You Are Being Watched


In an earlier blog, I wrote about the impact of social media and smartphones on children, but it also has a deeper impact on us all. Indeed, it could mark the beginning of the  “Age of Transparency”. Everything we do, say or think can now be tracked. I include thinking, because any thought you have often leads to you quickly checking it on your smart phone. All of this is recorded somewhere. On top of that, we know from spy agency revelations that our cameras on our phones, computers and TVs can be accessed and so we can be watched at home [1]. We know that our smartphone microphone can be remotely accessed. Any websites we visit, most our purchases and what we are reading (e-books) are all tracked.

Think about it. All the investigations into banks, newspapers and politicians have used people’s emails, chat comments and phone calls to prove criminal activity. In the UK, the phone hacking scandal that engulfed several media companies revealed text message communications between the former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Rebecca Brooks. The Arab Spring is popularly associated with a market stall owner setting himself on fire as a trigger, but what was as important was the release of US diplomatic cables on Tunisia being released on Wikileaks, which revealed the level of corruption in the Tunisian government of the time.

It may seem like “Der Lieben Der Anderen” , The Lives of Other, the excellent German movie about Stasi Germany where everyone was being spied on. But I think it is more profound than that. Many religious traditions talk about how all your actions, thoughts and words are monitored by God and on Judgment day all your actions will be weighed up. You will then either be sent to Heaven or Hell. Well, paradoxically when many have stopped believing in religion, just such as world system has emerged, where everything is recorded. Imagine that. In past religious periods, guilt prevented people from doing sinful activities in private. Later, we thought we didn’t need to worry anymore or suffer from guilt as we were free from the superstitions of religions. But now in the era of transparency we have to worry about our activities being leaked – so technological deities have re-introduced guilt.

So how to cope with the re-emergence of an “all-seeing being”? Well, we can take a cue from religions: accept we are not perfect (only God is), so don’t pretend to be. It may work in the short-run, but in the long run, we will be found out. Stay humble, because if you act in an arrogant way, God will punish you. Most religions at their core teach us to act in a non-judgmental way, be self-aware, embrace tribulations as opportunity for growth, speak well of others, do small deeds of kindness, do charity, and ask for forgiveness. Paradoxically, old wisdom may help us most in a hyper-digitalised world.

[1] “Optic Nerve: millions of Yahoo webcam images intercepted by GCHQ”, Guardian, 28 February, 2014


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