This week the American public was confronted with two grim pieces of news that, fortunately, cancel each other out.
The first is that the government is taking unprecedented steps to review the electronic communications — of any kind — made by any American. Your emails, your videos, your chats, even your search terms — all being monitored. The government probably read this column before my editor did.
The second piece of news is that fewer and fewer people are finishing anything they start reading online. According to research presented by tech reporter Farhad Manjoo, a large number of readers don't read past the first sentence of an article they click on — even for articles they share — and an even larger number bail before reaching the 50 percent mark of anything except pictures and videos.
Are you really surprised?
Taken individually, these are terrible pieces of news: The government is spying on everything you say online; and people are losing the ability to read. But put them together and you suddenly the problem solves itself. People just aren't reading anything put online, so thank God the government has begun a massive spying initiative to make sure everything you say gets noticed!
Without the government's massive spying program, nobody would actually read the emails you send your kids. If the NSA wasn't paying people to keep track of your chat sessions, even you probably wouldn't read what you're saying to your best friend. Without government intervention, it seems pretty clear that nobody would read anybody's poetry, or in-progress novels.
Some people would call this level of spying "intrusive," but in an era when nobody can be bothered to pay attention to anybody else, who but the government can undertake the vital service of paying people to be interested in our lives? If Big Brother didn't care, no one would care.
This is all supposed to be used to stop terrorism, of course, much in the way that you use dynamite to fish or surgery to fight a cold. But it's not like that at all: People stop fishing. They get enough fish, or it gets real dark, and they go home.
Government surveillance, on the other hand, is like hunger. It can never be satiated for long. It doesn't end by itself. It only stops if we say "no." It only ends if we elect new politicians, and hold them accountable for our privacy.
But why would we do that, when we live in an America which is united by only two things: the desire not to be blown up by a terrorist, and the wish to be famous?
One happy day, when the government intercepts all your texts and has microscopic drones in your fridge ... when you are tracked by satellite whenever you go outdoors and your car is driven by a government-friendly tech company and every word is monitored by your phone and eyeglasses ... then we will have finally reached a society where everybody will be a celebrity to somebody.
Page 2 of 2 - It's been tried before, of course: In East Germany as estimated 25 percent of the population were paid government informants, spying on their friends and neighbors. That was a totalitarian nightmare. The Soviet Union had a massive infrastructure of bureaucrats specifically designed to keep track of everything their fellow citizens did. That was a dictatorial horror. But we have better technology, and everybody knows that technology can never be used for evil.
No, it's better to slip into our surveillance state like you'd slip into a nice warm bath. Those blog posts you wrote back when you had a blog? The government's archived them. Those tweets you sent after having too much wine at the concert? The government read them carefully. Every day the government checks in on you, to make sure you haven't gotten an email from a friend of a friend of a suspected terrorist (even if you don't know him), or made a search for a term it's watching today, or said something it doesn't like.
It's really interested in what you have to say. It's probably the only person in your whole life who's that interested.
And if you end up on a terrorist watch list for your legal political activities, or if your children end up getting profiled by law enforcement because of a joke you told, or if there are just too many eyes watching you from the dark, unblinking, for your comfort — remember, that's the price of celebrity.