A wired life, like a religious one must conserve its autonomy by interpreting the content independently of received ideas about the truth

 

As it turns out, our wired life demands from us a greater interpretative effort than in the past, when our choices were more limited to a restricted number of personal friends, newspapers and TV networks. Today, the choice is so vast that we must constantly be aware that being lied to, hacked, or overloaded is not only likely, but inevitable.

In sum, those who believe that our wired life can be measured by the amount of time we spend online are simply trying to avoid confronting the fact that we must allow our interpretations to take over when we are online; that is, we must create political alteration, resistance, or change as profound as the one Luther brought about by finding a new way to translate and interpret the Bible. 

A wired life, like a religious one, must conserve its autonomy by interpreting the content independently of received ideas about the truth

We have heard a lot of wonderful things about cloud computing and a world where everything is perpetually connected to the web. In fact, as someone who deals with new technology services and gadgets daily, I have seen and used some of this stuff. And it is indeed wonderful.

But there is another side to it. Do you remember writing an essay titled ‘Technology a boon or bane…’ at school? Yes, technology always has two sides to it. Even if it is as wonderful as cloud computing, which powers services like Google’s Gmail, Apple’s iCloud and Dropbox, etc.

I am talking about the dangers that cloud computing and a connected world pose to our private lives. Or, rather, the risk to all our data that we, as digital natives, hoard in hard drive after hard drive, believing that a six-character password is going to keep it all safe.

Technology journalist Mat Honan learned it the hard way last week, when he lost all data in three of his devices after hackers gained access to his Apple account. You can read his tale here. Hackers cracking one of your passwords is something that may not turn out to be too damaging. But what really made the life of Honan hell was the fact that his gadgets — MacBook Air, iPhone and iPad — were connected to Apple’s iCloud and could be partially controlled remotely. Also, his Gmail was connected to iCloud and his Twitter to Gmail. The end result was that Honan not only lost his data but also temporarily lost control on the services through which he talks to the world.

Then there is Steve Woz — the other Steve of Apple — who recently sounded an alarm on cloud computing. Here is what he said:

I really worry about everything going to the cloud. I think it’s going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years. With the cloud, you don’t own anything. You already signed it away… I want to feel that I own things. A lot of people feel, ‘Oh, everything is really on my computer,’ but I say the more we transfer everything onto the web, onto the cloud, the less we’re going to have control over it

Woz is a little old-fashioned geek. And I say that in a positive way. Old-fashioned geeks, the folks who kick-started the computer revolution in 70s, are different compared to the generation brought up on Facebook and Twitter. These people value their private information and keep it close to their heart. They also value open systems, machines on which they have control, and have a healthy disregard for any company that aims to ‘simplify’ a gadget or digital service by taking away the control from a user. What Woz says about cloud computing is very true. The risk is real.

Now, I am not a luddite. I love my Gmail. Or the fact that I can save my important files to Dropbox or some other digital locker so that even if I lose them on my local machine, they are safe somewhere. But you should be very, very cautious while using cloud services. Here are some handy tips that may help you keep your data safe. I follow some of them. They may be of help to you.

1-   Never use a password twice. This means every time you create a new account or sign up for a new service, use a new password. Preferably use a password that is alphanumeric.

2-   Before you post something on Facebook or Twitter, think twice. Honan’s iCloud account was hacked with not some tech wizardry but with social engineering. The hacker collected information about Honan from the web and called up Apple support impersonating him. He told Apple support that he required a new password for iCloud and managed to convince the staff that he was Honan by telling them private information about the guy.

3-   As far as possible, do not connect important accounts. This means, prize your primary email address. Maybe, create a generic email ID, preferably with a pseudonym, and provide it to services that require an email ID.

4-   In fact, use a pseudonym as much as possible. (Also, as a user, you should resist it when a company like Facebook or Google ask you for your real names).

5-   Yes, storing data in digital lockers is convenient. But it is prudent to not store details of your bank accounts, etc, in a file on these sites. Keep extremely valuable information on you local computer in an encrypted form or just write it down in a diary. In fact, diary still works best.

6-   Even if your data is stored in a digital locker, keep a local backup of important files. Preferably, in two hard disks/pen drives, etc.

7-   When you sign up for new services, you can get away by leaving out most of the information from the form. Just provide what is essential. Leave everything else blank.

8-   Did I say never use same password twice? OK. Also change passwords whenever you can.

9-   If you use Google services or Facebook, turn on two-step authentication. It’s better than the password thing.

10-  Yes, web and the cloud services are great. But I am a little old-fashioned. I don’t sign up for any service that I don’t use. Or give out the information to any company or service, whether I am using a computer or a tablet or a smartphone, which is not an absolute necessity. Maybe, you can do the same. Be little paranoid on the web. Enjoy it. Use it. But cautiously. I am not guaranteeing that it will keep your data safe, but it may reduce chances of data theft.  (Reuters) – Other nations are increasingly employing cyber attacks without “any sense of restraint,” a top U.S. cybersecurity official said on Friday, citing “reckless” behaviors that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would have dared at the height of Cold War tensions.
Debora Plunkett, of the secretive National Security Agency, whose responsibilities include protecting U.S. government computer networks, predicted that Congress would pass long-stalled cybersecurity legislation within the next year.

