October 23, 2007
"One should be sufficiently intelligent and interested to know a good deal about any person one comes into close contact with. About her. Or about him. But to try to know any living being is to try to suck the life out of that being ... It is the temptation of a vampire fiend, is this knowledge."
-D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature
"We are very early in the total information we have within Google.”
-Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google
When monsters invade popular culture, they are typically projections of a communal fear, manifestations of an unease that, deep-seated, has yet to emerge into the light of the general consciousness. The most popular movie in America today is a vampire flick called 30 Days of Night. One of the most popular software applications on the social network Facebook is Vampires, a game in which you earn points by sucking the avatarial blood of your friends. The program has been installed more than four million times and is in daily use by more than 300,000 members.
The vampire myth is a particularly ancient and potent one, dating back to at least 2000 BC. "Although there are cultural variations in the various legends," writes one expert on vampire lore, "there is always one defining trait of a vampire: a vampire sucks blood. It consumes another to sustain its own life." The vampire is unusual among monsters, though, in that it uses stealth and seduction rather than violence to get its way: "The vampire does not rip bodies apart or hack people to pieces, or stake them through the heart. He has to be invited in, and often has to persuade his victim to remove her cross before he makes a small, neat bite - a love bite, or the kiss of death, on her neck, so that he can get the blood he needs to live." Victims give in willingly. Only after many visits do they "experience a mysterious loss of selfness, and they themselves are then lost to the community."
The vampire is a domestic monster, less an intruder than a welcome guest. In one of its earliest appearances, as Ekimmu in the Gilgamesh epic, it would "walk through doors or walls to take up residence in a house. It would then drain the life from the household." Observes James Twitchell: "I cannot think of any other monster-molester in our culture who does such terrible things to young victims in such a gentlemanly manner. He is always polite and deferential, and his victim is almost always passive in return."
The business model of today's internet giants might best be called vampiric. Their overriding goal is to know us, to transfer into their databases the informational life-blood of our selves. Their thirst is insatiable. To survive, they must uncover ever more intimate details of our lives and desires. And we are not averse to the seduction. We embrace these companies, welcome them into our homes, because we desire the gifts they bear and the conveniences they provide. We tilt our necks to them freely.
Yet somewhere, in the depths, stirs that mysterious sense of a "loss of selfness." We fear that we are slowly being emptied, that we are beginning to blur at the edges. Is it any wonder that vampires have begun to crowd our waking dreams?
Kevin Kelly, noting the emergence of "dark pools of liquidity," which financial traders are using to hide their deals from the prying eyes of spiders and algorithms, quotes from something he wrote back in 1993:
In a world where everything is connected to everything - where connection and information and knowledge are dirt cheap - then disconnection and anti-information and no-knowledge become expensive. When bandwidth becomes free and entire gigabytes of information are swapped around the clock, what you don't want to communicate becomes the most difficult chore.
There are, as well, dark pools of self. Will we defend them, I wonder, or are they fated to be tapped and drained?
This piece points to the darkest corner of them all!
Beware the insidious for it creeps as a friend to impart its subtle poison and it creeps and digs for nothing but material gain as it benumbs the free individual in each of us.
Once consciousness is stationed at the portal of its entrance technology is neutralized, relegated to serve the needs of those who know its dangers yet are still able to harness it for the good. It needs no stake through the heart once its insidious nature is made conscious.
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
Privatized secret police are, indeed, creepy like vampires. And yes, the culture does seem to be poetically, at least, noticing.
Here, I'll make myself part of the hip youth crowd with a single word: "Zombies."
Posted by: Tom Lord at October 23, 2007 04:23 PM
Privacy and convenience are now the two ends of the scale. Convenience and expedience in getting things done -- paying bills, finding stuff on Google or Amazon, etc. -- so far has consistently trumped our desire for privacy.
And, yes, we will now have to start paying for maintaining our privacy -- since convenience is free, we have to pay for privacy.
(Anyone offering a Google search obfuscator? :-)
I can sell you a Google search obfuscator:
type "Disallow *" in a text, and save it as "robot.txt"; wear it on the root level of your site. Google will never come to bite you again.
I believe the obfuscater is wanted for searches, not being crawled by Google. Peter, correct me if I'm wrong here.
The point being Google has only just begun with the possibilities of collecting information on YOU--not necessarily your websites, which, typically, you actually want Google to be aware of (otherwise, why put it on the internet--yes, I realize there are reasons for a non-public website, I am generalizing here).
Remember, it's a matter of trading convenience for privacy being discussed here.
Although it's certainly possible to block Google from setting browser cookies, which could improve privacy with searching, Google's services such as GMail and others require a Google Account, which in turn requires cookies. So, the more people both continue to search using Google and want to use other Google services, the more Google will learn about them.
One strategy for keeping the beast at bay for now is to block Google from writing browser cookies, and use non-Google sites for webmail (e.g., Yahoo Mail or Hotmail) and other services.
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