If one deems the Oxford Dictionaries trustworthy (I know I do), the Japanese word ひきこもり or 引き籠もり (“hikikomori”) means “hermit”. A hermit is a person who lives, for religious reasons or others, a reclusive life at a secluded place, far from others, avoiding company. Quite frankly, having been a social person for many years of my life, I lately have to conclude that living la vida local is not the worst idea. [read more]
Just yesterday, in an extended, very interesting, and enjoyable conversation with a friend on the phone, I had to admit that I really like the circumstances of my present life. Which is not the life of a hikikomori, yet, but comes pretty close. You have to leave the actual area of the village I live in (which homes a mere 300 inhabitants, anyhow) to find the house in the middle of… well, not “nowhere”, but somewhere nothing much is happening, except for tractors and dog walkers passing by every now and then.
I have praised the advantages of country life already, so, I’m not going to bore you with that again. And that’s not the reason for my enjoying this place so much. It is the quiet. The calm. The absence of chatty restlessness, of busy-ness. The absence of people.
As the British writer Sara Maitland puts it in a text originally published by The Guardian, now online at World Observer: “On occasion, I do not see another person all day. I love it.” Sara has lived alone for over twenty years, in “a region of Scotland with one of the lowest population densities in Europe, and I live in one of the emptiest parts of it.”
My friend, the one on the phone, warned me, that the problems I already have with getting more and more distanced from people (simply put, because I am not willing to share their means of communication, Facebook®, Twitter®, “smart” phones, and the like, and they are not willing to share mine, secure e-mail, e.g. Tutanota or ProtonMail, old-school land line phones etc.) will increase. I must reply, “I know, but I am not able to do anything about it.” Because I am certain of several things, and if others contradict me and I am not able to convince them otherwise, I have to retire.
I’m well aware how obstinate and self-righteous this may sound, but I am by far not the only one to be concerned — and I am not talking conspiracy theorists here. Reasonable journalists of sound mind and proper education are the ones to have reported Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA’s boundless greed for all things data, and who continue to warn about the future and the extinction of freedom, caused by the uneducated use of all those seemingly o-so-useful new devices and apps. I have quoted one of them recently, promising to elaborate. Well, this is me elaborating.
People are careless to such a degree that it will make them victims of a currently ascending unsympathetic, immoral, and inhumane system, as Theodore Roosevelt saw it coming in 1912 already (“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” — 1912 speech “The Progressive Covenant With The People”), and it has only gotten far worse.
Where they don’t have already, machines will take over very soon. Every time someone tells me, “there’s no need to encrypt communication, for who would read all our personal e-mails,” I feel so helpless facing this incredible amount of ignorance. Of course, there are no men in black with hats lowered over their eyes reading our e-mails. It’s the machines, stupid! They did, they do, and they will continue to scan all messages (i.e. all they get hold of) for key words and key phrases, and whenever a word or phrase matches one they are programmed to flag, they will.
A little red flag here, a little red flag there, and depending on the current key word database, most anyone and everyone will raise suspicion. Since every and all messages are stored away for good (read: eternity), anyone who comes to power will be able to access them and modify the search parameters, hence find people of a certain hobby, consumer behaviour, political opinion, age, area of residence, health issue, income, race, gender, you name it — and connections and combinations thereof, weaving a web of entwined micro-, macro-, and metadata. With the rise of right-wing parties all over Europe, chances are we’ll face an ongoing dramatic change in matters of tolerance, acceptance, life choices, and — I said it already — freedom.
My friend (the one on the phone, again) also tried to evoke my understanding for people not being able to handle technology properly, hence feeling helpless even opening a new mail account. I must tell you, I don’t follow. I think that what you handle, you have to understand. As I was (and still am) entertaining the idea of a “parent’s licence” similar to a driver’s licence, I’d second the idea of a “user’s licence” for anyone buying any piece of computer technology. Well, not any, maybe; a digital odometer for a bicycle works just fine without us understanding its inner mechanisms and won’t do any harm.
