Michael Mordarski: The dangers of technology

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 - 6:00pm

In my participation in the never-ending American consumer competition of material acquisition, I recently purchased a fitness-tracking smartwatch that not only monitors my semi-decent heart rate, but also tracks and maps my outdoor workouts through GPS technology. I enthusiastically wear, use and check this watch with nearly every activity I’m doing.

And as I write this very article with said digital monitor fixated to my right wrist, I continue to willingly submit myself to the ever-present surveillance technology that continues to grow within our lives. Technology that destroys the concepts of privacy and solitude in the name of comfort and security. For I willingly wear a watch that knows where I go, is connected to a phone that knows what I say and uploads my data to a laptop that knows who I am.

A recent article in Fortune highlighted the consequences associated with the blind, enthusiastic use of technology. The article detailed a speech given by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on how modern tech companies should understand and avoid the development of creations with serious society-altering side effects: “Technology could be used to create an endless wave of distractions for the public, leading to people living ‘without meaning or purpose.’” New societies in which glowing screens could be “used to control and dictate” the masses would become reality.

This obligation of the immensely wealthy tech companies to ensure the input of morality into development is truly impossible. The advancement of technology by profitable businesses only spurs the creation of more products such as the smartwatch or virtual reality headsets. We as a species have already entered into a world of almost total reliance on ever-present and intelligent digital technology — which has also invaded our most precious forms of privacy.

Yet no government forced such products upon us. No authority dictated the necessity of home security cameras linked to our iPhones, or smartwatches which track our every move. We have done so willingly. We ourselves are guilty for allowing the invasions from surveillance, not through force or coercion, but subtle enticement with the seemingly endless gratifications offered from an ever-present technology.

Smartphones can predict our decisions, watches track our heart rates and fitness patterns; multiple computers, laptops and tablets flatter us by knowing our shopping habits, TV shows and favorite websites — all of it willingly embraced by us who knowingly expose ourselves to such invasive surveillance.

Bernard Harcourt, a law professor at Columbia University, detailed this submission in his book “Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age”: “In our digital frenzy to share snapshots and updates, to text and videochat with friends and lovers, to ‘quantify’ ourselves, we are exposing ourselves—rendering ourselves virtually transparent to anyone with rudimentary technological capabilities.”

And these advantages are all completely superficial, temporary, and more importantly, the sheer magnitude of the costs of such actions are not readily understood. For, as Harcourt writes, we now live in “a new virtual transparence that is dramatically reconfiguring relations of power throughout society, that is redrawing our social landscape and political possibilities, that is producing a dramatically new circulation of power in society.”

Our willing exposure has created this circulation of power, a circulation that places capitalist telecommunications companies and powerful governments at the top, while further enticing the American people into believing fitness trackers are worth the total surveillance.

And what exactly are the costs to our privacy? What is the point of ensuring the protection of such rights?

The values of solitude and privacy allow for individuals to be able to escape the observation of others, to both understand the most personal and private of emotions and to experiment with and ponder new ideas. There is a paramount importance to protecting these abilities for they allow for new forms of human expression to able to be created free and untainted from the influence of capitalist marketing and the oppressive security apparatuses of intrusive governments.

And the power to think for one’s own self is central to the progression of society. Privacy allows for individuals to be able to silently challenge the ideas of rulers, kings and masters. The comfortable and secure solitude that forces the mind to ponder the status quo allows for the growth of progressive ideas. Freedom, liberty, democracy, destiny — all concepts developed and grown by human beings having the ability to challenge their rulers free from surveillance or observation, an unobservable position.

The modern American state now has the ability to undermine such freedoms that is sought in secure silence. The ever-present technologies now invade these once private realms. It does not take a creative mind to imagine how history would have been altered if oppressive leaders in the past had the surveilling capabilities of the present. The Civil Rights movement, workers’ rights and the women’s movement — all would have been monitored, observed and likely repressed.

Therefore, the necessity for privacy, for individuals to challenge the status quo, is paramount. With the current political climate within the United States, multiple injustices require progressive challenges and independent thinking toward the status quo. Issues such as income inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia and many more all require free thought and experimentation that cannot be undermined by an oppressive government.

And despite these strong opinions I have toward the dangers of technologies and the necessity of privacy, I never took my smartwatch off my wrist while writing this article, I checked my Twitter three or four times and I sent this piece to my editor over an email server that I am more than confident the NSA has taken a glimpse at.

I love my new watch.