Lawmakers failed this summer to overcome disputes over cybersecurity regulations for private firms such as utilities.

Plunkett, head of the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, the agency’s cyber-defense arm, told a university audience that “we’re starting to see nation-state resources and expertise employed in what we would characterize as reckless and disruptive, destructive behaviors.”

Even during the Cold War, blocs of nations allied with the United States or with the Soviet Union worked to undermine each other, but still operated with a sense of restraint, she said.

“Some of today’s national cyber actors don’t seem to be bound by any sense of restraint,” she told a forum at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

Officials from the Obama administration and Congress have called for stronger cyber security, accusing China and Russia of hacking U.S. computer networks for economic gain, espionage and other motives.

U.S. standing to complain about other nations’ cyber attacks has been undermined, however, by disclosures that Washington, along with Israel, launched sophisticated offensive cyber operations of its own against Iran to try to slow that nation’s suspected quest for a nuclear weapon.

U.S. officials have not publicly acknowledged that effort and almost never speak of U.S. offensive capabilities in public.

When asked how large a threat hacking from China, Russia and other countries posed to the United States, Plunkett said: “Significant. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

SHARP INCREASE SEEN IN ATTACKS

Plunkett’s comments from the normally tight-lipped NSA reflect a growing concern among U.S. officials, lawmakers and agency heads about the country’s cyber security.

Security software maker Symantec Corp said on Friday that a hacker group that attacked Google Inc in 2009 – an operation later dubbed Operation Aurora – had since launched hundreds of other cyber assaults, focusing on defense companies and human rights groups.

Cybersecurity experts widely believe the Google attacks originated from China. Chinese officials have denied their country is a source of cyber attacks against the United States

Symantec said the group had used a technique that enabled attackers to hack into highly secured systems. That suggested the hackers were either a large criminal group, backed by a nation-state, or a nation-state itself, Symantec said.

In July, General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, said during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, that the number of computer attacks from hackers, criminal gangs and foreign nations on American infrastructure had increased 17-fold from 2009 to 2011.

“The trend exists and we have to be prepared for it and think that it will only get worse because I believe that it will,” Plunkett said.

U.S. lawmakers in August stalled cyber legislation that would enable companies and the government to share information about hacking and create a set of voluntary cybersecurity standards for companies in charge of critical infrastructure like energy, water and transportation.

With the Nov 6 congressional and presidential elections looming, observers say cyber security will be overshadowed by issues like taxes and spending.

“I am thrilled that the conversation is happening. Am I disappointed that we’re not there? Sure … I predict we’re going to have legislation. It will happen … and I’m also pretty convinced that one year after it happens, we’ll think it’s not enough,” Plunkett said.

Karl Marx: The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property [EPA]

Barcelona, Spain – A few weeks ago, after participating at a conference at Stony Brook University in New York, I went to Zuccotti Park to see and support the protesters there. A few months earlier, I had done the same thing, but in Placa de Catalunya in Barcelona; in both parks, where similar dissatisfaction with our world order was being expressed, the only thing I could think of was the actuality of Karl Marx’s words of 1845: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”. How can these words still be valid today? Is there a philosophy for these protesters?

In-depth coverage of the global movement

Regardless of all the great work that philosophers have done since Marx, this change has still not come about. The reason does not rest in philosophers’ inability to interpret correctly, but rather in their desire to interpret correctly. The inability to effect change that concerned Marx cannot be attributed to interpretation but to the truth that interpretation seeks, that is, to descriptions. Descriptions demand the imposition of certain truth and the conservation of reality, the status quo. Interpretation, on the other hand, constantly makes new contributions to reality, constantly produces change. Marx’s call to change the world should be read against those philosophies incapable of producing change, those that sustain the current constitution of society, politics and, most of all, the economy. These philosophies are primarily practiced in the United States under the name of “metaphysical” or “analytical” philosophy, and star representatives include, among others, Robert Nozick, Francis Fukuyama and John Searle. While Nozick and Fukuyama defend neoliberalism and its triumph over history, Searle (who washonoured by George W. Bush in 2004 with a National Humanities Medal) focuses on a defence of reason and objectivity and so acts to conserve the current condition of the world.

In the midst of our global economic crisis, which sees financial centres such as Wall Street occupied by protesters who call for change, Marx’s statement points out that we are still framed within the thought system that sustains the crisis, but it also demands a change in thought, that is, a philosophy for these same protesters. This philosophy is available and is called hermeneutics, the philosophy of interpretation that runs proximally through history from Aristotle and Augustine to Paul Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Although Plato in the Ion presented hermeneutics as a theory of reception and practice for transmitting the messages of the gods of Olympus, it soon after acquired a broader philosophical significance, suggesting alternative vital meanings for world, thought and existence. Thus, its most important living representative, Gianni Vattimo, recently pointed out how “whoever does not succeed in becoming an autonomous interpreter, in this sense, perishes, no longer lives like a person but like a number, a statistical item in the system of production and consumption”. The protesters and movements that arose in Spain last spring and have now spread throughout the world are the incarnation of these autonomous interpreters determined to overcome the economic impositions established by our governments. But what grants them this determination is not possession of a higher truth than the one espoused by the bearers of power, but rather the idea of an alternative and socially balanced organisation of wealth, that is, a different interpretation of the world.

