This afternoon, I read an article about how BHO’s number crunchers propelled him to a second term. That was quite impressive and scary. It was scary not for any political reason ( I have enough of that) but because it brought back to mind some terrifying stories from way back.
When I was in college in the ’80’s, I learned about an anti-Christ for the first time through a story I heard. According to the story, when the Anti-Christ comes, everyone would be marked with a chip that would be used to identify himself and to procure goods and services. It was about this time that bar codes began to be used to identify goods. Those who refused to be marked – those who did not want to follow the Anti-Christ – would be marginalized and live in the shadows. Meanwhile, the anti-Christ himself would bear the triple 6 mark on his forehead. I remember getting very nervous about this event. However, at that time, scary as this scenario was, it was easy to dismiss the story as a wonderful sci-fi plot. Chips and monitoring? The idea was just so outlandish and unimaginable.
Years later, I read 1984 by George Orwell. My friends read Orwell’s Animal Farm in college. However, since I was in a different English section, I did not get to read the book. Many years later, I found 1984 while I was browsing in a bookstore and decided to catch up. To say that I did not enjoy the book, well written as it was, was an understatement. It was one of the most depressing stories I ever read. It sent shivers from my toes to my head. I was not able to sleep the night I finished reading it. The thought of my actions being monitored by a Big Brother, the lack of freedom, the manipulation of events to suit a (political) party’s position was so horrifying. Unlike the anti-Christ story of long ago, 1984 felt so real. In 1949, the year it was written, 1984 was simply a fantastic political fiction. Somehow, I associated the story with communism. Communism was real.
Fast forward to this afternoon when I read about the Obama Campaign number crunchers. Essentially, the article was about how the campaign’s team of data miners use the data that are readily available in the web to analyse people’s profiles and preferences. Using the information that they got, the analysts were able to tell what advertisements would work, how people could be convinced to donate more, how people think, how people believed. My data is all over the web. After reading the article, I realized that a talented data miner can use the hard facts about me to extrapolate anything about who I am (well, that I have a blog did make things easier for them). It is chilling to know that my life is not so anonymous and that the information that I, and all the rest of us, put out there can be used by anybody – not only by the political machines but also by any random group – marketers, ideologues, etc. – to suit their varied purposes, good or evil.
Today, it dawned on me that the Anti-Christ story is not too far fetched nor 1984 too far behind.