Technology and freedom

IMG_0165It probably goes without saying that someone motivated enough to publish a technology blog every week appreciates the sheer ingenuity, creativity, and genius made evident every day in the tech world.

I’ve integrated tech into my daily life in so many ways that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Technology in all its forms has enabled me to be more productive, more professional, better informed, and better prepared. It has enabled me to better appreciate and pursue a great many more interests—sports, music, publishing, entertainment, philosophy, and—oh yeah—right versus wrong.

When you look at the astronomical success of technology companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Samsung, and others, it’s clear that a great many people appreciate many of the same benefits that I do.

As I get older, the 4th of July—our Independence Day—comes up quickly, and just as quickly it is in the rear-view mirror. Nevertheless, it’s a particularly good time to consider the state of our freedom, and because this is a technology blog after all, whether technology is a liberating force or a tool for tyranny.

Technology benefits are many

Across the technology landscape, we see examples of products and services that have improved the quality of such things as medical care, education, health and well-being—life in general.tech_benefits

There is an inevitability to technological advancement and the adoption of tech into more facets of our everyday lives.

We use technology to work and play, to save time and kill time, to communicate, to learn, to explore, and to improve ourselves.

Through the Internet, virtually all that mankind has learned is available to us.

Through robotic technology, incredibly complicated surgeries are possible, while being much less invasive.

Electrically-driven cars and other vehicles are reducing greenhouse emissions and pollutants.

The list goes on.

Warning signs

But all is not sweetness and light when it comes to technology. Each day we hear of another way in which it is used in ways that seem unethical, if not downright unconstitutional.nsa-logo-6-6-13

The NSA tracks not only the digital communications of suspected terrorists, but those of law-abiding citizens, as well.

Data brokers collect, buy, and sell personally identifiable information of millions of consumers home and abroad.

Facebook reportedly used us as guinea pigs for psychological experiments.

Remember 1984?

When George Orwell wrote his cautionary novel, 1984, he imagined a world in which government used technological and other means to repress its people. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to find parallels in today’s world.Big-brother

What are some of the themes of 1984? Lack of privacy. Control of the communication infrastructure. Loss of freedom. Fascism.

Certainly in small ways, and sometimes in important ways, one can find examples of technology being used in Orwellian fashion.

The loss of our privacy has been perhaps the most overt example of Orwell’s vision.

Combine the NSA’s wholesale collection of digital communications of Americans with Big Data mining, Google’s data gathering, and Facebook’s abuses of user data, and it’s hard to imagine that we really have any privacy anymore.

It has become the price we pay for having our always-connected lifestyles. Only time will tell if it becomes too dear a price.

Whither freedom?

freedom-is-not-freeIt’s fair to say that the freedoms that our founders declared as inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence have been diminished in small increments over time. How has technology factored in?

In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act, and George W. Bush signed it into law. The Patriot Act gave the government sweeping powers to surveil, incarcerate without charges, access private information without warrants, and prosecute individuals for shining light on government activities.

In many ways, technology has enabled government agencies to conduct the sweeping surveillance and information access it was allowed through the Patriot Act. Communications technology locates the data, which is then routed to server farms for storage, decryption, and later analysis using powerful computers and intricate algorithms.communication-tech

The Patriot Act was based upon a noble premise—to combat terrorism and protect the homeland. But it is also, arguably, the poster child for Orwell’s 1984 scenario.

Do we tread more lightly now, knowing that possibly everything we say, everything we do, everyone we associate with, and websites we browse to are all possibly being scrutinized?

Even if we have to think twice, is that not a form of oppression, a subtle loss of individualism, and therefore a loss of freedom?

As we enjoy our barbecues, and time with our families, it is ever more important to remain vigilant and cognizant of our fragile, but nonetheless precious, freedoms.

Happy Independence Day!

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