Bob Blakley Gets Future Shock Dead Wrong

Bob Blakley has a very thought provoking piece, “Gartner Gets Privacy Dead Wrong.” I really, really like a lot of what he has to say about the technical frame versus the social frame. It’s a very useful perspective, and I went back and forth for a while with titles for my post (The runner up was “Fast, Cheap and out of Bob’s Control.”)

I think, however, that my frame for a response will be Alvin Toeffler’s excellent analysis of Future Shock. In it, he describes our lives as most people in the professional class move more and more often for work. How the traditional means of social cohesion — church, scouts, the PTA, bridge clubs, the local watering hole — all down as we expect to be gone in just a few years. How we have friends we see annually at a conference or in airports. He explained that ongoing acceleration and the removal of support structures would lead to isolation, alienation and an ongoing and increasing state of future shock.

A great many Americans on the coasts live in many micro-societies. We have our professional groups and sub-groups. We have hobbies. We may have college buddies in the same areas as we are. We pick a fat demogauge to listen to: Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore as suits our fancy. But our social spaces are massively fragmented. And so when Bob says:

But he’s right that we’d better behave. When we see someone else’s private information, we’d better avert our gaze. We’d better not gossip about it. We’d better be sociable. Because otherwise we won’t need the telescreen – we’ll already have each other. And we’ll get the society we deserve.

We no longer have a society, or the society. We have teabaggers screaming at Obamaphiles. We have neighbors suing neighbors. We call the cops rather than walking next door. We run background checks on our scoutmasters, all because we no longer have a society which links us tightly enough that we can avoid these things.

And amidst all of this which society will create and drive the social norms for privacy? Will it be the one that lets cops beat protesters at the G20? The one that convinced Bob to join Facebook? The one that leads me to tweet?

In a world where some people say “I’ve got nothing to hide” and others pay for post office boxes, I don’t know how we can settle on a single societal norm. And in a world in which cheesy-looking web sites get more personal data — no really, listen to Alessandro Acquisti, or read the summary of “Online Data Present a Privacy Minefield” on All Things Considered. In a world in which cheesy-looking web sites get more data, I’m not sure the social frame will save us.

9 thoughts on “Bob Blakley Gets Future Shock Dead Wrong

  1. “We no longer have a society”
    We never had society as idealized by you. Read a little history (especially about how vile some of the early presidential elections were) and maybe you will understand that the more things change the more they stay the same.
    And you are quoting “Alvin Toeffler”? Seriously? I haven’t gotten into an argument about him since I was beta testing AOL back in the late 80s and the head of the Mac Communications forum was a devotee (and a complete idiot). I threw out ‘future shock’ years ago as a waste of space.

  2. “We no longer have a society”
    We never had society as idealized by you. Read a little history (especially about how vile some of the early presidential elections were) and maybe you will understand that the more things change the more they stay the same.
    And you are quoting “Alvin Toeffler”? Seriously? I haven’t gotten into an argument about him since I was beta testing AOL back in the late 80s and the head of the Mac Communications forum was a devotee (and a complete idiot). I threw out ‘future shock’ years ago as a waste of space.

  3. I have to agree with Tim, and I think we thus share a hopeful and not a dismal view of (1) society, (2) privacy, and (3) secrecy.
    Things may seem like they’re falling apart and that’s a hallmark of America and indeed of all societies in all time and in all places. Things change, people over-think the reasons why (or why not) and adopt a selectively solipsistic view of their particular worlds.
    Going back specifically to privacy and secrecy, spend some time in any culture that is less technologized than our own (and the less the better) and you will quickly find that privacy and secrecy become pretty loose ideals. The average American will probably be shocked and appalled by the constant and unending “invasions of privacy” that are the normal social modes in other cultures (I am thinking of my own lengthy experiences in SE Asia).
    Privacy isn’t dead, but it was never all it’s cracked-up to be.

  4. Tim,
    Usually we expect people to offer up arguments and citations, not ad-hominum and contradiction.
    If you think I should read a little more history, feel free to either suggest a book or drop one in the mail. If you disagree with Future Shock, feel free to explain why. I found it an interesting prediction of several years of my life.
    Seriously.

  5. I agree with Adam about the issues facing society at the present. One datum he did not include is the number of “gated communities,” where local police have no jurisdiction and where the residents seem to fear their neighbors in the adjacent “gated community.” Some of these communities, like the Disney one in Florida, have even given up on local government and let the “association” run things. Almost as bad as those cameras in England.

  6. I think my earlier comment was eaten. Anyway, the ur-citation in this area would be Emile Durkheim’s _Suicide_, 1897.

  7. Chris,
    Sorry, the blog software is slow at handing comments.
    Are you saying that Durkheim’s approach to sociology is definitional, and QED Toeffler is an ass? Because I find it hard to see how work written ~60 years before T. refutes his.

  8. Adam:
    Durkheim is foundational, not definitional. _Suicide_ is the classic example of a work linking varying degrees of social integration to individual behaviors. There’s a clear parallel between the disorientation Toffler talks about modern, rapidly-changing society as engendering and the “anomie” Durkheim pointed to 70 years earlier.
    I didn’t mean my comment to be read as expressing an opinion on Toffler.

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