In Michael Mann’s excellent caper movie Heat (Pacino, De Niro), there’s a scene in which mastermind criminal Nate (Jon Voight) is talking to De Niro’s character McCauley, and shows him architect’s blueprints of a bank’s electrical system which McCauley will need to rob it. McCauley asks (and I’m paraphrasing this exchange from memory), “Where do you get all this stuff?” and Nate answers vaguely, waving his hand, “It’s all out there, in the air… you just have to reach out and take it.”
Note that Heat was released in 1995, when the Internet was still in its relative infancy.
Now we have this so-called “Internet of Things” whereby (heretofore stand-alone) technology can be controlled remotely via the Internet — and it’s not just “autonomous” cars (about which I have ranted before), but the most mundane stuff like stoves, refrigerators and similar kitchen appliances. Insty has been on a tear about this phenomenon recently, linking to articles about smart TVs being compromised, wi-fi in refrigerators and expectations of privacy in cars’ black box data-collection devices, to name just those in recent memory.
I hate all this shit. I understand that there are going to be times when controlling your oven from outside the home (like, when you forgot to turn it off) can be helpful, even life-saving. I understand why your home security system should be remotely deactivated when the maid service comes to clean your house — and no, I’m not going to deride these situations as “First World Problems” either. I don’t even like that annoying little beep that “reminds” you that you haven’t put your seatbelt on — and just try to disable the little bastard: you void you car’s warranty. (See how this works?)
What I’m really concerned about is that your remote control of things is, in Nate’s words, “in the air” — and if you can turn off your gas oven from your hotel room in Bali, who’s to say that some asshole can’t turn it on from his mom’s basement in Poughkeepsie? Having this ability to control your stuff remotely is fine, provided that you are absolutely, 100% certain that you, and only you, can do the controlling. Me, I don’t believe that, and I do not trust this situation because for fuck’s sake, every single system in the known world, from Target’s customer file to the IRS taxpayer database to Iran’s nuclear development program has been hacked. I don’t care who did the hacking (Mossad, NSA, Russia’s FSB, or Gregory The Geek), the fact that these systems can be hacked at all makes me leery of ever adopting them and the appliances they control.
I know, these systems make your life easier. “Convenience” has sold a ton of ideas and stuff, just not always with benevolent consequences. Remote garage door openers, for example, have been a blessing to lazy drivers, and also to burglars, who now use handheld decoders which can open any garage door inside fifteen seconds — and these decoders are sold quite legally at any serious electronics store. I bet everyone here can think of others — I can’t be bothered — which only makes this a much bigger deal than we think.
And no, I’m not one of these conspiracy loons who think that all this is an international conspiracy of Bilderburgers, Battenburgers, Double-Cheese Hamburgers or the perennial favorite, the Jooooz. (I’m going to say it now: conspiracy nuts are paranoid fucking morons.)
But I am intensely suspicious of any system which takes away my control of my own life, and of the things in my life, simply by telling me that it makes it all more convenient for me.
Here’s a simple question: if the Internet of Things allowed for the remote control of, say, handguns, how would you feel about it then? Why are you against it? Don’t you want to render your gun completely safe and inert so that your child can’t hurt himself if he plays with it? Or wouldn’t you like the police to have the ability to disable guns in the hands of criminals? Or wouldn’t you like the government to be able to render all guns inert in the case of a national emergency, so people couldn’t be robbed or killed?
Do you see how reasonable and how convenient all the above questions sound? [And let us pause here while Chuck Schumer shares a post-orgasmic cigarette with Dianne Feinstein.]
Oh, and please don’t tell me that guns are different because they aren’t the same as microwave ovens or refrigerators. It’s the Internet of Things, not the Internet of Some Things. What is added to one can be added to others; as we all know, airliners have long had “black boxes” to record their movements and data — now try to buy a car which isn’t fitted with an EDR (and rulings like this are rearguard actions, which will eventually fail).
And as the title of this post suggests, I’m supporting the Internet of No Things. A pox on all of it, and on the people who are trying to foist this shit on us, even though their reasons are oh-so reasonable and altruistic. Never mind, as Megan McArdle points out in her article above, that this added technology adds considerable cost to products, to the manufacturers’ benefit. (It’s the same with cars: you could lose 50% of all the new technology from cars, and while things might be a little “inconvenient” for the driver, the car could still perform its most elemental function without skipping a beat. Just for thousands of dollars per car less.)
People who are opposed to technology are generally called Luddites (after their apocryphal English founder Ned Lud) or saboteurs (after the French textile workers who threw their wooden clogs — sabots — into mechanical looms). I am neither of the above, nor do I fear technology. What I fear is that one day soon we’re going to find out that while all this technology has freed us (from what?), we’ll be shackled into immobility like Gulliver by the Lilliputians — not by just one device, of course, but by all our possessions which are no longer under our control.
Cue George Orwell: “Freedom Is Slavery” — only in our case, it will be “Convenience Is Slavery.”
Go ahead and laugh, call me crazy or sneer at my apparent Luddism. We’ll see how all this shakes out; but I’m not wrong, and it will give me no pleasure at all to say “I told you so” (while I’m firing up a home-made flamethrower to use on my microwave, which won’t let me nuke a pork sausage because I’ve exceeded my government-mandated weekly hot dog allowance).
If this is to be the future, I want no part of it, and I will actively resist it. I won’t be standing athwart the tide of Convenience shouting “Enough!”; I’ll be behind a barricade with a loaded AK-47 which, I need hardly tell you, will not be remotely-controlled.