Falling in love with Skynet


One of the great themes of our “social media future” discussion was “privacy” and the ultimate stand we hope people would take to keep companies (like the mythical Skynet) from abusing personal data.  I thought a lot about this and Easter Island came to mind.

Easter Island is the one of the most remote and desolate places on Earth and is home to the mysterious moai statues.  Although just a speck of a place, centuries ago the island had two competing tribes. The ruler of each tribe would build larger and larger temples and more moai in his honor, trying to out-do the ruler on the other side of the island for glory.

Over several generations, the lush palm forests on the island began disappearing as the tribes rapidly used this extremely limited resource for temples and construction of the massive stone faces. Remember, there was literally no place to go for more wood.

Within a few generations, every single stick of wood on the island had been consumed.  Researchers think this was probably the leading cause of the collapse of the native civilization.

You might wonder, “How could they be so stupid?”  Part of the answer is in the fact that they didn’t realize they were doing it.  The children became accustomed to the idea of an island with fewer trees.  They didn’t have videos and digital photos to document what the place used to look like.  And then the next generation only knew a world with even fewer trees, and so on.

Like a lobster slowly being killed in a boiling pot of water, generation after generation became accustomed to an increasingly de-forested landscape because they didn’t know a different reality ever existed!

Could this phenomenon happen again?

Today, personal information is being served up by our nearly constant digital footprint.  Our grandparents would probably be mortified by what we post every day and the record we’re creating for permanent, global dissection. It’s just what we do.  We call it the social web and we love it.

But the heat is turning up and already we can see that the privacy pot just might boil.  Will the next generation even know, let alone care?    Today’s teens are conditioned to accept highly targeted and intrusive ads as the norm, part of the cost of the experience.  As long as a cool, free good or service outweighs the incremental intrusiveness of a privacy intervention, people will be happy to go along.  If we fast-forward 10 years, would we be horrified by the personal freedoms that have been abdicated for instant gratification?

Perhaps our children and grandchildren will be conditioned to slowly, inexorably, willingly abandon their freedom, never realizing they are in the process of being boiled.  At least until they meet John Conner.*   : )

What do you think?  Lobster anyone?

* In the Terminator movies, John Conner was the hero who battled evil Skynet, a company who unleashed human-destroying machines on the world.  Skynet is also a telecommunications company in Europe. I don’t think they are one and the same, but time will tell.

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