Caseythoughts During my radio days, I would utilize an hour about once a month inviting a couple of friends into the studio to talk about the future of computing and technology. I called it Technophobia, not without reason. This was, mainly, prior to the advent of so-called social media (FaceBook was a distant idea, etc.), the internet of things was a sci-utopia-fantasy, autonomous cars were a dreamer's Detroit realm, and all the "stuff" that now seems commonplace or "just around the corner" was only just being yakked about. Or so we thought. My guests even introduced me to the word "ubiquitous computing" which set off my remaining alarm bells regarding my fear of coming dystopia. Isaac Asimov was beginning to look a bit dated and quaint.

During one of those sessions, my guests proposed a question that seems to persist in its relevance: "Would you rather be totally safe or totally free?"

Of course, in its raw formation, the phrase proposes two extremes that are unlikely, at least in this life. We could "be" neither in totality. But, breaking the thought/question down, logically, it then proposes the following: the two extremes are actually a continuum, and we place ourselves and our desires somewhere between the two extremes. We can be relatively safe, within the strictures of law and social mores, or reasonably free, in a libertarian sense, assuming a human propensity for self-regulation at the individual and social level.

These are moving targets, of course, as we look both backwards and forwards in recent human and even our own individual history: What did, or will, we give up to be 'safe'? What did or will we sacrifice to be 'free'? (And, these definitions deserve another look by someone far more adept at philosophy and lexicography than I...). So, whither are we as humans, Americans, individuals, when we are confronted by the following news stories in the past few days (Presented for your consideration):

  • a) The Hawaii missile story, complete with panicking people (phones in hand), parents putting children in storm sewers for protection, apologies and promises to investigate how one person could just push a button (I see the computer screen now: "Are you sure you want to initiate a state-wide panic with this option?", in red letters...) and bring out all of our Cold War (and to be honest, Pan-Trumpian) fears.
  • b) A story on NPR about an FBI investigation of a gentleman who for the past 14 years (yes, 14 years) has been able to hack into hundreds (not millions) of PCs and Macs (yes, I said Macs) and turn on the mikes and cameras without the owners' knowledge. It was called "Fruit Fly virus" due to the original hack of a research lab's computers which then blossomed into one man's fourteen year hack of screen mounted cameras and mikes in many home computers.
  • c) There is now a story around about Twitter employees routinely opening members' tweets just to read them, titter about or just gossip around the water cooler (or its Silicon Valley equivalent, I guess).
  • d) Of course, these stories pale to the stories that Facebook, if left "on", on your computer, could be listening, with the story that even Mark Zuckerberg's, and the Pope's laptops have the microphone taped over.
  • e)Eric Snowden's release of the information that the NSA has been intercepting and cataloging gazillions of phone calls in the U.S. (I did temporary duty and was trained by the NSA in cryptanalytic issues, so I know this is possible and probable) and keeping records on disc, I guess, for whatever reasons, in a vault of inexhaustible proportions, somewhere in Utah (Is Utah the newest 'cloud'?).
I cite these as continuing stories which seem to prove not only my former radio guests' prognostications and predictions (boy, were they spot on so often) but also to prove my rationale for technophobia. Maybe the paranoid was right: "See, I TOLD you they were watching me..."

I have studiously avoided as much technology as I can get away with. I was given a Verizon/LG flip phone (Beam me up, Scottie) and pay one hundred dollars (plus sales and 'use' tax, thanks Cuomo) to purchase seven hours of talk time, to get calls for temporary work gigs, etc. I communicate by email from the Library (how quaint, says my daughter), send my column one paragraph at a typed time to the Lansing Star (thanks, Dan), and keep up on my church news. I do not own a PC, do not own a television. My 2004 Honda was purchased specifically for its 'crank' windows and non-power locks. I still listen to AM radio (to wonder, speculate and laugh at the latest conspiracies) and am fascinated with two recent factoids: Norway has eliminated FM radio as a source of emergency information (AM radio and social media will do, thank you) and the interesting and still unfolding phenomena of millenials dropping out of the FM radio music market; Spotify, Itunes, etc. are moving like gang busters and FM will never know what hit it financially, much like print newspapers were blindsided in the early part of the 21st century by online advertising.

Speaking of newspapers, I still enjoy a copy of the Financial Times, or Wall Street Journal, holding and folding it at a table at Wegman's with a cup of coffee. One person at Wegman's looked at my copy of the Financial Times salmon color and walked up and asked me "How old is that newspaper?" Books? Yep, an apartment full of them, wall to wall; occasionally giving in to an audio book, such as my current "read" on CD, Alan Greenspan's "Time of Turbulence". No streaming service, no iPhone, no television, no PC. Totally 20th century, huh?

Am I fearful of something? Well, yes, you might say that I am. I think the freedom and safety issues are being sacrificed by the world that surrounds me. The freedom not to be fenced in by "what's trending" or "what's hot" (Yes, I know, I can choose to do that anyway, but I am susceptible, as you are, to un-quantified peer pressure in some ways...). Who thinks what, and why I should think that/their way. All at light speed. My safety is threatened by the possibility that many many people (not to mention this 'artificial intelligence', which seems to have gained a life of its own this past year) seem to have taken much control, in an age that seems out of control. Whether it is a false incoming ICBM alert (never mind the more worrisome question: what the hell am I possibly going to DO about it...that's where the government inquiries SHOULD be). Perhaps what many on both political sides seem to deem 'fake news' bothers me, too. Are we really so susceptible to not questioning the sources of our information? Can SNOPES even keep up? Recently I was curious about a photo of a general with ribbons I was unable to identify. Being an aficionado of military heraldry, I Googled (a verb, I see) medals and ribbons, found the ribbons I was curious about, and two days later was inundated in my email account with advertisements on military memorabilia littering the margins of my email box. (Sigh).

If I'm so averse to the invasive-ness of our present technology (My God, what DON'T they know about many of my acquaintances who would deny their potential addiction to their phones and internet?) then what happens as we continue to make 'progress' and find that even the most mundane business and possibly even personal decisions (dating online?) are made by algorithms that even their creators cannot and have not been able to explain the outcomes? It seems that we are living on one side of an enormous black box, and we watch information (our information) go into an ill-defined hole in the box and then run around (if indeed we still maintain our human curiosity and attention span) to see what comes out of the other side of this mysterious black box. And we become less curious, less questioning, and less in control, every day.

Of course, I must be honest here. Neither my curiosity nor my aversion have given me more freedom or more safety, that I can perceive. Perhaps I feel even more helpless (boxed in?) watching this, and my propensity to see dystopia in practically all my surroundings (You would slap your forehead if you knew what movies I adore...or is that my 'likes'?). The temp service I work for continues to text me and I continue to ignore them: I have never answered or acknowledged a text, and Verizon says I cannot turn it off. They roll their eyes laughingly, when I tell them they can text me until the cows come home. Call me, and interact the way we humans used to.

Maybe when the cows come home this will all turn out well and maybe I will be declared, old, decrepit and potentially paranoid. Maybe someday I will be able to point my wizened old eyes and crooked finger at you and say "I told you so". But, there is a bit of good news for you as I continue to look for the cows coming over the horizon: You will never receive an email from me with the Subject Line: "Cute Kitten Photos", or "OMG, what were they thinking???"