BIM Today columnist John Eynon talks data, conspiracy theories (and Bond villains) in a very far from post-Covid world
Good morning, UK – welcome to dystopia! Yeah, well, we’re finally here: every dictator’s dream scenario where total control of the populace is within easy reach and, of course, to quote Kenny Everett, “it’s all in the best possible taste” and totally for your own safety health and comfort.
Whoa there! You’re thinking, where’s this come from? So let’s backtrack a little.
Last time round, we considered some post-Covid thoughts. Three months on and we’re still not really post-Covid, are we?
The world’s largest economy is still struggling to get the virus under control, has the highest total of deaths and the president seems to wear this as a badge of honour. There is a subtext among many here, such as keep the economy open and if people get ill or die, that’s the price we pay. Or rather, they pay. Of course, we’re all in this together. Meanwhile in the UK, our leadership have now gone on holiday.
Mexico, Brazil, India, we see similar stories: the worst is not over yet by a long stretch. While in Europe things are calmer, we can see the threats of second spikes and further lockdowns that could take us back to square one. A second full lockdown could be devastating in many ways.
And yet when I was in London a few days ago, I was struck how few were wearing masks or taking social distancing seriously, and that included railway staff. On the beaches near where I live, the hols are in full swing like there’s no tomorrow. Beaches rammed, car parks full, queues everywhere.
But the ramifications now start to travel further.
People travelling less, working more from home, impacting the stores and services that no longer get their custom. Even HS2 could be in doubt, as travel patterns are changing and, as one politician has said, digital is the way forward now.
So the digital revolution has received real impetus from a totally unexpected direction. Which is good, but the cost may have further ramifications.
And online fashion goes from strength to strength, taking millions per week. Wild!
Deep underground bunker.
Ernst Stavro Blofeld: Thank you for coming. We are that unnamed strength that moves heaven and earth, that rules and directs the world. However, alarming events are threatening our control. You know why we are here. The continuing digital crisis.
Auric Goldfinger: Yes, this social media is getting totally out of hand, it’s giving too much say and air time to the masses that should be serving us rather than pontificating on the web.
Dr Julius No: And the data! Look at the data they have access to, and WikiLeaks and those Anonymous hackers, very soon all our activities will be on that damned web for all to see.
Rosa Klebb: Ok. So who do we need to take out? I’ll do it!
Blofeld: It’s not that simple, Rosa. (Note condescending use of first name). There are too many. We’d need several Project Insights but we know what happened to that! No, we need to destabilise the global economy and the populations at large. Let’s give them a bigger fear to worry about, and that will in turn put everyone back in their right place. We need to level the ground and reset the conversation for these people, and take back control of their beloved data.
No: Yes! There are too many getting way beyond themselves, taking liberties.
Klebb: Yes, yes, I know all that. But who do I need to take out? Just give me a list! I can do it!
Goldfinger: So, what’s it to be? Nuclear war? Market crash? Oil crisis? Alien invasion?
Blofeld: Good ideas but a little pedestrian these days, I feel. We need something with no apparent aggression, a little more subtle, I think.
No: What, like a natural event? Earthquakes? Tsunamis? Plagues?
Blofeld: Yes, maybe something like a global disease. Something that creates serious health and resources issues, extremely contagious and spreads very quickly, undetected. As easy as the air we breathe. Also making it much easier to introduce draconian totalitarian control measures for the populace. After all, it will be for the masses’ own safety and comfort, poor things!
Goldfinger: Yes, I see now: forcing governments to close down major sectors of their economies, pushing up debt, more reliance on the financial sectors and we can then manipulate the markets and finances as we wish for our own ends. We bailed the banks out in the great crash, so about time we gave them a squeeze.
No: Of course! Then the world populations will be more worried about their own puny individual futures rather than the wider issues of freedom, democracy, life, art, meaning and the environment – pah!
Klebb: Listen! Just give me a bloody list!
Blofeld: Thank you all. Meeting adjourned. We know what must be done.
Post Script: Case Intelligence Officer – HODs Eyes Only – While most of the more ridiculous conspiracy theories have been debunked, the 5G, for instance, recently, we can’t quite rule this one out yet. Perhaps a background group to the Bilderberg Conference or the New World Order, want to reassert themselves and put us in our place, wherever that is? We will keep this under observation. Our sources remain intact. The Eye of Horus sees all. End.
