“Science is expanding our ignorance
One of the things that science does is a really curious thing. Â Every time we use science to try to answer a question, to give us some insight, invariably that insight or answer provokes two or three other new questions. Anybody who works in science knows that they’re constantly finding out new things that they don’t know. It increases their ignorance, and so in a certain sense, while science is certainly increasing knowledge, it’s actually increasing our ignorance even faster. So you could say that the chief effect of science is the expansion of ignorance.
In a curious way, Google is all about answers. So you could say that Google is increasing answers over time, but what’s interesting is that answers are becoming cheap; they’re almost free, and I think what becomes scarce in this kind of place that we’re headed to is questions, a really good question, because a really good question can unleash new questions.
In a certain sense what becomes really valuable in a world running under Google’s reign, are great questions, and that means that for a long time humans will be better at than machines.
Machines are for answers; humans are for questions.
The world that Google is constructingâ€”a world of cheap and free answersâ€”having answers is not going to be very significant or important. Having a really great question will be where all the value is.”
For entertainment I am reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. The premise of the book is that after a terrorist attack in San Francisco, the powers that be abuse technology to track everyone. The rallying cry of the book is “Don’t trust anyone under 25” So I am reading the book from the perspective of the age group that proposes the loss of some freedom is worth the price of safety.
I am also reading it from the perspective of an aging hippy who saw the sixties and seventies fade into the complacency of the eighties. I enjoy the convenience of technology. Debit cards and loyalty cards, cell phones, opening up Facebook every morning to see what my friends and family are up to.
I am of the generation that enjoys the convenience of toll passes and search engines and online banking and shopping. I give little passing notice to the changing ads on my Facebook and Google pages that reflect things I have recently shopped for. I use my debit card to buy gasoline that tells someone, somewhere, that I have been at this gas station on this day. My internet provider tracks where I go on the internet and amazon contains my wishlist of products I would like and books I wish to read. My google calendar and Facebook birthdays sync and seem to have conversations that I am not even a part of.
I am pretty transparent. Is that a bad thing?
I remember a day when the only time you got a long distance phone call was when someone died. I remember my mother writing actual letters to her mother and news would take a week to arrive. I remember my mother using the saying “You never know what goes on behind closed doors.” I remember when there was only one phone in the house and it hung on the kitchen wall. There was no privacy and you better not have phone calls from friends at meal time because that was when everyone gathered at the table and the tv stayed off until you had finished your vegetables and helped clear the dishes. There was only one tv and it was in the living room. The entire family watched it together and on Sunday nights we kids would get to have snacks in the living room and watch Walt Disney. There was no concern over shows (or commercials) being too adult.
When my kids were growing up, we had one computer and it sat in the living room. There was no privacy. Their first phones were tracphones that I bought minutes for. They were strictly for using to call me to come pick them up after band and debate trips. They had no internet or cameras. We owned a set of encyclopedias. We made trips to the public library. I recorded RugRats and Winnie the Pooh cartoons on our vcr so they could watch them over and over.
Now it seems that most of us really do live in glass houses. I have a blog, I am on Facebook, Linkdin, Pinterest, and so many other sites that it takes a spreadsheet to keep track of my passwords. Even when the family is together, we all have our phones, laptops, tablets, and any discussion or argument is rapidly solved with Google. If I want to learn how to do something, I watch a video on Youtube or TedTalks. I used to keep a list of books that I wanted to read and would almost always wait for them to come out in paperback unless I borrowed them from the library.
I remember a time when there was no such thing as a camera in the hall at school. Now it is commonplace. As a student I made sure that I never got in trouble at school (or at least did not get caught) because a call home would have been disaster. I would have been in double trouble. Once for whatever I did and again for the fact that I embarrassed the family in public. Now it seems that the only person not held responsible for behavior is the individual acting.
I tend to think of the past as static. Things were this way or that way and for a period of time and then they changed. I am no longer certain of this perception. It seems as though things have been in a state of change for years and now I question whether it has always been like that and I just did not notice the changes happening, or if things really are changing faster and faster. There seems to be no chance to just stop and catch our breath and wonder about where we are going and if the changes are positive.
