got from CapitolOne, but lost interest once I finally convinced myself there was no RIFD chip in the envelopes).
A LEAP YEAR IN PARADISE
To borrow a term coined by esteemed and wildly prolific social critic, Mike Judge, I do my best to avoid the “Idiocracy”. It is that completely vapid, yet very strangely hierarchical and robust social system in which we tend to find ourselves participating, almost involuntarily and usually at the behest of a rapidly-evolving global economy that ignores basic biology and has made the phrase “You Want More” into an artform (let’s be honest, it started as science). “Fad culture” It is a timeless phenomenon that long predates social media, however social media, as we have grown to call it, has done well to knock down all barriers to entry, by any and all means. It’s the jealous feeling you get when you see your friends share pics from the party, but you can’t find one good enough; it’s the feeling of inadequacy when you scroll through a feed and see your people chilling without you; it’s the longing that comes when total strangers post relatable content. It’s why I feel suicidal when I look at instagram… and that’s not a joke, or a cry for help*, it’s just something that happens to me, in an very inexplicable and visceral way – and that’s deeply troubling, when considering insta is owned by a company that’s admitted to creating an addicting, psychologically manipulative product.
I posit that it is this “Idiocracy” that has created all the vulnerable security and privacy-based platforms, which, for some reason, can’t get enough irony for their bottom-line. Over a number of years and lots of human error, people have offered themselves to a technological economy of convenience, under the auspices of ‘feeling safer’ or ‘more organized’. We did exactly what we said we swore not to do back in computer class in 1997 – we willingly gave all our information to a security company that said they would protect us. And all the while we posted away on our socials, connecting with friends, essentially doxxing ourselves before we knew what “doxxing” even meant. Now, not just occasionally, but frequently, we see reports of another hack, another class-action lawsuit, another instance in which a tech firm is apologizing for the breach of privacy they said they would never commit. I don’t think this responsibility falls on any one party, not the consumers, the tech industry, or even the government. All are at fault, but the real culprit here has to be the human condition – the inability people have to be able to help themselves.
Think about it – you spend years and years telling everyone about yourself, demonstrating your failures along with your successes, extolling your most tender feelings and raw frustrations, laying bare your embarrassment as well as your pride – do you really have anything left to hide? This is not to say that the tech is bad, just that we are lazy. Perhaps it’s just my capital-P-“Punk” ethic taking hold, but the real change is internal – unless an opposite and equal response in the form of policy and awareness, we will only see a worsening positive feedback loop (and you know, I don’t take too kindly to those).
AN UPDATE, FOR HOPE’S SAKE
Like deadly weapons and power tools, these technologies can be very useful, but only if the philosophies governing them are sound. I won’t say these issues are irreparable, and I do think that the cultural bias towards privacy/security is evolving, and more and more people are changing their social media habits for the right reasons. I do think, however, that our predilection to just ‘let things be’ has gone on far too long, with every solution to worsening problems coming up short. Money and complacency have had their turns, and it’s been a nice leap year in paradise, but the calendar is still running out, and someone has to clean up this mess. This is the root of all technological evils in 2020, and coincidentally why privacy-based firms can’t seem to keep their data private – we did this to ourselves. We can’t argue anymore that it’s only ‘money’, or ‘power’, or ‘fame’, but rather must come to grips that it’s ALL of those tropes of desire, brought to you by the one-and-only Human Condition™ (by Facebook™).
We generated a culture that bows to voyeurism and exhibitionism, and lacking discipline, we also bowed, letting our very livelihoods take the wheel. The line between our private and public lives is permanently blurry, and one can get easily fired from their job, and perhaps jailed, for ignoring that fact. Our wallets are inside our phones, which recognize both our fingerprints AND faces. Where Madison Avenue used to sell us emotions and experience, products use memes to essentially sell themeselves (and deliver themselves, too). Algorithms, not advertisements, tell us what we want (and sometimes do a scary good job). We invite strangers to watch our homes and listen to our conversations, and all we had to do was click “I Have Read and Agree to the Terms of Service”. In 2020, you can actually put “Influencer” on a resume and get away with it. Yes, it’s true – we did this to ourselves.Maybe take a break?
So, the same day I posted this essay, KrebsOnSecurity, an in-depth investigatory news outlet that focuses on security issues (and takes its job very seriously), posted reports that, as of February 28, 2020, the FCC is proposing to fine wireless service carriers upwards of 200 million dollars for selling customer location data. I couldn’t have asked for a better article to cite – It’s a quick read, and I highly recommend it if you’re curious about previous efforts to hold wireless carriers accountable, and why it’s taking so damn long. While the FCC is not my favorite government body, it’s at least a little bit reassuring that it is giving some effort to what Georgetown Law Institute fellow and former FCC chairman, Gigi Sohn, has admitted is a “debacle”.
“The importance of having rules that protect consumers before they are harmed cannot be overstated,” Sohn said. “In 2016, the Wheeler FCC adopted rules that would have prevented most mobile phone users from suffering this gross violation of privacy and security. But [FCC] Chairman Pai and his friends in Congress eliminated those rules, because allegedly the burden on mobile wireless providers and their fixed broadband brethren would be too great. Clearly, they did not think for one minute about the harm that could befall consumers in the absence of strong privacy protections.”
Gigi Sohn, Georgetown Law Institute Fellow/Former Senior Advisor to Tom Wheeler (FCC 2016)
Mr. Sohn’s words echo an important sentiment; that while the road to Hell might be paved with glitzy mobileOS features, Hell itself is still as indifferent, opportunistic, and eager to take your money as ever. The impact on culture is as negative as it is unseen – we’ve been so acclimated to ignore the wolves in sheep’s clothing that we’re only just now getting around choosing the right rifle to scare them away. On the one hand, I believe the FCC’s proposal is an important and momentous step in the right direction. The FCC even has specific figures for their fines based on the amount of time each respective wireless carrier spent selling out their customers’ data. On the other hand, it’s just a proposal, and each of those wireless carriers has an opportunity to make appeals and dispute those figures (and you know they’re going to, because this is America, damnit!).
I think Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) puts it best:
“Time and again, from Facebook to Equifax, massive companies take reckless disregard for Americans’ personal information, knowing they can write off comparatively tiny fines as the cost of doing business… The only way to truly protect Americans’ personal information is to pass strong privacy legislation like my Mind Your Own Business Act [PDF] to put teeth into privacy laws and hold CEOs personally responsible for lying about protecting Americans’ privacy.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) [for krebsonsecurity.com]
All we can do is get involved. Not all of us have time to be lawyers, or even read about these issues in any meaningful way, but that’s not necessary to be aware of an issue that affects everyone. What’s required, in tandem to legislative/policy change, is a change in attitude, as well – people forget that they, are in fact, the controllers of culture, not the companies that pretend they are. Even just talking about it, making people aware pushes the issue into the visible public sphere. Hey, all in the name of progress, right? Perhaps we owe it to them to make their lives as difficult as they’re making ours…
So, good job everyone, we’re getting there. I guess. Just don’t look down – right, Icarus? If you’re at all interested in my usually meaningless, irrelevant, and sometimes egregious opinions concerning these, and other issues, or just need a break from your rose-colored glasses, I invite you to stay awhile. Though not too long, as I do care about your mental health (albeit for liability reasons).