Another Perspective

The Search for Digital Utopia

If universal high-tech surveillance is here to stay, why not put it to optimal use?

By 8.13.13

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The United States is writhing about extensive high tech surveillance by government authorities. Yet we must recognize that by fully legalizing electronic snooping, like legalizing marijuana, we could unleash free market forces to achieve an elusive solution. The aim would be a digital utopia, going far beyond the futuristic vision of Plato, George Orwell, and the film, The Matrix -- to enhance private enterprise and democracy itself.

The concept is this: in a truly transparent society, and through a change in law and expression of individual consent by all parties, Americans might wiretap real time into the conversations and data transmissions of all other Americans on a 24/7 basis. This would promote the concept of open architecture in a voyeur-driven, open society.

In a digital utopia, there could be no such thing as too much information, or TMI. Consumers would wiretap other consumers to see what they are consuming. Me-tooism would flourish, and aggregate demand would benefit the economy. Needs and wants would become conflated. With innumerable individuals making their buying and selling requirements known to each other, competition to meet those needs could be furious -- minimizing inflation, creating new efficiencies, and eliminating anyone who is either not adding value or in fact subtracting it, as so many people do today. The need for drafting and executing consent documentation to permit this would be nectar for the legal profession -- which has been consolidating for years.

With more information, human understanding would be enhanced. There would be new meaning for 360-degree feedback, which would delight human resources counselors everywhere. Silicon Valley would lead the way, designing special surveillance apps. It would signal generational change, as empowered geeks could develop platforms to spy on dinosaurs and geeks alike.

Happily, the conduct of private enterprise would be as the 18th century Scottish philosopher, Adam Smith imagined it, except that the hand would not be invisible. Indeed, everyone would tote a prominent handheld device capable of interdicting all that is digitized - and that which is not, even conversations conducted outdoors or at sea.

Nothing would be deemed confidential or proprietary, because that would be viewed as elitist, anti-competitive and indeed, anti-American. There would be no secrets to keep. There would be no such thing as a new idea. And there would be no surprises. With more and more information, people would even lend money to each other, and banks would not be needed -- a blessing in the eyes of many Americans.

Given the dysfunctional nature of our two party political system, a third party could emerge to affirm, communicate, and execute this vision, going boldly where others have not gone at all. This could also be what the platform starved Republican Party needs to recapture the White House in 2016, unless before then, President Obama seizes the agenda by appointing a surveillance czar to coordinate all private sector and government snooping.

While this robust cybervision is a standalone, the human experience could be further enhanced by use of integrated, composite based cyber helmets that digitize thoughts before they are spoken. Imagine technology that could convert chemical energy in synapses into digital form for transmission. The objective would be instantaneous clearing of all human thinking, such that simply a net action can be taken at the end of the day - much like a payments or currency clearing house in the banking system. There would be no need to go to work or even leave one's gray metal cyberport at home. Most human endeavor would become unnecessary, with net action required only at the close of business. Cyber helmets are already with us, so this is just added functionality.

With this brave new platform, there would be no empty posturing, as this excess would be offset by others with opposing views, such that all opinions would be netted out, forming a bland arithmetic mean. Nothing much would be happening except the unimpeded flow of electromagnetic waves. The environment would be comforting, without the need to leave one’s cyberport and risk the perils of the workplace.

Besides economic efficiency caused by near perfect information, a major benefit of this futurist vision would be the unification of generations that have sometimes been at odds. Kumbaya-driven boomers could unite with tech savvy millennials, forging a broad coalition of the benevolent -- stegosauruses and techies alike. And since technology would see to it that not much is happening on a net basis, there would be nothing to report on. There would be a diminished role for mainstream media, something that many Americans might welcome.

Another benefit to the business establishment could be the emergence of the ultimate model of matrix management. Interaction would be lateral and instantaneous, without the need for middle or senior managers to manage information. The traditional linear, top down command and control mentality of our forefathers would yield to this flat interchange -- institutional flattening would promote access of workers to top management, with more and more voices heard in an enterprise. Creativity and participatory democracy would flourish. The Fortune 500 might become the Fortune 5000 as innovative forces are unleashed.

As with any societal transformation, there would be opposition from those resistant to technology and those protective of privacy, and from grandees feeling threatened by freedom. But millions of Americans have already surrendered their privacy by means of Facebook postings and tweets about their every move -- so each narcissist can be an agent of change.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
Frank Schell is a business consultant and former international banking executive. He serves on the Dean’s International Council of the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago where he is a lecturer.