Friday, January 10, 2014

The NSA and symbolic immortality

The US government is building a massive data storage complex in Utah to house all of the data gathered by the NSA and everyone else in the intelligence community, a gargantuan warehouse of personal email and text messages and phone calls and internet activity logs and travel records, along with credit and debit card purchases and utility bills and television viewing habits every other recordable facet of consumer behavior.

The reasons for collecting this information are transparent and have nothing to do with protecting us from terrorism or anything else. It is purely a matter of power. Knowledge is in fact power, and to have a virtually omniscient level of access to every available detail of every individual on the planet is to have the power of a god.

Why aren’t people up in arms? How can we explain the passive acceptance—even tacit support—of the government’s ongoing theft of our personal privacy? Could it be that on some level we want our personal details to be stolen? Does the knowledge that the NSA is watching satisfy some deep histrionic need to have someone—anyone—pay attention to us?

Or, perhaps the permanent storage of our life activities serves as a form of personal symbolic immortality. Sure, I will be dead someday, but the fact that I was here, that I existed, that I did things and was part of things and had ideas and friends and hopes and fears will live on in digital form for all eternity.

Have we traded Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame for 15 megabytes of eternity?

No comments:

Post a Comment