Reading Doctorow’s Little Brother has definitely brought my attention to digital privacy. One of the reasons why Little Brother is such a thought-provoking dystopia is that the novel uses contemporary technology in modern-day San Francisco which gives its readers the sense that they may actually be living in a similar dystopia not too far in the future whereas it’s difficult to put myself in the shoes of Aria in Under the Never Sky because I don’t live in a post-apocalyptic world in an augmented reality controlled by the government.
Digital privacy is becoming an increasingly controversial topic, especially now that President Donald Trump has signed a law that loosens the restrictions on what internet service providers could do with the data they collect. Due to the lack of competition among internet service providers and the fact that internet is practically a necessity now, there isn’t really a convenient way to avoid having data collected on you, and most people wouldn’t go out of their way to prevent data from being collected on them.
I will admit I do not fully understand what the consequences of this law will be, but after reading Little Brother, I think it’s safer to side with the individual consumers than the big data companies. There is something uncomfortably invasive about the idea of having data being collected on you and then sold, even if it’s just to advertisers. Little Brother has also drawn my attention to how difficult it can be to protect your digital information from being collected if restrictions aren’t put in place. Most people understandably don’t understand what happens behind their computer screens and are easy prey for businesses that want to sell their information. In Little Brother, if people wanted to access the internet while protecting their privacy, someone who understood how the technology worked like Marcus had to figure out a countermeasure and then teach it to everyone first. A similar series of steps must occur already in the real world for internet users to protect themselves. First they have to learn about the potential threat in the first place. Then the majority of them will have to hope someone else has created a tutorial for a countermeasure. Realistically, most people won’t go through all that trouble, so I think it’s the responsibility of the lawmakers to protect citizens from being taken advantage of.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tom Doherty Associates, 2008.
Rossi, Veronica. Under the Never Sky. HarperCollins, 2012.
I have never been totally enchanted by America’s public education system. In fact, since leaving high school, I have become fairly disgusted by it, and Doctorow’s Little Brother did little to improve my views. Throughout America, a fairly substantial number of people are growing more and more aware of the ways in which public education does not live up to its ideals. Take, for example, this critical article that highlighting some of the major failures in public schools. Personally, standardized testing tops my list, but I also feel that the surveillance and prison-like status of the school in Little Brother is a huge deal in society today.
While no school is nearly as strict and technologically secure as Cesar Chavez High, we get closer and closer every day. It is difficult to skip a high school class without phone calls home and permanent strikes on one’s record. Furthermore, more and more schools are installing cameras in hallways and classrooms, and this article talks about having teachers wear cameras to combat misbehaviour. In my opinion, increased security is not the solution. By stifling the students, it is quite possible that they will only become more determined to undermine the system. Like Marcus, they will continue their behaviours, even under threat of punishment if they get caught. Cameras, rules, and other security measures only attack the symptoms of misbehaving children. To truly eliminate this issue, and allow schools to go back to focusing on teaching, rather than discipline, the root causes need to be addressed. Unfortunately, root causes arise from a number of factors, including family life, income, and personal beliefs. To address these will involve huge efforts by the entire country, which is honestly not something we are ready or willing to do at the moment. In fact, improving the quality of life overall is an aspect of utopianizing America as a whole.
Little Brother introduces one path that life can take for those whose behaviours do not suit those in power. These destructive paths could be eliminated if the behaviours are solved at the source. However, to do seems to require both technological and societal advances, to the point that security is either strong enough to work or until we believe security is not necessary in public schools. Yet to get to that point will require huge leaps in American values or scientific research, both of which are hindered by the public education system. This means it may be impossible to ever improve our current system, and brings up the necessity for total reform. Total reform, however, will also likely require major efforts on the behalf of all Americans. Until most people are united in this goal, it will be impossible to drastically induce change.