Video surveillance has become a touchy subject since America decided to increase its homeland security, after we were so dramatically reminded that there are terrorists in the world today, hell-bent on destruction, due to some misguided or twisted belief. However, the abuse of video surveillance is the very least of our troubles, because there is something far more dangerous thriving on the unsuspecting chaos that is everyday life, and it’s not terrorism.
In my book, Digital Video Surveillance and Security, I collect a variety of valuable information for the implementation of a video surveillance system, thanks to my work with IBM. I believe that anyone who believes this is an addition to “Big Brother” is ignorant to the fact that we are under attack everyday by forces far more destructive. A video surveillance camera, monitored by “Big Brother” observes the physical synchronous world in real-time. In other words, you’d have to be doing something that is a threat to national security while being watched, unless Big Brother is in the restroom. The world has changed and real-time is fast becoming a quaint memory from the past. This holds true for video surveillance also, as there are too many people, places and things that require protection and not enough trained eyes to watch them.
The world has shifted from synchronous to asynchronous. Originally, this seemed like a good thing. Someone can send you a note via e-mail, or text message, and you could respond whenever. You didn’t need to be physically present, or synchronized on the phone discussing it in real-time. These changes may not to have gone unnoticed to some, subtle to others, but I am one of those who see the dramatic economical, social and mental changes that we as a people, individually and in groups, businesses and even government struggle with everyday. It’s a monumental paradigm shift that is nothing short of chaosis; a state of chaos.
There was once a time, before the introduction of electronic information dissemination, when we could all focus on driving our cars, and not reading a text message, or shuffling through a thousand songs, or remembering a password or worry about battery consumption. There are so many benefits to our new electronic playground, and I written about them over the years, but, unbeknownst to us all, as we delve into the magic of technology like a minx in heat (because we all like our toys) we were all changing the world. This is happening right under our noses, right now and has only started about a decade ago, because in the previous century, technology moved much slower, and only began to gained momentum with the advent of digital information dissemination, which shrank the entire world to the size of a LCD screen.
Maybe the world and its core inhabitant need to change, but it’s the monumental economic changes that have resonated throughout our country like microwaves, an invisible force that radiates cells and changes them at a molecular level (let’s talk about that cell phone next to your brain another time).
Where before there were only a handful of enormously wealthy entities who found it simple to protect their fortunes, continue to prosper and at the same time treat their fellows with some level of dignity, and were profitable enough to respect, train and keep their employees. There was a structure built upon the foundation of the industrial age. The introduction of electronic information dissemination was controlled by such entities, which had the power to pick the select few who were bright, talented, or educated enough to contribute to the next “big thing.” They were comfortably positioned at the beginning of the consumerism machine, ready for the masses; the starting line of a linear pipeline that controlled electronic information dissemination. There was a Point “A” (producer, publisher, manufacturer), to Point “B” (distributor, retailer) to Point “C” (we the people). There were people behind Points A and B, who maintained the structure, control and high expectations, but the vast majority was we the people. We lived in the midst of consumers, who fueled the capitalistic machine, which then nurtured our free society and our economy. Nothing was freely distributed twenty years ago, not to the scale it is today. Even network television, freely distributed electronic information dissemination was a vehicle for commercials, again to fuel consumerism, society and economy.
I’m old enough to remember watching network television when there were only seven channels. Seven channels of content that was shoved down your throat by the powers-that-be, force-fed like a sick calf. The new world has millions and millions of channels, empowering the viewer to choose what they wish, although research by Kagan Associates confirmed that not unlike cable television, your average viewer only holds a maximum a dozen regular “channels” within their span of attention. Now, those dozen destinations are unique based on individuality and not mandated by monolithic entities force-feeding their choice of electronic information dissemination.
We haven’t reached the end of this change because those entities are still groping at the old world mentality, trying desperately to maintain the control. They refuse to accept the fact that everything is, indeed, out of control, and that old linear pipe is now zigzagging around the globe.
I realized long ago that there is something fundamentally wrong with how the typical human being needs to perceive the world around them. I could blame it on the lack of imagination within leadership circles, our educational institutions, or mass media, but it goes much deeper.
The human condition to understanding the world, and thus the way we organize it and our societies living in it, has been linear. Everything is molded into simple, understandable context for the human mind to process and comprehend. It was this oversimplification that gave us sanctuary from the fear that there really was no true order to the universe. We have this tendency to classify everything into neat little boxes, packages and products, but the world is far more dynamic and non-linear, and yet even knowing this, we do our best to try to organize everything into neat little rows, schedules and graphs. Instituting this linearism to our universe creates a sense of empowerment, but there are no straight lines and it’s not neat and orderly. It’s muddled and chaotic. Chaosis is upon us, because the world is changing so rapidly, and so differently, that it will force a mutation of our species just so we can keep up.
