Monday 21 January 2019

A method to Unabomber's madness

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski
Unabomber Ted Kaczynski
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

I finished watching The Unabomber on Netflix the other night and it was probably the best piece of TV I've seen so far this year.

If you haven't caught it yet, set two evenings free and binge on the eight episodes. You won't be disappointed.

Ted Kaczynski (above) started his bombing campaign 40 years ago, and before he was caught, he sent dozens of bombs, killed three people and injured many more.

He was, by any standard, a nut. After all, retreating to the woods and living a hermit's life might be fine, sending parcel bombs to innocent strangers was the act of a homicidal coward.

But in the week that we have such a kerfuffle about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, combined with the news that a driverless car has just claimed its first hit-and-run, it looks like The Unabomber may also have a had point.

Kaczynski is what's known as a neo-Luddite, someone who railed against technology as a tool to oppress the masses. It's the constant theme of his 35,000 word manifesto, and while his dire predictions were dismissed as the paranoid rantings of a madman at the time, it's hard to disagree with him.

We have handed over far too much power to technology, both of the social media variety, and so-called 'advances' such as driverless cars.

One of the most interesting aspects of the furore over the Facebook data mining scandal is the fact that anyone is surprised.

Once you sign up to a social media account, you have effectively signed away your sovereignty. You've certainly signed away your privacy.

We can argue about the rights and wrongs of this scandal, but it's certainly hard to get as worked up about it as some people have managed. That's because, if nothing else, we have all outsourced our own autonomy.

If Facebook can be accused of influencing an election then the fault lies with democracy and human beings, not with an algorithm.

Short of someone actually hacking the votes and digitally altering an election result, the onus is on us to remain immune to the quixotic charms of fake news, or obvious bots, or any of the other tools of manipulation we encounter.

There has been a general turn against the social media giants in recent times, and it's heartening to hear that so many young people are switching off their devices.

It was, after all, meant to be a tool for us to use and enjoy for our own pleasure, not the other way around.

Imagine posting a regular letter in a transparent envelope.

You wouldn't be surprised to learn strangers had read your missive that way, so why are people so surprised to discover that marketing companies are looking at your electronic information?

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