Where were we?
Whether it was deliberate or not, and maybe we’ll never know, but someone does. Covid-19 has had the desired effect, and disrupted the world economy in a way previously unprecedented to use yet again that over-used word.
As we can see we are now the Gen-C19 defined by shared experience, not age – but who are we really?
We are now different segments of people:
- On furlough.
- Not working anyway.
- Furloughed and then redundant.
- Working hard all the way through.
For some this is just a long holiday, for others nothing short of purgatory. If you have a job, and/or are on furlough and still have a job and an income, consider yourself very fortunate. The support for the self-employed has been shambolic.
For myself, still looking for job after a few months now, seeing adverts for a midweight design manager in the Midlands, over 250 applications. The job portals seem to be a lottery, recruiters are overwhelmed. I had two interviews recently with a London company, with four different people, offered to take a substantial pay cut and they still couldn’t give me the job. I honestly didn’t know what more I could do!
Major contractors are still making cuts, we might be being told about recovery, but I don’t see it myself. Confidence is low out there. Margins tighter than ever.
That said, there do seem to be more opportunities developing.
But for me, standing back from this, it’s the subtext, “command and control.”
The virus and the threat of lockdown is now a sword poised above us all:
- More lockdown restrictions – for your own good.
- More travel restrictions – for your safety.
- Track and trace – collect your personal data and movements for your own protection.
- Covid vaccination and face print recognition – for your own good as a good citizen.
Impact across the whole of society, take the exam results fiasco, graduates (not) getting places or jobs, anyone getting a job even, businesses staying afloat, far-reaching implications, dividing, stressing, antagonising.
Since the advent of EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) and increased use of electronic transactions, smart phones, internet, email, apps and all the rest, there are already colossal digital footprints for each one of us sitting in some server farm somewhere around the world. That data is used by Big Data machines to aggregate and predict our holiday patterns, our next car, the clothes we buy, the weekly shop and so on. Equally, it can be used in the other direction to build an exact likeness of each one of us – our likes, dislikes, behaviours and so on.
Our attitude to this is so blasé now. We dump data in the cloud second by second with abandon going to that grand sorting hat house in the sky.
Have you come across CoviPass, linked to test results and vaccination linked to personal data? All very intriguing – the flip side is you might not be able to travel, or get a job, if you don’t have a test result on your phone app or proof of vaccination.
More restrictions, more of our data handed over in return.
You will know I’m a fan of dystopian sci-fi and as much as I know I’m a cynic, this is sounding more and more like a cross between The X-Files, remember Operation Paperclip and the small pox vaccinations, and V for Vendetta with the rise of totalitarian control? With a little bit of Animal Farm thrown in for good measure!
Jaron Lanier, in his book, Who Owns the Future?, writes about the use of data in our society, and muses about the use of our data, how it is monetised and who owns it anyway.
Maybe it’s me and I don’t usually like to get political. But for me, I’m not keen on some of the rhetoric flying about at the moment, and having on the face of it a benevolent government hiding more control of freedoms in what are some of the leading democracies in the world.
Of course, we could just discuss digital twins, the golden thread, the horrendous recent statements at the Grenfell Inquiry, and the controversy over Autodesk licensing and lack of innovation, the industry open letters and good old ISO 19650.
Yes. All of these are important. Justice for the Grenfell 72 particularly and their families is paramount. As an industry, we should collectively hang our heads in shame. But there is a bigger picture, the very tectonic plates of our existence and freedoms are on the move, literally beneath our feet. And our data, your data, my data, are going with it. For instance, take the current exams crisis, young people’s futures determined by an algorithm that reinforces past prejudices and quotas and penalises the underprivileged bright and gifted – all at a politician’s whim! Wow!
In a world that is more and more driven by data and digital agendas, let’s not lose our way, or our data! Let it be a firm driver for good and a better world for all.
And by the way if you happen to see V, Evie Hammond and Scully on a street corner with a couple of pigs in waistcoats standing on their hind legs, it’s nothing to do with me…:o)
Let’s all get through this somehow, and please accept my very best wishes to you and yours to keep safe, healthy and gainfully employed as you wish in these troubled times.
JOHNEYNON is an ageing digital cynic, lives on the south coast, and wonders what’s next.
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