Charles Stross, author of Acclerando and Glasshouse, has posted an interesting article on what he sees as the direction of the future. He notes the continuing acceleration of developments in memory storage and bandwidth, and takes a flyer from this to the idea of completely recording every single moment of your life. Now while such a thing may be technically achievable (and he presents a good case that it not only could be done, but done quite cheaply for every single human on the planet), the question I have is would people really want to do this?
Now everyone has some memorable moment(s) in their lives that they’d like to preserve – usually what are considered ‘life markers’, the weddings, graduations, births, etc. And there is some usage for this concept as a memory aid, especially for those suffering from (or who might be prone to) Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive problems. But record everything? Other than a few extreme exhibitionists, I don’t think so. Because once recorded, it’s subject to being viewed by others, and some of those others probably don’t have your best interests at heart: the police looking for whatever crimes you may have committed (and everyone has committed some crime in their lives, even if it’s as pedestrian as jay-walking), crooks looking for ways to relieve you of your wealth, or your spouse looking for lapses in your fidelity. As Stross notes, having this capability would mean the effective end to any privacy, given that to make it happen, recording devices would need to be everywhere.
What’s frightening about this is that the beginnings of this can be seen right here and now. Almost every store you enter has surveillance cameras, more and more stop lights are being equipped with picture-taking cameras, RFID tags are being embedding in more and more products, the mobile phone cameras that everyone seems to possess nowadays, GPS trackers in cars, every key stroke and mouse click you perform on the web can already be recorded (along with complete monitoring of your PC actions at your workplace), and it’s been possible to marry up medical, financial, purchase history, web browsing, and school records to get a pretty complete profile of someone for some time. As one of the commenters to Stross’ article indicated, the US Constitution is silent on the right to privacy – the Supreme Court has often held in its rulings that there is an implied right, but such is not spelled out in the master document. With the future barreling down upon us, and what privacy we have being nibbled away by more and more gadgets, perhaps we need to start lobbying for a constitutional amendment to make this right explicit. Unless you really want everything you do visible to the whole wide world.