Lines of Power
A documentary on RT America this morning proved to be much more intriguing than its advertised talk on the abundance of surveillance systems in modern cities. It did cover that quite well. The infiltration of security cameras with facial recognition software, and even body language interpretation software, all monitored by machines, that talk to one another. The ability of smartphones to pull apps out of the air, and have them offered to you, simply by your proximity to a service or business. The IT guy, showed that by simply pointing his smartphone across the city, he was offered a variety of apps including train schedule info. A bit scary when you realize the communication is going both ways. Where in the past a ticket vendor might remember that I stopped at the kiosk with a question, now, wherever you are in the city, it is recorded that you downloaded the information, and where you were at the time. Add that to surveillance cameras, ATM kiosks and credit card purchases,and yes – Big Brother is watching.
Big Brother may be more accurately defined as multinational corporations, but we are still being watched. An interesting side to this is that we have become products as well as consumers and machinery. When Google and other search engines interpret our searches to ‘provide us’ with individualized answers to our queries, we also become data that can be sold to advertisers (and perhaps governments?).
A short discussion at the end of the show struck me as to how a utilities (electric/phone) we once considered services, have become our masters in ways we are not really cognizant of. I have long wondered how much electric costs for cities vs small towns. In the past I was thinking of the cost of street lights and traffic signals and the abundance of security lighting in government offices during non-working hours. This documentary pointed out the increase in electrical expenditures for security cameras and data mining and the computer systems to run them.
The narrator pointed out how dependent our cities are in a multitude of ways on electricity. It’s not just lighting and traffic signals, elevators and subways. It is also ventilation systems, the way our financial systems increasingly work, how inventory and ordering is handled.
I was reminded of an incident that happened at my daughters workplace. She worked in a brand new, relatively small office building. Just a few stories tall. One day when the power went out they were all contacted and told that they must exit the building, because the ventilation systems wouldn’t work without the electricity. A brand new building, built in the modern style with fixed windows that could not be opened, and yet no back up generators to run even basic life support.
Electricity, that once was, and we still consider to be our servant, has become the Lord and Master. It is not just that we have become accustomed to excess lighting and are afraid of darkness. It is not just that life is easier if we don’t have to climb stairs or manually open a can. We have become truly dependent on the grid for survival.
This means we are then tied to the extraction of product to generate that power, even though the extraction, generation, and waste processes make us sick through the pollution of our air, water and soil. Even though the quest for product, and the minerals needed to use that product, binds us in sticky relationships with foreign powers and the corporations that exploit them. Even though we know that the use and abuse of power generation and the extraction processes are changing our planet into a place inhospitable for our survival. We have allowed the servant of power, to gain the upper hand.