One of the reasons why Humanities and Social sciences are important is because they are the only tools humanity has in order to reflect on social issues, and look at them critically. Most of us condemn Trump’s tweets, but most of us don’t reflect for a moment about social media and the new age of Data. The promises blind us to the dangers. While some of us can see those, my fear is that we couldn’t do anything about them, because of the way our society is structured.
Soon we won’t have to worry about most of the troubles we face today. Most of our choices will be done automatically. The alarm clock will be synchronized with our schedule, and it will wake us up using our biological clock, so we won’t have to get up tired at all. An hour before we will wake up in the cold winter, the house will warm itself, so by the time we go out of bed, we won’t feel the cold. The coffee will be ready by the time we got out of the shower. It will be with the right amount of sugar because the coffee machine will “speak” to our smart-phone, that will speak with the chip we have, that monitor our sugar rate in the blood.
Some people might look at this utopian dream and feel excited. We now have IoT (Internet of Things), Connected Cars, autonomous cars, the Physical web with beacons and so on that will make this utopia into reality. Those technologies are being developed around the clock with tremendous zeal as we speak. Someone said to me “Google is taking over the world, I think that is a good thing”. I tend to disagree with him. While the automatic breakfast sounds appealing for most of us, it will come with a cost.
This cost won’t be forced on us explicitly. It won’t happen in a violent way with a gun pointed at our skulls. It will be in the disguise of a choice. “It’s OK not to put the dongle in your car sir, but if you won’t put it, we can’t sell you the insurance”. Today in most countries it is illegal to drive without at least a minimum coverage in case of a third party injury. In gangster movies, they might say “Let’s do business”, but we all know that they don’t ask, they demand.
We might struggle to keep our privacy, but it will be in vain. I heard this sentence a few times “if you care about your privacy, don’t upload anything to the web, or to your computer, want photos? Make a hard copy in an album”. Is this an option for us? To abandon everything? If we think about the email, can we handle online activities without one? Will we start sending letters written by hand again?
Today, diabetes patients can use a chip to help them monitor their sugar rates. That chip is attached to their skin, and in a fixed time it checks their sugar rates. It is connected to their mobile phone, so they can get notifications if their sugar rate is too high or too low. It helps them a lot. Now think about the new trend in medicine. Instead of reactionary treatment, there is a shift towards preventive treatment. It means that instead of fixing a problem, it’s better to prevent it from happening altogether.
What will happen when national health cares and private companies will see that they can use this chip for other uses in order to prevent medical problems? And that will save them tons money? They might force us to put this chip under our skin. They will say that it’s for our own good but will make it impossible to refuse. They will say that we can decline if we are worried about our privacy issues, but by doing so we will lose our right to health care insurance. Most people won’t be able to pay the high costs in case of a big and unexpected problem, so they will reluctantly comply.
Foucault talks about discipline and punishment within our society. We are not as free as we tend to think. A lot of the “social technology” we have is developed in order to monitor and discipline us. Look at our schools and Jails. The fence around the school is not only to keep stranger out, but it is also in order to keep the children in. Both Jail and school has a yard that can be seen from afar. In both the time is predetermined, so the kids go to the yard at the exact same time (so are the prisoners). They both suffer sanctions if they are late or don’t follow their duties. They both have uniforms and so on. I’m not saying that Schools are bad, But I do say that Jails, schools, hospitals, workplaces are all using the same social technologies in order to put us in our place and force us to conform, be it for the good or the bad. We can claim that we live in a free society, the truth is far from it. We cannot see what we want, we cannot stroll the streets aimlessly. We can’t just ride the same train over and over again, just for fun. Because eventually, someone will approach us and ask “can I help you?” (meaning what are you doing). We cannot go to our head of state and see him work, though he works for US. The way our screens are being monitored at work is like the assembly line, that the shift manager is in a position that he or she can monitor all the workers and catch those who are slacking.
The notion that we are not responsible and need to be guided by some external factors, and needed to be disciplined and controlled is not new at all. That is why we have rules, leaders, and social structures. We can’t be sure that without sanctions people will keep their word. The best picture of the lack of leadership and rule is the natural state of humankind which was depicted by Thomas Hobbes in his book “Leviathan”. There he share with us a world without sovereignty or rules:
“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
We could see in the next post when I will talk about the “The abolition of man”, social media and the connection to “free will”.