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Posted: April 12, 2012

Rewriting our social norms: Part one

We have a love-hate thing for technology

Thomas Frey

Last month, surveillance cameras at the Taylor Made Jewelry store in Akron, Ohio captured the startling image of a red SUV crashing through the front windows with two masked men jumping out, smashing display cases, and stealing over $100,000 of jewelry in less than 2 minutes.

Both men are seen grabbing what they can from the cases, jumping back into the SUV, and speeding away.

While many young people view this smash-and-grab robbery as the perfect crime with little chance of getting caught, future technology will haunt them the rest of their lives.

Future video technology, much like what is being used by TSA at airports today, will enable investigators to “see behind” masks and clothing and expose the criminals for crimes that were committed 20, maybe even 30 years earlier.

While this kind of technology seems appropriate for uncloaking heinous criminals, people are far more reluctant to shop in stores if they think some voyeuristic cameras are capturing them “naked” walking through the store.

In this brief example we can clearly see how the same technology used to protect us can also be misused in thousands of different ways.

Growing Levels of Surveillance

Most people like the idea of instant video footage magically appearing if someone mugs us, pulls a gun, and steals our money.

But most of us will also object to videos being used to aggressively enforce less serious crimes like wrongfully parking in a handicap spot or speeding on a remote stretch of highway.

Therein lies the conflicting love-hate relationship forming around our increasingly transparent society.

However, this discussion is not just about video surveillance. Humans are emitting far more than visual data, and every cellphone, tweet, and Facebook entry is leaving a digital trail that smart people all over the world are beginning to leverage.

A Society of Sharing

There are many benefits to living life in public. It pushes us into social acts and into connecting with other people, even in subtle ways. When Flickr began, cofounder Caterina Fake said that they made the decision to �default to public,” to go against the presumption and precedent of all the earlier photo services. By making them public and by tagging them, users could find other people’s photos, with similar interests, and they could even find friends. Open sharing allows us to join up and do more together than we could alone.

According to Jeff Jarvis, Professor at New York University and author of the book “Public Parts”:

“We are sharing for good reason—not because we are insane, exhibitionistic, or drunk. We are sharing because, at last, we can, and we find benefit in it. Sharing is a social and generous act: it connects us, it establishes and improves relationships, it builds trust, it disarms strangers and stigmas, it fosters the wisdom of the crowd, it enables collaboration, and it empowers us to find, form and act as publics of our own making.”

“For individuals, sharing is a choice; that is the essence of privacy.”

Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, told me that before the net, we had “privacy through obscurity”. We had little chance to be public because we had little access to the tools of publicness: the press, the stage, the broadcast tower (those proprietors were last century’s 1%). Today, we have the opportunity to create, share and connect, and 845m people choose to do so on Facebook alone. Mr Zuckerberg says he is not changing their nature; he is enabling it.”

Mutually Assured Humiliation

In an interview with New York Times’ columnist Tom Friedman, Google’s Eric Schmidt jokingly suggested we should be able to change our names and start fresh at age 21.

We have all had our moments of youthful indiscretion. For many of us, it doesn’t stop in our youth.

But what exactly are we afraid of? What are our greatest fears associated with living our lives in the open?

According to Jarvis, “What’s insidious about the fear of what others will say is that you rarely hear them say it. You imagine what they’d say. You imagine they care that much about you. The fragility of our own egos gets the better of us.”

However, there are legitimate fears that most of us have from over exposure So what exactly is it that we fear most?

  1. We fear that everything we say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion.
  2. Fear of embarrassment.
  3. Fear of not being hired for a job.
  4. Fear that our employers will find embarrassing, booze-laden pictures from spring break in college and label us an outcast.
  5. Fear of someone stealing our identity, our property, and even our kids.
  6. Fear of government.
  7. Fear of the IRS doing a full-blown colon-rectal inspection of our dismal records over the past five years.
  8. Fear of losing control.

These fears are not without merit. The wealthier we become, the more likely we will become a target of some sinister plot.

There is great money to be made on both sides of this debate and major forces are lining up to take advantage of these differing opinions.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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