Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When you can’t trust what you hear or see

We live in a very different world since the 1900s disappeared into the rearview mirror. I’m sure someone a hundred years ago might have said the same thing. Heck, some wise person one thousand years ago probably did, too.

But in my case, I think I’m standing on more solid ground than did those in the past. You see, even twenty years ago mankind didn’t have social media and nearly instantaneous communication on a global scale. These things, the “Internet Age” as it were, are game changers for all of humanity.

I’ve been thinking about this for the past several weeks as I observe the three ring circus that is current Toronto politics (and which I wrote a bit about last week) But also in Canada’s capitol, Ottawa, there is a major scandal involving the current government, the Canadian Senate, and the Prime Minister’s Office. Both of these events are evolving daily because of our new communications reality. Want the Ford video, taken with a mobile phone? You can be sure it would eventually show up, because things like that can seldom be contained permanently. Want to find out who knew what and when in Ottawa? Just follow the email trail.

South of the 49th parallel, there are more scandals than you can count with new ones popping up every day. Not being in the news loop for much of the rest of the world, I am confident that all countries are having their own issues with what passes for the truth.

Okay, so how has the Internet changed the game of finding out what’s true and what’s not so much? There are numerous reasons, but let’s focus on two.

First, mobile phones connect us all in ways that are truly astounding. People in the middle of nowhere, in the back of beyond, have and use mobile phones and it isn’t to call home. They use them to make their lives easier, to keep themselves safe, in some cases to survive. But if they see something they don’t like or don’t understand, they can now tell the world about it with relative ease.

You see, mobile phone manufacturers added something to their communication devices that we never had with our old rotary dial phones: they included audio and video cameras. That gave mankind not only the ability to communicate instantly from almost anywhere, but also the ability to provide video and audio to back up what they’re talking about.

Sure, that is usually, “Here we are in Rome, Mom, and look at all the people in Piazza del Popolo!” But instant communication can also be, “I was walking down the sidewalk and saw the police stop a car, drag the person out, and beat him right on the street!” It’s one thing to say that, even in court where it’s your word against the cops’, but it’s quite another thing to hold up your mobile and tell the judge, “And here is a video I shot of the event.”

The other game changer for humanity is the Internet’s ability to store massive amounts of information. Again, it can be used for every day usefulness, things like looking up how to spell “Piazza del Popolo”, for instance. Again, though, there are more insidious uses of global data storage. Things like Wikileaks could not have happened fifteen or twenty years ago. You can bet governments are shaking in their boots over this sort of thing.

Every person doing something nefarious now has to not only look over their shoulder for possible witnesses to their schemes, they can’t even see the person who’s keeping track of them.

You might argue that this is a great thing for law enforcement, and it is, but it is also a wake-up call that all privacy is slipping away from us at a faster and faster rate. Governments are finding that out – the hard way. Sure every one of them spies on others, but now with the click of a computer mouse, someone with a conscience – or a grudge – can potentially bring down a government. Or on a smaller level, another person.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

What a wealth of possibilities for interesting plots for us writer chappies. You don’t have to sit in your cold and lonely garret waiting for a plot to suggest itself. You only need to fire up your computer and scan the news sites or visit YouTube to find conspiracies galore, all there to be written about with only a few names and details changed to protect you from getting your butt sued off...

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