We’ve all grown frighteningly accustomed to proving to our personal computers that we are not a robot. Every time we fill out a web form or accidentally forget our webmail password a little box shows up with a series of letters and numbers that are increasingly difficult to read. As the years have flown by, the secret codes have gotten childishly easy to read to completely and utterly indecipherable. For a brief moment I often doubt myself “Is this really what this program is expecting me to type”. If I was any more unreasonable of a man I might even have lingering doubts about whether I might be a robot myself.
So how did we get to this place where people write programs to test other people to see if they are programs? Everyone knows it’s to protect us from spammers and hackers. It’s those ‘really smart computer nerds’ that are keeping those other ‘really Bad (with a capital B) computer nerds’ at bay. So we go to bed at night feelings safe. But so much of it is like watching our grandma getting felt up by TSA security at the airport. It’s all about the illusion of safety, sadly you and I are often not even protected from the people who are supposed to protect us.
Google used their Google Maps cars to drive around neighborhoods automatically logging into people’s unsecured wi-fi and collecting personal information on their computers all over the world. They were fined paltry sums by many government agencies and they apologized profusely but this was the first time something like this was done on a wide scale. I’ve slowly moved most of my digital life into the cloud. At this point most of the virtual information I care about is stored somewhere other than my personal computer.
So the question becomes how did we get here and where are we going? These programs keep testing me to prove my humanity and it gets harder and harder to do. As the programs we are getting protected from get better and better at image recognition our very ability to prove our humanity to the programs will come into doubt. What will happen then?
Everything that I care about virtually in the world, all the ones and zeros that arrange themselves into precious images of my younger son that I cherish, all the thoughts and my musings are now being stored somewhere far away from me on some server farm. More and more of my interactions socially happen in the virtual realm. In so many ways those interactions become less and less gratifying than personal interactions. Our phones and gadgets have so deeply permeated our social structure that many of us feel lost, alone and confused.
2 years ago I got rid of my fancy Android phone and switched to a prepaid plan without data or txting on it. I saved about $80 a month on my phone bill but more importantly I got my life back. I could not control my social networking addictions and I could not keep myself off my phone while I was driving. Now I keep my new phone on vibrate all the time instead of ring and its subtle vibrations to demand my attention are lost on me while I drive. If someone needs to reach me, they can wait till I’m not driving to talk to me, my reckless days of phone addictions are finally past me.
It’s hard to look at myself in the mirror and see in all honesty that I cannot resist the allure of the attention grabbing delight of today’s glossiest technology. I have no regrets about ditching my Facebook mobile, Pandora, and texting addictions.
I never thought it would be that easy to do, but it was.