“I don’t think the average American is really going to cry about the price they’re paying, most of them are already enwrapped with their mobiles. We are talking about a population barely looking up as they go through their day. People have no idea how often they are viewed on camera.”
“I know. Indifference is one development I have never reconciled. When did people become so complacent?”…
…”Most people are not using the smartphone to do anything smart. They are scrolling through social media updates.”
“Which means they’ll barely notice when our system comes online, and we track and store their every move.”
“No, they’ll walk right into the process.”
“With their heads down.” Both laughed.
– Julia and Marco in The Origin Point
What if all the people around you were slowing, literally or figuratively, turning into robots, would you give in or fight for your humanity? Some believe the transformation process has already begun. Our collective decision to become addicted to digital software in all forms from social media to gaming, has transformed the way people interact, or not, with one another.
By the middle of this century, the U.S. population will be pushing 400 million people. How will the government cope without advanced technological tools to maintain law and order, and to ensure efficiencies? In The Origin Point a future tech cyber novella, officials run a secretive plan to get all Americans onto a global surveillance and online tracking system. In summary – when you are online, the government would know by tracking every click on your mobile, tablet and laptop; and when you are offline, the government would know by following you with ground surveillance cameras, sensors and overhead satellites. Why? The official reason would be to catch terrorists before they act. The unofficial reason would be quite simply to manage the population.
Government will need to maintain control, but could their requirement push officials to transform us literally or figuratively into Stepford Wives? The original 1975 movie, The Stepford Wives, is one of the scariest films I have ever seen (much better than the 2004 remake). Not so much because of the production, but definitely because of the story. Based on a book by Ira Levin, the story (sort of spoiler) is about a town where the men have converted their wives into robots who do everything they say. And the one last hold out…okay go find the movie, I won’t give it away.
The men have an overwhelming desire for perfect, submissive wives. Women who cook, clean, look after the children, and perform sexually without comment or complaint. And this desire is stronger than the need to function with a human partner. When you think about the technological capabilities evolving today, the question becomes: would a government ever reach the same conclusion?
I’ll optimistically say ‘No,’ sort of. The government has no need to literally turn everyone into robots, but it does have a mandate to manage the population and ensure order. Influence peddlers in politics and the media already work to solidify collective ideas about history, geopolitical events, even fashion and sports. People are constantly shamed into saying and doing ‘what’s right,’ and the public has a vocal and singular vision of what ‘right’ should be. What’s to say the next level of social pressure would not be the creation of an official template upon which every human should live their lives, and implementing the tech tools to ensure everyone signs up and falls in line. This is partly the reason governments come to champion the omnipresent Network, in the Life Online book series.
The Origin Point is the first prequel to the Life Online series. The story provides the background for the creation of The Network, an online tracking and surveillance system, which will be solidly in place by the next century. The reason the government operators in the story are so focused on implementing the system is national security. They see a threat that can only be fought through watching everyone at all times. But to make the concept palatable to the average person, they connect the system to consumer services not only shopping and banking, but also education, healthcare and tax filing. This provides the average citizen with extraordinary conveniences – no more standing in line, filling out forms, researching information – all those tasks are automatically completed. Eventually people can do everything online, and since all consumer information is available the system becomes capable of providing ‘life instructions’ to people based on the stored data? The Network starts first suggesting what people should do, but over time, people cease thinking, and The Network is in complete control.
Why does this remind me of The Stepford Wives? Because the government is going for order and obedience, just like the men in the story. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to run the world if everyone did what the government wanted (assuming a benevolent dictatorship)? In the Life Online world, crime is almost eradicated. Health care costs are controlled because premiums are tied to exactly what people are eating, their exercise, even the environment where they live (which prompts people to fight for environmental protection). Education is all online, so every person is accounted for, the exact level of a person’s competence in a subject is known and jobs are offered directly to those who are trained. Tax revenues are calculated to the minute, even if there are loopholes, the process is transparent. Government spending is tracked to the nickel (pennies no longer exist), and taxpayers can demand accountability based on real data.
Essentially, this is the trade-off: convenience and efficiency versus privacy and personal decision-making? Which concepts will win? As of 2016, the shortage of technologists, lack of government initiative, and haphazard commitment to high tech transformation means privacy and thinking are winning. The government does not have the resources, human or capital, to implement a system like The Network. But the government could authorize the resources for itself at any time, and that is where the danger lies.
That’s essentially the unraveling for The Stepford Wives. Once the men realize they can implement the robot plan…it happens. When people are not really aware of a tactical plan designed for control, they cannot mobilize to fight back. If people function without recognizing where the danger lies, those who are better prepared and set with their own agenda…will win.
How deep will our complacency go before we, the entire population, end up like The Stepford Wives? That’s remains the fundamental question for those of us tracking the unintended consequences of the technological revolution.