You may not have realized it yet, but you're living in a bad neighbourhood. We've turned a corner with the attack on Sony Pictures. Hacking is hitting us where we live, and that new real estate happens to be in the virtual realm.
It’s not the distopia that many a sci fi writer would have you expect. Diminishing social skills, increased anxiety and twitter may suck, but Snow Crash this ain’t. When you consider the North Korean hacking an act of terrorism – that is, an action that leverages fear to advance a political agenda, which it most definitely is – this almost seems like a step in the right direction.
There are no burning buildings, no shrapnel in the spectators. Hack attacks are real, but this is an epoch where reality can simply be turned off.
Consider, for example, the mass celebrity hacking last summer, when stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton had nude photos from their phones hacked out of the cloud and displayed on the internet for all to see.
From different corners, the scandal simultaneously inspired mass outrage and apathy (after the sound of fapping had died down). Victims called it a “sex crime” (which it undoubtedly is), while the less sympathetic noted that if the best way to prevent having nude photos stolen from your phone is to simply not take nude photos with your phone. That logic is infallible, but when Ricky Gervaismade the argument he was met with cries of victim blaming. A few people on twitter went as far saying, “That’s like saying if you got raped it’s your fault for wearing a short dress.”
No. It’s more like undressing in front of an open window. There shouldn’t be anyone with their eyes pressed up to the glass, but of course there is. Now, peeping is a sex crime. It’s shameful and cruel, but it can’t give you a venereal disease, can’t get you pregnant, and most likely won’t cause P.T.S.D. Welcome to the internet. It’s a rough neighborhood, but not that rough.
By participating in online life, you are buying some shady real estate. Think downtown Manhattan in the eighties – what you gain in convenience you sacrifice in security. Even respectable sites like facebook and ebay fall prey to hackers – the celebrity photos allegedly came from Apple’s cloud. It’s something the users of the internet have not quite been able to grasp, and it’s also an oddly unifying concept: no matter how well off we are in physical reality, we’re all more or less equally vulnerable to cyber attacks (the wealthy might actually be more at risk). This is something people are only beginning to grasp, and though I agree we should treat each other with love and respect, I can also mediate my expectations a little bit.
21st century connectivity has thrown the best and worst kind of people into a slop and asks us to fend for ourselves. The hackers I have spoken of do not pose a credible physical threat – not even North Korea, but these days they don’t have to. It turns out smearing someone’s reputation with a cluster of embarrassing emails or a nude photo is enough to scare them off course these days. Destroying someone online is like the equivalent of destroying them in real life.
When I learned about the Amanda Todd tragedy, the uncharitable thought came to mind that she should have just deleted her facebook account. The bullying she endured was mostly online, so you’d think she could have just turned it off, tuned out and carried on. It would have been lonely being the only young person not plugged into social media, but it would still have been a life.
Yet if there's anything these hacks and the reactions to them have shown us, its that people seem oddly unable to keep perspective on their virtual world. For now, being destroyed online is the same as being destroyed in life.
Snow Crash, indeed.
*Just in time for this post to go to print, Madonna blessed us all with 6 new completed songs of her new album, following another hack wherein 13 unfinished demos were leaked onto the internet. Commenting on the leak, Madonna says, “W don't put things up on servers anymore. Everything we work on, if we work on computers, we're not on WiFi, we're not on the Internet, we don't work in a way where anybody can access the information. Hard drives of music are hand-carried to people.”
There you have it. I sense the golden age of the internet is over, and the smart money is on scaling back our dependence on it. We’ll see where that takes us.