It was Henry David Thoreau wrote in The Duty of Civil Obedience: “That government is best which governs least.”
This quote is very popular among people on the right in this country. But I don’t think that they understand what Thoreau meant: He did not mean that governments should for instance do away with laws protecting environment so that big corporations could make more money, which is how this quote is mostly used these days in United States. He was talking about the “duty of civil disobedience”, not about the duty to let multinational corporations make a killing even if it means that our environment will become even more toxic, or about the duty to bail out megabanks when their fraudulent schemes no longer work because they already stole all the money, instead of investigating Wall Street.
In this respect, we certainly do have the government that governs the least. Hundreds of bankers went to jail during the so called Savings and Loan scandal more than 20 years ago when we still had a government that still sort of worked, but not one Wall Street banker has been even prosecuted to date for rampant fraud on a much greater scale. But that is not really the subject of my post today.
My topic today is spying. When my kids were small, I used to spy on them, like most parents do. I would look at their “browsing history” on their computers, although not nearly as often as much as their mother wanted me to do that. By the time they were about 13, they figured it out and their computers were password-protected because kids insist on privacy. Discovering your right to privacy is a part of becoming a full-fledged human being.
Or perhaps it used to be. Because when people can make money by selling information about us to other people who want to sell us something, the quaint concept of privacy goes out the window.
When I read a blog or a newspaper online, advertisements in loud colors keep jumping at me and there is no way to turn them off. I found it so disgusting that the company that sold me two ink cartridges for my printers last month keeps making me look at me their stupid ads wherever I am on the Internet that next time I will just buy the cartridges at Office Depot in person. I won’t need any cartridges for about 4 months now anyway, but when I do, I will definitely not buy them from the same creeps on the Internet who keep harassing me with their stupid ads.
Inspired by Thoreau I have also adopted other forms of cyber civil disobedience. I still use Google because it is the best search engine for queries having to do with my work, but when I research anything with a personal connection to me, I try to use other search engines, mostly Bing. Bing doesn’t know that much about me. Yet. Google knows so much about me that I don’t want to feed it any more personal information. I think they’d better get ready at Google for backlash from users like me who don’t like it when every click they make is being registered, stored, and sold.
I pretty much stopped using Gmail for the same reason. Fortunately, I have not been using it much as I have other e-mails that I have been using for many years, so I will continue using those. And I will not use Chrome either.
Of course, it is not just Google who is spying on us these days. When you read New York Times online, they spy on you too, and after you have read 20 articles per month, they try to make you cough up some dough. They will only let you read more articles if you purchase “a digital subscription”. So this is how New York Times plans to survive the age of Internet. Except, I don’t think that they thought it through because you can easily read the 2 remaining articles in the month (if that many are still worth reading in that paper) by switching to a different computer, or a different browser, or a tablet. So all it really meant for me was that I started using Internet Explorer instead of Firefox for reading New York Times from about the fourth week of each month. And if New York Times still keeps bugging me with their spying software, I will just stop reading it altogether.
My cell phone provider is spying on me too, of course. It can follow my every move because I have iPhone. But I don’t really use the cell phone as much as young people do these days so I don’t worry about it that much.
And my government is spying on me too, of course, and so is yours on you in these post-legal times. Except we don’t know exactly how they do it. Yet.
And to think that not so long ago most people would be spied on just by a nosy neighbor, if at all.