Cory Doctorow’s book Little Brother, shows the dark side of what can happen when government abuses the lack of privacy that we have voluntarily embraced. I am not at the point where I would close my Facebook account and withdraw from the internet, but I am starting to wonder if we are asking the right questions. How much sharing is too much sharing? Will there be a cost and what will it be? The days of hiding one’s youthful indiscretions are gone. There is now a record of everything and often we have created ourselves with our selflies and checkins and lists of what we ate for supper. I lead a mundane life and cannot see the government being interested in what recipe I shared or the fact that I searched for the best way to construct a plot. But, if someone wanted to, they could follow my footprints. The could see that I drove to this city on this day, stopped and got gas and a snack, shopped here, ate lunch there. There are probably photos of some of it since security cameras have become commonplace.
We as a culture, never seem to slow down on the path and question what might be lurking over the next hill. Science creates ways to grow more vegetables and we end up with hormones in our food. Research figures out a way to cure a disease and the possible side effects seem worse than the original illness. Like guinea hens we run en masse after whatever newest, latest, discovery.
I witness it repeatedly on Facebook. One person will post something and before the end of the day I will see that same post spread, often without thought of accuracy. We wear our politics and religion like badges and leave our cyber trash behind us. We repeat what we read, share and “like” and comment. How many posts on Facebook every day are disrespectful of the President of the United States? What if tomorrow there was an attempt on the President’s life and the government decided to question anyone who had made negative statements? What if a non-Christian country invaded and decided to round up anyone who professed to be Christian.
I am not saying that it is wrong to speak your mind or that we should live in fear that what we say will be used against us. I am saying that we take so much for granted. The possibility does existÂ and maybe we should be making less statements and asking more questions.
If you are interested in reading Little Brother you can download it from Mr. Doctorow’s site. He sells his books but also makes them available for free in various formats.
It can be found here: http://craphound.com/littlebrother/
“Tails is a live system that aims to preserve your privacy and anonymity. It helps you to use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship almost anywhere you go and on any computer but leaving no trace unless you ask it to explicitly.
It is a complete operating system designed to be used from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card independently of the computer’s original operating system. It is Free Software and based on Debian GNU/Linux.
Tails comes with several built-in applications pre-configured with security in mind: web browser, instant messaging client, email client, office suite, image and sound editor, etc.”
To read about, download and/or use Tails – https://tails.boum.org/index.en.html
Sounds like an interesting — and timely — book, Dee. One thing I’ve noticed is that as people become more aware of the degree to which they’re watched/tracked online, the less spontaneous, more cautious they become as well; sometimes being on facebook is like attending a masked ball at the court of King Louis XIV.
It’s easy to think that these recent NSA revelations reflect a shift from a more innocent, low-surveillance time. FWIW, though, one detail I remember from Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ (which I never finished) was that LBJ’s mentor in the Senate always held key meetings face to face, and he never conveyed any significant message by phone… he assumed, even then (30s/40s) that all Senate phones were tapped and monitored.
Anyway, like I said, this sounds like an interesting book –I’m off to take a look…
The book is Young Adult and it is told from that perspective, but it makes you think. There is a sequel which I am going to hunt down today.
The great thing about technology is you can use it how you need to..it’s expanded my world no end..although i don’t like the ‘synching’ stuff..i try to ignore it and think nobody’s watching! Hope your foot is doing well – and you of course!
I tend to think I am so boring that no one would want to be watching, Jae. An interesting little tidbit, Cory Doctorow is a naturalized British citizen. The main character in the book has a mother who is from Britain and he makes a few statements in the book that abuses can be worse there than in the states. He says in the book (which is supposed to be fiction, mind you) that they can lock you up for a year in England just on suspicion or something like that. I am not planning on giving up my technology any time soon and I would miss pictures of my grandbaby and all the goings on of family and friends if I left FaceBook but it was still an interesting read. If it weren’t for the internet I would not have met you or Anne and that would be sad!