Steve, Quit Watching Me


By: Lisa Monozlai

Illustration/Parker Bryant

Illustration/Parker Bryant

The latest iPhone features a fingerprint scanner, eliminating the hassle of remembering a four digit password. Despite eager consumers lined up en masse to buy the new phone, many are feeling perturbed by the dangers inherent in giving away fingerprint information.

It is a paradox of the human condition: we’ll wait in a queue for days for new technology, yet we’re equally as terrified that Apple’s fingerprint scanners might just be the end of us.

With the iPhone’s release only months after Edward Snowden uncovered the National Security Agency’s elaborate program of international mass-surveillance, many people are feeling justifiably spooked about their technology’s ability to compromise personal privacy.

Amazon sales of George Orwell’s 1984, a landmark novel about omnipresent government surveillance and mind control, rose by 7005 per cent in the days after the Snowden story hit newsstands in June.

Many contemporary social critics ponder as to whether we have any justified fear of technology. In a June article for Mother Jones, titled “Welcome Robot Overlords: Please Don’t Fire Us?,” Kevin Drum decries what he sees as an impending economic equality doom because of  intelligent robots—that there will come a time when wealthy capitalists will own all the intelligent robots, eradicating the need for a large segment of the working population. Not only menial work, he worries, but possibly even magazine writing jobs.

“The history of mass economic displacement isn’t encouraging—fascists in the 20s, Nazis in the 30s—and recent high levels of unemployment in Greece and Italy have already produced rioting in the streets and larger followings for right-wing populist parties,” he concludes, allowing that the wealthy will have to share their wealth in order to maintain a middle-class.

Alvin Toffler, in his bestselling book from 1970, Future Shock, said that it’s the “information overload”—the psychological and sociological problems that come from exposure to too much rapid change—that is contributing to our fear of advancements in technology. He described a human reaction characterized by a “dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.”  

That was 1970, the era of the typewriter—now there are new versions of the iPhone released every year and computing power supposedly continues to double every 18 months. Compound that with human beings’ inability to adjust to the abundance of information and change, and you have yourself a recipe for mass technophobia.

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