Slouching towards Dystopia

My longish (3000-word) essay in this week’s New Statesman. It’s basically a account of how we got into our current impasse with digital technology. Sample:

The important point is that surveillance and our passive acceptance of it lies at the heart of the dystopia we are busily constructing. It doesn’t matter which technology is used to identify people: what matters is that we can be identified, and then correlated and tracked across everything we do. Mass surveillance is increasingly the norm. In countries such as China, a surveillance infrastructure is being built by the government for social control. In Western countries, led by the US, it’s being built by corporations in order to influence our buying behaviour, and is then used incidentally by governments.

What’s happened in the West, largely unnoticed by the citizenry, is a sea-change in the social contract between individuals and the state. Whereas once the deal was that we accepted some limitations on our freedom in exchange for security, now the state requires us to surrender most of our privacy in order to protect us. The (implicit and explicit) argument is that if we have nothing to hide there is nothing to fear. And people seem to accept that ludicrous trope. We have been slouching towards dystopia.