Holtz column – Independence, self-reliance not innate characteristics

Jim Holtz' column from page A4 of the Grand Forks Gazette from Feb. 26.

How ironic. An authentic scientist, theoretical physicist Michio Karu, predicts that we may all have to wear tinfoil hats in the future to keep our thoughts from being stolen. That’s right, Karu speculates that all those crazed paranoid schizophrenics that we made fun of in countless B movies and TV programs may have been right all along. However, in Kaku’s new book, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind, it isn’t aliens who will be trying to read our minds, but fellow humans and their corporate overlords. Already, he says, scientific researchers are analysing and interpreting the electromagnetic field that is created by our brains and deciphering our thoughts, though they have to stick electrodes into the grey matter to do it, but he suggests that it may not be too long before it can all be done wirelessly. And then watch out. You think that your privacy is being invaded now, wait until Google, CSIS and the CIA can read your thoughts from an overhead drone. After that it is only a matter of time before Target and Costco will know what you came to buy as soon as you walk through the door. In fact, you may not have to leave your car. Imagine driving up to the take-out window at Tim Horton’s, rolling down your window so the automatic brain reader can get a clear signal and picking up your muffin and double-double without having to say a word! Fantastic!In a separate but related piece of speculation, journalist Adam Bisby ponders the way that parents, schools and other public institutions are eavesdropping on our children. In his article Never a  private moment (Vancouver Sun, February 22, 2014), Bisby writes that the latest trends in parental control include 24/7  monitoring of a child’s location via GPS devices attached to children’s clothes and backpacks and the constant surveillance of them via video cameras located throughout the home. Combined with the ever-present video surveillance now common in schools and public places, Bisby wonders if the end result will be a generation of children so used to adult supervision that they lack the ability to think and make decisions independently. The troubling part is that there appear to be few questioning these developments. The need for constant contact via social media that we see around us, and the related need for collective approval and support for every action from fashion choices to political expressions, combined with the acceptance of the increased intrusion on privacy should all be raising a few doubts. Yet most people say that they don’t mind increased surveillance because they have nothing to hide; plus they argue that the safety of their children requires knowing what the kids are doing at all times, and they insist that it is a real benefit to have Internet businesses keeping track of their purchases, interests and Google searches because it helps them save time and money. Independence, self-reliance and individuality are not innate characteristics. They are culturally derived and can be sustained or diminished. In the past, nations have been led and societies advanced by men and women who possessed those characteristics. Given the challenges that the future appears to hold for us, we probably should be trying to increase their number, not reduce it. No doubt George Orwell would have agreed.