In the 90’s, it looked like the Internet might be an exception, that it could be a decentralizing, democratizing force. No one controlled it… But those days are gone.
Orwell imagined a world with a telescreen in every room, always on, always connected, always monitored… we’ve done him one better. Nearly everyone carries in their pocket a tracking device that knows where you are, who you talk to, what you look at, all these intimate details of your life, and sedulously reports them to private servers where the data is stored in perpetuity.
Each of us leaves an indelible, comet-like trail across the Internet that cannot be erased… we have to track all this stuff, because the economic basis of today’s web is advertising, or the promise of future advertising. The only way we can convince investors to keep the money flowing is by keeping the most detailed records possible, tied to people’s real identities. Apart from a few corners of anonymity, which not by accident are the most culturally vibrant parts of the Internet, everything is tracked.
Coming up with a sane business model is really hard—So let’s take people’s data, throw it on a server, link it to their Facebook profiles, keep it forever, and if we can’t raise another round of venture funding, we’ll just slap Google ads on the thing. “High five, bro!” We are shocked when the Ukrainian government uses cell tower data to send scary text messages to protesters in Kiev, to keep them off the streets.
We treat freedom and the rule of law like inexhaustible natural resources, rather than the fragile and precious treasures that they are. And now, of course, it’s time to make the Internet of Things, where we will connect everything to everything else, and build cool apps on top, and nothing can possibly go wrong.”