Stop and Frisk: A Modest Proposal

May 19, 2012

In NYC, there is a lot of discussion of the NYPD policy of “stop and frisk.”  They tend to stop young men of color, and have done so at an annual rate that equals the entire young African-American and Latino population of the city.  For this, they have  netted a few arrests, and the smoldering animosity of an entire generation of young men.  Seems rather inefficient, don’t it?

I would like to advance a modest proposal, in the spirit of Mr. Swift, that will be familiar to all aficionados of sci-fi stories and films, and that would make this approach to crime fighting very productive:

Simply provide every citizen with an identify card that contains a computer chip with a GPS and encoded ID info.  Police can scan people without stopping them, and interrogate them if they are without their papers.  Other countries do this (minus the technology.)  Also, the  movements of every citizen could be tracked and interrogated by the police, and compared with real-time data on crimes.  “Sir, you were at that drug store at 11:32 p.m. when a robbery occurred.  Please come with us...”  (Oh, yeah, you’re not white either…)

Just to keep it all on the up-and-up, there’s no reason for this data to be secret.  The social network Big Brothers of the world might be persuaded to cooperate in this brave new adventure in positive social engineering by posting all the movement data on every citizen.  We would have the same data as the cops, and could keep tabs on everyone!  Think of the adulterous affairs that would be nipped in the bud – a boon for family life!  Drug use among teenagers would probably take a hit from vigilant parents.  Facebook and Google would find ways to make billions of dollars off ad revenue for lawyers, counselors, drug programs, and the like that would be tightly focused.  Imagine!  You are arrested, and lawyers are waiting for you at the station, eager to represent you!  Surely, a positive development for civil rights.

Maybe some day we can go the next step of implanting the chips in newborns.  All under the beneficent gaze of the supervising corporate entities, keeping us entertained with spectacles, as in Rollerball.   Sometimes, these days, I feel we’re almost there.

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Getting and spending: Facebooking the Future

May 15, 2012

I just heard a report on the coming IPO of Facebook, possibly at a value of $100 billion.  What could justify such an enormous sum assigned to a social networking site?  It gives a price to earnings ratio of 100 or more.  That is, investors, if they give it that value, are betting that its profits will double every year for many years, so said the financial analysts.

Why would they assume this?  Because Facebook is pitching itself as the ultimate of advertising pitchmen, with a new system that integrates the members of its network, and all the information it holds about them, to create ads based on links between people.  That is, I buy a toaster, FB knows who I know, ads appear at those nodes for toasters and whatnot that I and they like.  We all become elements in the grand scheme of managed buying, selling, consumption.  Am I wrong to find this a bit dispiriting?

Remember the days when the Internet was new, and people were dreaming of how it would create a completely different sort of social network?  It has!  And it’s all based upon sales!

Wordsworth’s poem.


More and Zen

October 17, 2010

I have been hearing about the new movie, The Social Network, from all over the place.  My first question was simple:  How the heck does Facebook make money, anyway?  Again, the answer is simple – advertisements.  My next question was simple too:  Who cares?  Obviously, a lot of people.

I have a Facebook account, but I rarely use it.  I got it to keep up with my daughter when she was abroad.  I’ve read a lot of critical raves about the movie.  Joe Nocera’s in the NYTimes Business section was the most interesting:  he felt it was an excellent study of an important personality-type in our culture – the entrepreneur.  I get that, but I’m so un-entrepreneurial, that I have little interest in it.

On another planet, I have been reading an old book lately called How to Want What You Have.  It’s by a psychologist who approaches life from a Zen-Cognitive point of view, and it’s very down to earth.  I find that it encapsulates a lot of what I have been thinking for years.  One of the central, and novel ideas he proposes is that it is instinctual for humans to always want MORE.  He says spiritual-meditative-ethical discipline as going against the human grain, but he believes it is necessary because our evolved instinctual drives are out of synch with our culturally evolved existence.  The Buddha and innumerable religious thinkers agree.  I don’t know if his Darwinian take is valid, and I don’t even think it’s necessary, but that’s where he starts.

What brings me to Facebook & How to Want… is that they seem diametrically opposed.  Facebook is all about more, more MORE.  More “friends,” more “celebrity”, more chatter, more pictures, more connections…shading off into my own blog obsession with the number of hits to my site (down lately!)  Zen is all about letting go of more, more, More!

One thing about discussions of Internet “culture” in journalism that strikes me often is the constant failure to evaluate.  Journalism is all about filling columns and tickling readers to come back to read more.  Heavy questions are a turn off.  So in the New Yorker review of the new film, the author writes that Facebook recognizes that “we all treat each other now as packets” of information, not individuals.  Is this…dare I ask it, good?  Okay, it is a fact, it is popular, it might be fun, not everyone is obsessed by it, so…beyond the fact that it made some people fabulously rich, why care???