Fear and TremblingPosted: October 3, 2008 | |
About six years ago I brought a cell phone into my life. It was a quiet, innocent, and totally innocuous little cell phone that brought me quiet joy. I could call my clients and my clients could call me. If I was going to be late, I could call my wife. Best of all, when my wife had to go to the East Coast, I never missed her call. I so loved my little cell phone. I still have it. I have gone through several others in the last five years, but I hung onto the original for sentimental reasons.
I had this friend, a Libertarian CAW member, who gave me hell over my innocent little cell phone. The fact that I had a cell phone became a target of obsession with this guy. I was a self-employed salesman at the time. I was working 24/7, but that did not stop his obsession. He was looking for work, and I was letting him use my computer to job hunt. Every time he came to the house, he would drive me nuts about my cell. First it was a leash. When he realized that argument did not impress me and that I was deliberately carrying it for business purposes, he changed tactics.
The next argument was that the government could track me with my cell phone. Of course I replied that I hoped they could. He was talking about the GPS feature which allows 911 operators to locate me in case of accident. I told him that I sincerely hoped that the government could track me with my cell phone. I would hate to pay for something that didn’t work. Boy that took the wind out of his sails. You should have seen the look of amazement on his face when I said that. However, he was nothing if not determined. His next argument threw me for a loop.
“Did you know that the government is listening to each and every cell phone call?” he asked. “You have no privacy. They know everything you are doing!” Have you ever been struck dumb by the stupid statements some people make? That was where I was. My mouth fell open so wide that flies could have used it for a hanger. The pressure built up in my head to the point where I could not stand it anymore and I began banging my forehead against the wall. “Do you have any idea how many cell phones there are in the United States?” I asked him.
“Too many,” he answered.
“Millions,” I replied. “There are millions of people with millions of cell phones making millions of cell phone calls every day. Even if every single one of those calls are recorded and filtered through pattern recognition and word recognition programs, even the calls that are filtered are too many to be listened to by human beings.”
My ex-friend’s response was that I did not understand technology. Here I was, building my own computer and creating my own websites, and he was telling me that I did not understand technology. Here was a man who could not even use a computer without help, telling me about technology. It was amazing. To him technology was magic. It was something out of James Bond. He knew perfectly well that most computers used by the government and the military are obsolete, and that the cost of bringing the Fed up to date would be astronomical. He was a retired military officer, but he still had a child-like awe of the government and acted as if the government could do anything.
This brings to mind the scene in 1984 when Winston Smith was caught cheating on his exercises by the television lens in his living room. It was the first time in 25 years anybody had spied on him, but the very thought that it was possible was enough to scare the bejesus out of the poor guy. Fear seems to be a more effective form of social control than actual spying. Never mind that the claims of government spying is highly over rated. The government would have to hire about a quarter of the population to keep the other 75% under surveillance. The more high tech cameras and microphones and other Bondian gadgets that pops up, the more personnel that will be needed to monitor the spyware.
Of course, imaginary fears always overwhelm reasonable concern. Not only do we have to contend with illegal government wiretapping, but we have a crowd of people screaming about technology that promises the impossible. People who see conspiracies in everything from Sept. 11th to improvements in camera technology certainly blur the line between the possible and the impossible. How can we deal with what is really happening with a bunch of loonies afraid that the government is spying on them through traffic cameras? It boggles the mind. People accusing the government of doing the impossible drown out the voices of people who have legitimate concerns. So the Bush Administration goes about its merry way without concern. They have all these conspiracy rumors for a smoke screen. Were I Bush, I’d be spreading these rumors myself.