Shaping the Future

A fascinating glimpse over on Charlie’s Diary of how new technologies will change the lives of our descendants more profoundly than advances like the Internet changed ours. Choice excerpts, with pithy commentary, follow.

You know something? Keeping track of those quaint old laws about personal privacy is going to be really important. Because in countries with no explicit right to privacy — I believe the US constitution is mostly silent on the subject — we’re going to end up blurring the boundary between our Second Lives and the first life, the one we live from moment to moment. We’re time-binding animals and nothing binds time tighter than a cradle to grave recording of our every moment.

The thrust of Charlie’s essay is that the quaint old notion of privacy will face its gravest challenge not by totalitarian governments and corporations, but by a slow, inevitable cultural shift that is taking place. What child living in MySpace America truly believes that their lives are wholly their own, or ought not be shared in all their gory details?

As a side note, the phrase “binding time” is very expressive. I would even go so far as to call it “clinging desperately to time as it slips through our fingers”.

Total history — a term I’d like to coin, by analogy to total war — is something we haven’t experienced yet. I’m really not sure what its implications are, but then, I’m one of the odd primitive shadows just visible at one edge of the archive

Oddly, although few of us anticipate “total history” to the degree that Charlie implies, I would venture that many of the Baby Boomers’ children have the sense that we are shadows on the edge of some great change. Maybe it comes of having lived through the great transformations wrought by the advent of the Internet, of seeing a vast cultural shift pull the rug out from under our parents’ worldviews. We don’t know what’s coming, but we know it will make us obsolete.

One of the biggest risks we face is that of sleep-walking into a police state, simply by mistaking the ability to monitor everyone for even minute legal infractions for the imperative to do so.

This, I think, is the most crucial message in the essay for those of us working in any corner of the technology industry. Please, please, please remember to ask “but should we?” at every turn.