The minute you log into the WWWW, though, access your e-mail, post anything to any “social” network, upload anything to The Cloud (e.g. Dropbox®, Google® Drive™, Apple® iCloud™, Microsoft® OneDrive™) or anything slightly similar, you need to fully understand what you are doing: handing over your personal data (including, but not limited to, the exact time and location when and where this or that photo has been taken 1, hence, where you have been at any given time; who all the people around you are 2, hence, whom you spend your time with, although you might not even actually know those guys; and so forth) to an obscure process that not only keeps your data forever but keeps on harvesting information forever and ever.
Big data is not about making life easier for Us, The People.
It is not even about fighting crime and terrorism.
It is about controlling people.
People like you.
And the more you let that happen, the more I will be controlled.
That is probably the real reason why I have to recluse.
Also, the words of Jim Morrison are very true, who, in an interview with the Rolling Stone, said: “If for some reason you’re on a different track from other people you’re around, it’s going to jangle everybody’s sensibilities. And they’re either going to walk away or put you down for it.”
A to-the-point example of that: “Ach Quatsch” would be an answer many Germans would shut me down with, a phrase that sounds something like “uch kvutch”, the first “ch” being the typical throat-grating noise that one hears a lot in Northern parts and in Arabic countries. A very harsh-sounding reply this is, and a harsh-feeling at that, since it means “nonsense!” They put me down for my constantly warning about the dangers lurking in the dark of server parks. The problem, or one of the problems at least, is that people take democracy and freedom for granted. They are not, my dear readers, they are not. We are closer to a dictatorship than most of you most likely imagine, and probably not a dictatorship of wo:::men over wo:::men but of machines over humankind, or, more precise, and not to put ludicrous images of an army of robots in your head, a dictatorship of software over humans.
“But software is written by programmers, by human beings, and it is also controlled by them,” so many have told me repeatedly. See, that is just not true. Well, the first part is, obviously; software is made by wo:::men. But the conclusion is plain naïve. Today, software has gotten complex in ways that even most programmers aren’t able to grasp. Additionally, more and more software is programmed to learn by itself, which subsequently shall lead to something called “artificial intelligence” (A.I.), always making for a good appearance in a sci-fi film, but unfortunately already much more in use then it would deem reasonable. Only think of drones killing “enemies” based on algorithms and you get the idea. Software even now is “acting” autonomously — and will do so much more in the very near future.
No actual person will be involved when you get a 20% increase in your health insurance premium (based on a calculated risk you don’t even know the origin of), when you don’t get the flat or apartment (based on your estimated income, or the rather frequent change of homes you have been through lately, or another calculation you are not even aware of), or you don’t get the job (based on how long you’ve held jobs in the past, or how much money you seem to spend, hence demand, or any other calculation you are not even aware of). No actual person will be involved when you are let go, based on an algorithm only taking efficiency into account (or time spent working, or punctuality, or something you are not even aware of), not anything else you did contribute to the company over all the decades. No actual person will be involved when you are denied entry into a foreign country, based on an algorithm that assessed you a possible security risk.
All this can and will not happen to you? Well, just wait for it. Maybe you’re lucky. “Maybe”, not “likely”.
After unsuccessfully trying for years, many years, too many years, to open eyes, to raise sensitivity, and to inform my fellow wo:::men about the dawning of just another Age of Aries (as opposed to the supposed dawning of the Age of Aquarius, which would be a time of love, peace, understanding, and hashish, according to the musical “Hair”, that is; the Age of Aries is associated with war and fire and the rise of empires, never that much of quiet times), the only way I see now is — out.
So, here I am, back to the brink of my little village and to the heading of this article: from now on, you may address me as “Hikikomori San” 3. To a certain degree, I dearly love you all (well, most of you), but there is so much I disagree with that I have to go my very own ways. I’m just glad that some still walk alongside.
1 Those are only a few of the metadata stored inside all image files (unless you strip them bare, which is possible).
2 Facial recognition software is already working so well, it is truly scary.
3 “San” being the Japanese “Mister”.