Is it Safe? “Shiny Things” Turning Science Fiction into Science Fact

By Jennifer Allen

“There will come a time when it isn't 'They're spying on me through my phone' anymore. Eventually, it will be 'My phone is spying on me'."
~ Philip K. Dick

So, besides all the news coming out about rich men finally getting their comeuppance for being chauvinistic jerks to other people for years and years, we're also hearing more and more about large corporations being hacked and the personal information of their customers being exploited.

A few science fiction tales have tackled a world where people's reliance on technology ultimately ends with bad results either for certain individuals, social groups, or humanity in general. The most famous of these is probably either George Orwell's 1984 or Isaac Asimov's I, Robot but just about any dystopian story has this similar theme. More recent examples in film would be The Matrix or the recently released Ready Player One.

In many cases, humanity willingly gives up certain freedoms in order to use this shiny new device. This is often because the real world has become so bad that it's the only way to escape. Sometimes the device is a drug. Sometimes it's a form of reality altering technology. Other times it's using artificial intelligence (usually clones, synthetic human/robot hybrids, or droids) to substitute a profession that humans no longer want.

In all of these stories, that shiny thing turns out to not be what everyone thought. The slaves rebel. The drug has nasty side effects. The alternate reality becomes so addictive that the real world is completely forgotten. It's been done so many times with various time periods and enticing “shiny things" that you would think most people in the real world would not be tantalized by something so obvious.

And yet here we are in 2018. We're in a world where we are stuck staring at small little pieces of metal, plastic and glass just so we can see what someone else has posted within the other infinite strings of the information superhighway. We stare at computer screens and TV screens binge watching programs for endless hours. We wait on pins and needles for someone to post on Twitter or Facebook. It doesn't even matter if that post is earth shatteringly good or bad. It will be shared. It will be seen. It will be known.

When Facebook initially came out I thought it would be a great way to keep up to date with not only family and friends but also with celebrities who could post about events and so forth. Twitter was the same way, but with less characters to work with. In both cases, many were sucked into this idea of having a voice in a world where previously they had none. Finally one person in a sea of many could type out (and later video) whatever they had on their minds, and others could see it and react.

They did start out that way, but then I watched as more and more posts were not so much about catching up as it became about either posting stupid meme pictures or degrading anyone else who had an opinion about well… anything. I also saw that people (including myself at one point) would rather take 5-10 minutes of each hour at work just to sneak a look at their social media feed.

After noticing all of this, I posted on Facebook less and less, and eventually after a really bad bit of drama hit my own feed, I decided to become absent altogether from it. About a year after that I deleted my account and have not looked back.

“I never thought it would get this bad. I never thought the Reestablishment would take things so far. They're incinerating culture, the beauty of diversity. The new citizens of our world will be reduced to nothing but numbers, easily interchangeable, easily removable, easily destroyed for disobedience. We have lost our humanity."
~ Tahereh Mafi

Then recently the world was in utter shock as a major security breach hit with people's personal information from Facebook grabbed by Cambridge Analytica. It started with a simple personality test app that people willingly volunteered to take. These people were tempted by offering them a small amount of money (always a temping “shiny thing") as a reward for taking it and used their Facebook info as part of their login. It grabbed not only these people's data but also their friends' data. Using that algorithm could make that data spread like a disease through just about every account in existence. Now millions of people across the globe have had their lives hacked just so this firm could use their data to change what you see each time you logged into Facebook.

We've finally hit that point in our existence where the creators of all those Science Fiction stories have warned us not to tread. This “shiny thing" has toyed with our own human sense of right and wrong. Our ability to choose has been exploited and instead turned us into lemmings. Those horrifying shots in films such as Metropolis with workers mindlessly stepping in line at the elevator between shifts or Pink Floyd's The Wall with the schoolchildren walking in step to the music into a meat grinder is what we could potentially become if we're not careful.

Now, I know that at this point we are all so ingrained with the technological world that the only way a person could truly disappear is to live in a log cabin in the mountains with no computer, phone, or even electricity. We're always being tracked, but you can at least be more careful about what information you do make accessible about yourself on that vast info hub we all log into with our various “shiny things." Don't be mindless. Learn from what those Science Fiction authors and filmmakers have shown us. Remember that free will offers us the choice to turn away from that temptation and retain not only our individuality but also our own humanity.

Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer & Graphic Artist