The social contract, revised

Because I’m a hermit, there are many days when the only conversations I have that don’t involve my cat sound a lot like this:

Me: Okay, Google Now.

Moto X: (recognition tone)

Me: Navigate to the Fresh Market.

Moto X: Navigating to the Fresh Market.

Beyond the obvious that I pay too much for groceries and don’t own an iPhone, this should tell you a few things. For instance, it should tell you that my sense of direction is so poor that I sometimes lose track of the places I go most often.

It also  should tell you that I’m among the millions who’ve decided to let go and let Google. Which in my case means that I’ve accepted Google’s “enable audio history” clause, the one that reads in part, “the next thing you say, plus a few seconds before, may be used and stored by Google.” Sound creepy to you? It does to me.

What, for example, do they mean by “a few seconds before”? Time travel? And if not, how do they know when to begin recording those few seconds? Are they always listening? Will even a single sparrow fall to the ground outside their care?

I’ve let Google Wallet store one of my credit cards, too. It’s only money, after all. Google Street View has a photo of my car parked in front of my building and an aerial view of the building itself where Google Navigate’s ability to cross-hair my exact location, real-time, is something worthy of a Lockheed Martin drone. And of course my “private” search history resides on a “secure” server somewhere, giving whomever has access to it insights about me that I probably don’t have myself. I’m a data package wrapped in an algorithm inside a corporate behemoth and I put myself there, knowingly and willingly.

Because it makes my life easier.

Consider the cameras that blanket our public spaces, the chips embedded in our credit cards and driver’s licenses, the NSA’s famous “metadata” warehouse in Utah where all our electronic communications records are kept for future reference. Consider the cookies on our hard drives, the app installation agreements we never read in their entirety. God knows what I’ve agreed to, who’s talking to whom or doing what with my voice, my face, my words, credit history, medical records, school records. How much of me do I own outright and how much have I allowed to be 51% co-owned by others?

Because it makes my life easier.

So once again, here’s Ben Franklin writing for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its “Reply to the Governor” (1755): “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” More life has been breathed into that quote in the last 13 years than in the 246 leading up to 9-11, but were he alive today, Franklin might continue the line with something about giving up privacy for convenience.

Not that I have any right to complain, because honestly, isn’t this the new social contract? Do we really want to go back to the way things used to be? Pre-internet? Pre-cell phones? And besides, have liberty and privacy ever been much more than a marketing fiction, anyway?

Maybe we’re getting something for nothing.

Me: What is the correct response when the world’s largest search engine offers you omniscience in exchange for a piece of your imaginary soul?

Moto X: Okay, Google Now.