Not unlike network television of the old world, the Internet is the new vehicle for freely distributed electronic [digital] information dissemination (although an advertisement was clearly an advertisement and not an “advertorial”), and like television, it’s been molded into an advertising business model so we are bombarded by hundreds of banner ads, many tainted with Trojans, loaded with spyware, viruses and worms, although with television, one never need worry about the Jolly Green Giant reaching out of the television to snatch your wallet. No matter how many times I’ve explained “if you visit that site the banners themselves will plant a code in the browser cache that can steal credit card information.” Ever experienced a 21st Century bank robbery? It’s when someone somewhere gets a hold of your debit card number off the browser cache (thanks to a smart little Trojan spyware app planted by an innocent looking browser) and charges $2,000 round trip tickets from London to Moscow or New Delhi. Welcome to the new world, as small as the LCD screen in your hand. Needless to say, my friend still finds her celebrity gossip websites mesmerizing.
When I first wrote about the Internet in the mid-90s, I praised it as the ultimate marketing vehicle. One-to-one marketing, hyperlinks and brochureware was all the fad. I found email to be a miracle of scientific ingenuity. How wonderful to send a letter to someone, instantly, without having to find a stamp and one of those blue boxes. Back then, someone could send you an email, and never worry about the immediate reply. It was casual. Today, if there’s no reply within microseconds, you’re then bombarded by text messages, chat windows and visual voicemail. I realized then that my physical synchronous world was a thing of the past, but I never imagined the impact it would on me as an artist, and author.
The first sign of trouble for me was Amazon.com. I understood file sharing and its ramifications, but back then, there were about as many websites as bookstores in North America. Encryption was weak, bandwidth was tiny, and scanners were expensive.
However, Amazon.com later becomes a used bookstore, offering an interface between the consumer and the used book merchants. Now, consumers could buy my books, used and for half the price of a new one, just one-click away. Not twenty-five minutes away by car, through downtown traffic. One-click away. Creators of books, music or movies do not receive royalties for the sale of used merchandise, and Amazon.com added those sales to the sales rankings. Every once in a while, one of my books reached best-seller status, but no royalties, as it’s a popular used title.
Then, there is the proliferation of file sharing. Thomas Jefferson in his Notion of Public Performance, Section 8, Clause 8 wrote “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
I don’t believe Thomas Jefferson imagined a day when all anyone would ever need to find anything for free was a Web browser. I confess that in my youth I would take my physical record albums and physical music CDs and make a mix of different songs onto a physical cassette and give it to someone (usually a girl I wanted to impress). Making a compilation cassette wasn’t difficult to do, with the right equipment, but it’s nothing compared to our new world. Now you have whole Universities, with their high speed fiber optic networks providing the channel for sharing thousands of songs, movies and books and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it, today.
Let me just sum it up for you all. Nothing is safe. There is no such thing as 100% digital security and anyone that tells you otherwise is lying. This is a different world. There is no single physical, synchronous object that you own and can lend to someone else, and that object does not have the capability of self replication. No level of encryption can stop someone from spilling the password verbally, or giving some computer hacker in Russia with his own computer farm a challenge for his dozens or hundreds of computers churning away at trillions of processes per millisecond to unlock the encryption. In the digital world, all you need is just one person, anywhere in the world to crack the encryption and post it onto the Internet and then, instantly, two million people have a copy, and they give/send a copy to two of their friends and so on and so on.
The only way to protect the rights of creators is to meet the brave new digital world head-on with something as profoundly inventive.
This was the inspiration for my fictional Chaosis story (barnesandnoble.com). We live in a world that not only includes microprocessors inside cars programmed for driving assistance, but also where bank robbery takes on a whole new light. Where you need to remember alpha-numeric passwords at least eight characters long that include one capitalized letter and one number; but not allowed to use it again for the next six times when you’re required to change it (for security reasons). A world where a firewall is required in your home and the only guard between you and losing everything on your computer is that your antivirus software wasn’t infected and is up to date.
The real horror is that this new world terrorism does not follow the natural world of physics. It’s not physical, nor is it synchronous, measured in seconds, but nanoseconds; all happening far faster than the speed of thought, and networked with more electronic wiring than the human brain. By the time you’re thinking “Gee, I wonder if my antivirus software is up to date”; it’s too late, and as microprocessor speeds continue to double every two years, it’s going to get far worse. This may be the price we pay for our new digital world. We get a new interface for our digital devices, and there are already hundreds of hackers reverse engineering the millions and millions of lines of code to find its vulnerabilities, and as long as it’s acceptable to make we-the-people beta testers for new operating systems our personal information, finances and identities are at risk.
Meanwhile, creators struggle to find a new place in this brave new world. Musicians travel the physical world to play more paying gigs and sell two dollar t-shirts for twenty dollars. The motion picture industry attempts to add more encryption onto hardware, and tout it as “superior.” Meanwhile, someone leaks out the latest director’s cut of a film in theatres and two million copies are downloaded before the world premiere. And writers struggle with not only the time to write, but finding their muse in the midst of this chaos, while attempting to pull them away from the introverted zone of writing (or drawing) to become a virtual social butterfly and build an audience through an online Blog, and newsletters.
I don’t believe there is a solution as we know it. We are in the midst of a social, economic, physical and mental evolution that many us already see and feel everyday, but don’t be afraid. You will be assimilated.