Seasonal compassion

I’ve always been ambivalent about Christmas. Because my parents were’t very good at celebrations, my childhood experience of the festival was often one of disappointment. When I met Sue, my late wife, I had to change my views because she really loved Christmas and took great delight in every part of it, and our children learned that from her. But I remain acutely aware of the stresses it puts on people who are poor, unhappy or depressed, when the contrast between their own conditions and the glitzy, showy, consumer-driven atmosphere all around is painful. So it was sweet to find this message on one of the main pedestrian bridges across the Cam this Christmas.

Sleepwalking into dystopia

This morning’s Observer column:

When the history of our time comes to be written, one of the things that will puzzle historians (assuming any have survived the climate cataclysm) is why we allowed ourselves to sleepwalk into dystopia. Ever since 9/11, it’s been clear that western democracies had embarked on a programme of comprehensive monitoring of their citizenry, usually with erratic and inadequate democratic oversight. But we only began to get a fuller picture of the extent of this surveillance when Edward Snowden broke cover in the summer of 2013.

For a time, the dramatic nature of the Snowden revelations focused public attention on the surveillance activities of the state. In consequence, we stopped thinking about what was going on in the private sector. The various scandals of 2016, and the role that network technology played in the political upheavals of that year, constituted a faint alarm call about what was happening, but in general our peaceful slumbers resumed: we went back to our smartphones and the tech giants continued their appropriation, exploitation and abuse of our personal data without hindrance. And this continued even though a host of academic studies and a powerful book by Shoshana Zuboff showed that, as the cybersecurity guru Bruce Schneier put it, “the business model of the internet is surveillance”.

The mystery is why so many of us are still apparently relaxed about what’s going on…

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