After a very pleasant dinner at Jean's and Michèle's new house yesterday we got talking to a friend of theirs, a specialist in Canadian Privacy Law, working for the government, who is quite horrified by the intrusion of the Internet into our everyday lives. Presumably a wary person in any case by virtue of her legal education, the more she finds out about the erosion of our privacy, the less she dares to use her VISA card: "I pay in cash if I can!" Chris alarmed her further by betting he could discover her email address in five minutes by means of googling, even though he had no idea what her surname was. He could, too.
This led to a wide-ranging conversation about identity theft, copyright laws, surveillance trends and privacy in general. At one point Jean said: the only answer is for us to lead a pure life.
It makes you think. Once upon a time it was the Bible or the priest in the pulpit who frightened us into behaving ourselves, with threats of Hell in the afterlife if we lapsed, with God the Big Brother who is always watching. Nowadays we frighten ourselves with the thought of being condemned by Public Exposure and the Law in this life, and we're pulled up short by the realisation that Google, Amazon, Facebook and company are keeping electronic tabs on all our emails, searches, downloads, files, photos, backups, passwords, etc.
Anyway, if we misbehave either on or off line—the trouble is, (i) we're only human, and (ii) misbehaviour is sometimes a matter of opinion—we're pretty sure be found out by one sort of police or another. There are very few hiding places. However much security protection we think we have and however much "anonymizing" is done, there's probably no longer any such thing as complete anonymity, now that we have the Internet. The identity of practically everyone is known, in one electronic way or another. To go incognito or disappear, or try to do so, we'd have to cut ourselves off from most of the tools for survival in modern society.
Although Google's slogan, at present, is DON'T BE EVIL, I wonder what will happen if that ideal gets compromised, as ideals often have been in the past. George Orwell wrote a book about that, Animal Farm, which coincidentally has recently been erased from all the Kindle devices on which it had been downloaded!
Chris has been reading a book recently (an old fashioned book with real pages, not one of the e-books on his new Kindle) called Sailing from Byzantium ("one of the best books I've read for a while," he says) and just now asked me to check the meaning of Hesychasm. Hesychasm, originating among the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos in 14th century Greece, was a movement dedicated to contemplation. I have an idea that the Hesychasts might be of relevance to my drift.