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Little Sister Watch: Personal Drones
I haven’t mentioned Little Sister in some time, so let’s refresh…just over two years ago, I wrote:
Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, created the powerful meme, “Big Brother.” Since his novel 1984 was published in 1948, Big Brother and its associated memes have propagated, as we now say, virally, throughout the O’ Spheres of human culture. I would like to suggest a new meme as an overlay and even a successor to Big Brother: Little Sister.
Who is Little Sister? To quote another great mememaker, Walt Kelly, as spoken by his character and avatar Pogo, ”Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.” We have met Little Sister, and She is us. Put an Orwellian twist on the paraphrase, and it becomes,
We are Little Sister, and we are watching us.
Little Sister is everyone who carries a cellphone with a digital camera that can upload pics and viddy to the intertubes. Little Sister is the “Macaca” who provided now former Senator George Allen an opportunity to destroy his political career. Little Sister is the 3 or more BART riders who viddied BART policeman Johannes Mehserle shooting Oscar Grant as Grant lay prone on the floor of the car. Little Sister is an emergent property of people interacting via the ever-faster global communications grid and all the technologies, software, and infrastructure that make, extend, and connect it.
In my opinion, Little Sister trumps Big Brother. To be a bit derisive about it, Big Brother is sooo Twentieth Century. Little Sister needs no Ministry of Love, no Ministry of Truth. Little Sister is distributed. Little Sister is every blogger, every person on Facebook or YouTube or Twitter or Vodpod or Identica or whatever the lubed up social tool is the latest trend–o-ware to backdoor the Internet. Little Sister is every person who has an email account, even if that person is a homeless person who accesses his email via a computer at the Public Library.
Big Brother is top down, Little Sister is bottom up. Little Sister benefits from the flatness of the infosphere as it now stands, Big Brother must contend with it. Big Brother seeks total order; total control. Little Sister is random and nondeterministic, technology-enabled anarchy incarnate. Little Sister has the wide world under surveillance, yet defeats surveillance. Every discrete bit of Little Sister is like a subatomic particle: If you know where it is, you don’t know which way it’s going; if you know which way it’s going, you don’t know where it is. Big Brother is as often suborned by Little Sister as the other way around. I’m not saying that Big Brother is going away, but there’s a new gal in town.
Little Sister does have a significant, or shall I say signal, weakness: Her continued operation is utterly dependent on the Res Technica, the aforesaid global grid, the noose-sphere into which humankind has stuck its collective neck. Given a massive fail of any portion of the infrastructure, the blue screen of death awaits her, and we take the long fall.
It’s Little Sister versus Big Brother, but it’s also Little Sister interacting with Big Brother, and vice versa. Little Sister tends to disrupt the status quo, though on occasion Little Sister does bolster it as well. More the former than the latter. Depends on what the status quo is that day, or rather, that millisecond.
But Little Sister is a process, not a creed. It is powered by people who have access to the technologies that allow them to input and output to the grid, but it doesn’t necessarily promote People Power, anymore than evolution by natural selection promotes the political creeds of the very ill named Social Darwinism, Manifest Destiny, or any ism or idea of human progress. Like the process of natural selection, Little Sister has no goal and no values of herself, even though she is an unintended creation of human actions and human instrumentality.
The technologies are being exploited by everyone who has access to them, for any conceivable good or ill. Access cannot be controlled at all times by any one authority or set of authorities. Little Sister arises from the properties of these technologies, and creates user capabilities unforeseen by any authority. Big Brother is a nickname for totalitarianism, a political system that worships, and attempts to preserve, absolute power for the few. Little Sister is the nickname I propose for the fruitful high tech anarchy in which most of us find ourselves living. Big Brother was purpose made; Little Sister just happened.
I suggested Little Sister as a meme, but no one took the suggestion. I still think of the idea as one of my “greatest hits” but so far it’s only been a legend in my own mind. Writers like Clay Shirky have written entire books about Little Sister, but none have picked up my cool nickname, alas.
When I wrote the above text twits on Twitter were turning their avatars green in solidarity with protesters in Iran. The “Twitter Revolution” didn’t turn out so well. Subsequent social media assisted street actions have toppled governments. Instances of Little Sister in action, large and small, have proliferated. Weiner’s weiner on Twitter was, shall we say, a small one. The protests, uprisings, overthrows and overall ongoing revolutionary ferment in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Syria, et cetera are the large instances. Wikileaks is an incarnation of Little Sister. She lives and breathes and moves. And now, Sis can haz flying eyeballs in the sky like Ceiling Cat, and the U.S Government. I “predicted” it:
Dr. Yoshev Omed (tinydoctor)’s status on Friday, 10-Sep-10 10:14:17 EDT
Turns out I was not really ahead of the wavefront. As I slyly suggest, personal drones could be used by protesters against authorities. When some of the protesters’ cameras have wings and are buzzing like a swarm of giant dragonflies above riot policemen’s heads, out of truncheon’s reach, it’s gonna be a lot harder to stop that insurgent live-to-Internet video feed. Of course, the policemen will have drones too. Personal drone dogfighting may soon have its aces. Drones could also be used–could already be in use–by paparazzi, stalkers, and Peeping Toms…private investigators, Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe… birdwatchers and hunters…inspection engineers and terrorists…the possibilities shiver in the virtual ether like World of Warcraft sugar plum fairies.
If you’ve got a few hundred bucks and an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, you can fly one of these babies…you can fly you can fly you can fly…you can spy you can spy you can spy. Tinkerbell. Yes, Wendy, there’s an app for that.