Portfolio & Wired have a one-two punch on the future of broadband up. I’ve read that it takes 3-4 months for a salary increase to be “discounted” so that individuals move up the consumption ladder and no longer feel flush. With internet speed the latency seems far more attenuated; there’s always a new application around the corner. The Portfolio piece notes:
Spurred by a new wave of Skype-linked families, Hulu-watching flash mobs, and HD-video downloaders, global internet traffic is likely to quadruple by 2012. That’s an internet 75 times larger than it was just five years ago. It will be generating 27 exabytes–nearly 7 billion DVDs worth–of data each month. Start stacking those DVDs on January 1, and you’d be at the moon by tax time.
Technology moves fast. Can you believe that it was as recently as 2003 that sales of DVDs surpassed VCRs? Remember VCRs? Yeah, vintage technology for antiquarians.
The Wired piece is more of a speculative think piece:
He calls the unlimited-bandwidth future the “participatory panopticon,” and describes a world where many will broadcast every move of their lives. Everything will be its own broadcast station, its own TV channel: Each subway train, each building, every lamp will be linked in, updating status reports and even live video to the net. The world will be defined by a cacophony of narrow-cast information, all of it begging for attention and analysis.
Omniscience will no longer be an exclusively god-like quality. We all will be “minutely and intimately aware,” predicts Greenfield, “of every Indian woman maimed by a spurned suitor in an acid attack, every Iranian kid stoned to death for having the temerity to be born gay, every destroyed textbook in the trashed cafeteria of an abandoned Detroit high school.”
Unfortunately for us, says Greenfield, quoting the Buddha, “awareness is suffering.”
This is standard Transparent Society stuff. As I’ve noted before it’s pretty easy, and free, to find out the age, where people have lived and who they are related to, within 15 seconds through internet services. More information if you want to pay $3-$100 dollars, depending on what you need (e.g., public records, etc.). I know that some tech entrepreneurs are trying to bring the transparency to the office environment first. The goal is to have everyone be able to snoop on everyone else, from the CEO down to the mail room employees. From what I’m to understand one of the rationales for this sort of transparency is to increase workplace productivity, and throw a light on the reality that many “40 hour work weeks” aren’t really 40 hour work weeks (it might be better for a company and an employee to have 25 hours a week in the office where the employee works 95% of the time, as opposed to 40 hours where they work 60% of the time, as leisure time is best spent at home and not at the office).
But does this mean that there will be no privacy aside from your own thoughts? The JournoList fiasco shows that “off the record” online communities are something of a contradiction.* The costs of cut & paste are minimal, and once a community gets large enough internal norms will be hard to enforce. New-fangled technology does not change the fact that we’re apes subject to Dunbar’s number. On the other hand that doesn’t mean that in a “Transparent Society” all sorts of “dark networks” won’t proliferate, existing at various levels of transparency and exclusivity and scale. If for example we humans begin to habitually record all of our activities no doubt others will invent scrambling technologies and what not. Though there might be various costs toward enforcing a bubble of informational opacity around oneself, no doubt it will still remain possible, and there will be service providers who emerge to fill that need in the market. In the workplace and on the street nearly perfect transparency might become the rule and not the exception, but I assume in other contexts privacy will still be a possibility if one has the will.
* The main controversy with JournoList has to do with mainstream reporters not employed by opinion magazines being active members. The idea of an off the record e-list is banal, many, including myself, are members of several such lists of like mind and various degrees of secrecy. Many times dissenters from an e-list which has grown too large form their own subsidiary e-list. This is not a function of the technology, but of human psychology. It’s simply stupid to imagine that people would and should say in public what they would say in private (Overcoming Bias readers are an exception, but they’re quite often not neurotypical).