Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

When All Else Fails We Turn to Art

-- By AlinaDvorovenko - 12 Mar 2021

Imagination is the Preview of Life's Coming Attractions

I keep coming back to the idea that “freedom begins with the understanding that another future is possible.” To me, it stands for the importance of having a more educated and more knowledgeable society. Because those who cannot even envision a different kind of life due to their inexperience, ignorance, or confusion, certainly cannot begin to formulate an understanding that such life could be their future. They are held prisoners to their reality, however good or bad, with their ignorance standing guard.

But before we can begin to learn and to understand, I think that we must start with simply imagining - letting our imagination run wild and conjure up all sorts of new realities that could replace the one we live in today. For me, the path to the imagination of futures, or even worlds, that are not my own has always been found in reading. Books let you transform into any sentient being, transport you through space and time, and let you take on mental states and points of view that you have never previously even had a reason to think about. Moreover, they wield the power to make people rethink their reality and to convince them of the imminent likelihood of such things as zombie apocalypses and contact with parallel universes. And I think that it is books that we should turn to now for help.

The Blueprint

Of course exploring this subject in books is far from groundbreaking. There are myriad novels about the future, depicting the wonders and horrors that technological advancements can bring. And similarly, there are plenty of novels revealing the terror of totalitarian governments and hyper-surveilled societies. By the looks of it then, we, as a society, should know exactly where all our encroachments on freedom and privacy could lead, and what it is that we should be afraid of.

In my opinion, the problem is that these literary works are not sparking our imagination about the kind of world that we could have without the encroachments of public and private sector technology on our privacy. Perhaps in tandem with reading to stimulate fear we also need to read to inspire hope – we need to imagine societies that reap all of the benefits of the technology and the Internet without paying the price of constant surveillance.

Importantly, I believe that we cannot hope to learn from history. Examples from our past, even as recent as United States prior to 9/11, will not work because our world has changed far too much since that time. I do not think that we can inspire with a reversion to the “simpler” older times. What we need instead are stories about our world in the future, about a society going along the trajectory of our current advancement and development today, but with the added twist of freedom from surveillance and greater privacy protections. Perhaps it needs to be a story of our current world overcoming the system of surveillance capitalism and surveillance policing to establish a new “utopian” society.

The beauty of science fiction is that it does not have to play by anyone else’s rules. We can invent technologies and make up laws to make this utopian story fit our needs. It just has to be realistic enough and smart enough to make people think. We have to knit a story compelling and destabilizing enough take hold of people’s minds, and uncomfortable enough to make it haunt them for months or even for years. Lastly, we have to leave enough to the imagination to ensure that people’s minds spark up to fill in the blanks.

I think that children’s stories are particularly important for our cause, because they can reveal to a generation born into our current world of surveillance and social media worship that it does not have to always be this way. This idea, combined with the incredible force of a child’s imagination will flare up and light the way for our revolution.

We Start by Writing

Once people start reading and start imagining, they will start asking questions. We, as a society, need to make sure that education can swoop in at that moment and help them arrive at the answers they seek. We need better technology education, better privacy and security education, and better awareness of surveillance. But first, we need to nudge people into imagining. So where we should start, I think, is with the writing, harnessing the power of speech and expression that is paid tribute to by the First Amendment. We have to write before the freedom of reading without the vigilant gaze of Big Brother is taken away from us. Because we already know what happens to a culture where books are no longer read - Ray Bradbury has helped us imagine that in 1953.

I think this is a valuable experiment. I don't think it can be improved within its own borders. It needs to be carried out, in a book for children, for example. I hope that happens.

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r2 - 03 Apr 2021 - 18:59:42 - EbenMoglen
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