Pando

At what point is the convenience of technology outweighed by the constant stress?

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on February 25, 2016

From The Security Desk

Yesterday, I wrote about new proposals to allow the government to trawl the social media accounts of visa applicants before allowing or denying entry to the US.

Specifically, I wrote about my relief, as a visa-carrying foreign worker, at having deleted my social media accounts last year. For all the myriad reasons the government might declare me unworthy of living here -- particularly under President Trump -- at least an old dumb tweet won’t be one of them.

Today, the New York Times reports that Apple is retooling its operating system to make the password protection stronger, and effectively make it impossible for the company to hack its own security, subpoena or no. It’s a smart move as it effectively removes them from the fight between law enforcement and use privacy.  

Reading that made me glad I made another weird tech decision last year: To ditch my smart phone. If it’s not the FBI trying to break the security of smartphones, it’s a billion teenage hackers. If it’s not the DHS trying to decontextualize my tweets, it’s a billion teenage trolls.

Connected technology was supposed to make our lives easier. And of course it has, in countless ways. But what it doesn’t seem to have done is made our lives less stressful. In the same way that Apple is trying to figure out a way to remove itself from the fight over government access to our phones, increasingly I find myself looking for new ways to escape the stress of social media or attacks on digital privacy. In my case, that means ditching social media, getting rid of my smart phone and essentially removing myself from a game that’s unwinnable.

I don’t expect anyone else (or manyone else) to make the same decision. I’m weird, and I learned a long time ago that when I feel like something is becoming too addictive and too destructive, it’s probably a good idea for me to quit it. Most people, I suspect, will accept the increasing stress and risk of having all of our data in the cloud -- safe, until it isn’t -- or putting their entire lives on social media -- for friends and family only, until it isn’t. They’ll play the odds that the FBI or the DHS will have no interest in their dumb tweets, or that hackers will have no desire to steal their data. And in most cases they’ll be right.

But any idiot can tell you that the next few years are going to see governments and hackers get even more ambitious, and even more capable. We’ll see more widespread data dumps, and more widespread law enforcement trawling of social media. The stuff that Snowden revealed will seem almost quaint by comparison. When that happens, I suspect we’ll all figure out a way to adjust to our privacy-free, free speech-free reality. The world will keep turning as it always does when technology threatens to knock it off balance.

Still, as I read the new today and imagine that future, I’m happy with my decision to remove myself from the game. I’m also more grateful than ever that I’m part of a generation -- old but not too old -- that is able to make that decision.