But the parallel I am trying to establish between our protesters and the philosophy of interpretation does not rest simply on their demand for change but also on the condition in which they find themselves. Both the protesters and hermeneutics exist at the margins of society, as a sort of discharge of capitalism, on the one hand, and a second-rate philosophy, on the other. This marginalised condition is a consequence not of political or theoretical inconsistence, but rather of their vital ethical demands. Like Marx, hermeneutic thought and the protesters pose a radical demand for change. Rarely do people comfortable in their lives propose a different interpretation of reality, but when they do, it becomes politically revolutionary because it opposes the objective state of affairs that conditioned his previous existence. The demands of our protesters in Barcelona, New York and Sydney vary from equal distribution of income, greater social services, to reduction of corporations influence on politics, but this does not indicate they are conflicting, confused, and anarchic but that they are all hungry for change. But why is hermeneutics the most appropriate philosophy for these protesters who seek to change real economic policies?

If hermeneutics can become the philosophy of our protesters it is not only because it shares a discredited condition, revolutionary goals or ethical resistance, but also because it suggests that human coexistence is possible without imposed truth, that is, a single global financial system. After all, according to Joseph StiglitzPaul Krugman, and other distinguished economists, it is just this belief in a global economy that drove us into financial crisis in the first place. The IMF, WB and ECB are founded on a “pensee unique,” that is, an ideology of perfection, rationality, and self-regulation where flaws, frictions and failures cannot even be taken into consideration. Imposing as truth the specific economic policies of these organisations is to the life embodied by our protesters, a life that shows different and differently vital cultural and economic demands. Hermeneutics, then, is one of the few philosophies that reflects the pluralism of our postmodern societies because, like truly democratic procedures, it includes and allows structural changes to take place every time citizens demand them. Ignoring these demands for change overlooks new, different, and vital interpretations and also ignores the 99 per cent of the population that is now demanding them and the change they can effect.

 

Both natural and social scientists seem to agree that in this new century, the cultural, social and political significance of the internet has exceeded all predictions: our networked environment has become vital for our existential well-being.

After 500 years of information and knowledge stored in print, today it has moved online and is modified constantly beyond the boundaries of time and space. We can quickly obtain great quantities of data and rapidly condense it on digital devices that are connected to cloud-based operating systems.

Even our relationships, whether sentimental or intellectual, are wired, that is, inter-connected: we make friends through social networks, e-mail our colleagues, and sometimes even have our psychiatric session through Skype.

Perhaps the time has come, now that the internet and social networks have become as common as the air we breathe, to ask what sort of interaction the web implies, that is, how wired our life has become.

It is interesting to notice how often this question is answered simply by noting the amount of time we spend online (following the US presidential campaign or admiring MOMA‘s online collection) rather than by qualifying our ability to interpret the wired world, that is, to remain autonomous.

Recently, I tried to answer this question in a different manner by emphasising the distinction between wired and online users. While the latter avoid using the internet as much as possible to protect their autonomy, the former immerse themselves in social networks regardless of the personal information they must sacrifice.

However, this difference does not point out how fundamentally wired our lives are and how this entails that our existence will always be involved as a consequence rather than an option; that is, no matter the amount of time we spend online, we are wired. We seem to be living in a condition where, paraphrasing Descartes, “only the wired exist“.

Wireless existence ‘impossible’ 

However, the impasse does not arise simply because wireless existence is impossible even if we stay away from computers (considering we are also constantly monitored by CCTV cameras without our consent), but also because we are forced to respond when we are hacked or overloaded with data. As it turns out, this is no longer a problem only for online editions of newspapers or software companies but also for all of us; indeed, with a wired existence, it has become inevitable.

“Our wired life demands from us a greater interpretative effort than in the past, when our choices were more limited to a restricted number of personal friends, newspapers and TV networks.”

 

While different thinkers, such as John Locke and Norbert Weiner, foresaw these issues in their telementation and cybernetics theories, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari diagnosed it more pointedly: “We do not lack communication. On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present”.

Although the French thinkers were referring to communication, which is only one feature of being wired, they touched upon the main problem involved: our vital resistance, response and interpretation.

When we interpret, we seek not only to understand the data that confronts us, but also to add new vitality to the information, that is, to contribute to produce an alteration. Without such change, the data or news obtained will always overload us, that is, alienate or control our possibility for emancipation.

This is probably why the Italian philosopher, Gianni Vattimo, points out that “whoever does not succeed in becoming an autonomous interpreter, in this sense, perishes, no longer lives like a person but like a number, a statistical item in the system of production and consumption”. For hermeneutics (the philosophy of interpretation), the point is to resist through interpreting data instead of allowing its mass to overload our existence against our will.

Advertisements