Portrait of a New Radical: Hyper-Transparency and the Coming Radicalization of America

Portrait of a New Radical: Hyper-Transparency and the Coming Radicalization of America

Over the past few days I’ve been wrestling with a very troubling thought.

It started with the simple question, “Ten years from now, anyone who is frustrated with those in power, whether it’s a local, national, or international issue, what options will they have for protesting what they see as an injustice, inequities, or outright corruption?”

Voicing complaints on social media like Facebook or Twitter, organizing a sign-waving rally on the Capitol steps, or taking out a full-page ad in a newspaper will probably still be options, but they’re also a quick way to be branded a troublemaker.

Every shift in technology brings with it positives as well as the negatives. In a hyper-transparent, open society, being the whistleblower for injustice can quickly become more about the accuser than the wrong that needs righting.

Like it or not, transparency changes the equation.

Is humanity prepared to live in the hyper-transparent world we’re creating? Caution, the conclusions I’ve reached may be more than a little disturbing.

Rich History of Rule Breakers

Rule breaking has many dimensions and there’s a wide chasm between someone who takes a calculated business risk in pursuit of something positive and a demented psychopath breaking rules in a purely evil fashion.

Pete Diamandis, as an example, who bluffed his way to his first X-Prize payout cannot be compared to Bernie Madoff whose only plan was to bilk people out of billions of dollars.

Similarly, Bugsy Siegel’s sleight-of-hand financing techniques used to build The Flamingo, the first major resort in Las Vegas, also cannot be compared to Bonnie and Clyde whose only goal was to rob banks.

Yet, as we begin extending the long arm of scrutiny, and attempt to shine the transparency spotlight on all forms of rule breaking, we often run the risk of lumping them altogether and throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater?

Could it be that our overarching drive to use our soon-to-be all-seeing, all-knowing technology for the powers of good, to rid society of corruption, fraud, and depravity may actually make things worse?

It is not only possible, but also very likely.

Protester in Turkey wearing a Guy Fawkes mask

Caught in the Transparency Spotlight

For years, the world cheered when someone like Mike Wallace, of 60-Minute’s fame, managed to confront a person on camera and catch him or her red-handed in a boldfaced lie. But capturing a “Mike Wallace moment” back then on video or photos was a rare occurrence.

Today, just the opposite is true. It’s rare not have a confrontation captured on photos or videos.

Within a decade, if you participate in a demonstration or protest, the probability of being personally identified will soon reach 100%.

Recent protests in Turkey have many wearing gasmasks or the ever-anonymous Guy Fawkes masks to conceal their identity. At this point in history, those are probably sufficient.

However, in a few short years, people will become infinitely more traceable and simply using face paint, masks, or other theatrical disguises will offer little to shield them from the scrutiny of those who take time to investigate.

Young people involved in the Turkish protests find it easy to get caught up in the moment, and are often involved in the destruction and burning of property in the streets.

To be sure, the dividing point between a protest participant and those officially labeled a “terrorist” is a very fine line.

As we move further down the path of automating justice, the use of drones for surveillance, identification, and capture will be greatly expanded. And once a person is labeled a terrorist, it will be a designation that haunts them the rest of their life, regardless of where they live, anywhere on the planet.

Are we prepared to throw away the lives of our young people, for these brief moments of indiscretion?

"The Screwed Generation"

Consider the Following

We currently have a generation of highly educated young people, trying to make a name for themselves. Many are deeply in debt from student loans, either unemployed or under employed, and often sidelined because they lack experience.

  • Both Newsweek and NPR are referring to millennials in the U.S as the “screwed generation” because student loans, which now exceed $1 trillion and are not dischargeable through bankruptcy, a debt that will haunt many of them for the rest of their lives.
  • The promise of “better living through high-priced education” has turned out, for many, to be a total lie. Over 43% of recent graduates are now working at jobs that don’t require a college education, according to a study by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.
  • Since 2008 the percentage of the workforce under 25 has dropped 13.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while that of people over 55 has risen by 7.6%.
  • Median net worth of people under 35, according to the U.S. Census, fell 37% between 2005 and 2010
  • The wealth gap today between younger and older Americans now stands as the widest on record. The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older is $170,494, 42% higher than in 1984, while the median net worth for younger-age households is $3,662, down 68% from a quarter century ago, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.
  • The unemployment rate for people between 18 and 29 is 12% in the U.S., nearly 50% above the national average.
  • 72% of those under 35 feel government programs appear to perpetuate dependency rather than provide a solution.
  • Our excessive number of laws, rules, and regulations are viewed as background noise. In the minds of millennials, too many rules equal no rules, so why bother.

These factors, combined with a host of other perceived injustices, have combined to create a festering cauldron of hostility waiting for the right opportunity to be unleashed. But with the ominous eyes of big brother lurking on every street corner, a new breed of revolutionary is now in its infancy.

Portrait of a New Radical

Rule breakers need the latitude to make mistakes, but transparency increases the pain threshold for making those mistakes.

As we remove people’s ability to perform open and visible forms of protest, the portrait of a new radical begins to emerge.

Future radicals will share many common characteristics:

  • Feeling trapped, trapped, trapped!
  • Ultra-paranoid, wary of social networks and visible ties to others.
  • Pervasive desire to become invisible, wanting to disappear at a moments notice.
  • Subversive, digitally destructive, able to spot vulnerabilities almost instantly.
  • Multiple identities make life easier, both online and in the physical world.
  • Very little need for money. Able to find a “free” option for almost anything they need.
  • When money is used, it’s transferred through alternative currencies, games, cash, and foreign exchanges.
  • They will fight for causes that don’t make sense, just to throw people off.
  • At their core, they are simultaneously anti-government, anti-police, anti-corporation, and anti-military.

The emerging new radical will be both highly destructive and highly creative, with an ability to orchestrate, manipulate, and influence battles that they can sit on the sideline and be entertained by.

Final Thoughts

In much the same way a magician has no act once the trick is known, or the poker player has no bluff once the cards are revealed, a hyper-transparent society becomes a devastatingly efficient playground for the true puppet masters.

People on the higher end of the food chain will have access to the master control rooms where countless “levers of oppression” can be pulled if anyone crosses them.

Our ability to abuse transparency cannot be overstated.

Those who are willing to “go to war” against this kind of person will have to play by an entirely different set of rules.

In a desynchronized society, where the brute force workers on the bottom are woefully unaware of the ultra-manipulative tools being used by those at the top, we appear to be on a collision course with destiny that seems unavoidable.

My apologies to those who perceive this as little more than an uncharacteristic personal rant. Perhaps in many ways it is.

But as a topic that has been torturing me for several days now, I’d love to have someone tell me where I’m wrong. So please take a moment to weigh in with your thoughts.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” - the book that changes everything

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9 Responses

  1. Ricky Rutledge

    No need to apologise, as you astutely observe, the writing is on the virtual wall.
    I totally agree with what you say, but feel that the focus needs to shift from the reactionary ‘New Radical’ (whose portrait you paint so succinctly and disturbingly), to the other force in the equation – The ‘true puppet masters’ the ‘People on the higher end of the food chain’. Until and unless these faceless leeches are prepared to share more equitably (highly unlikely) or relinquish completely (absolutely out of the question)….as Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie said, and Robert Nesta Marlet popularised – everywhere is (and will be) war.

  2. Thomas,

    Well said! I agree, that it is almost impossible to redress all the negative variables in this equation. Having founded four entrepreneurial companies and serving in the U.S. Air Force, makes me very concerned that my grandchildren, will never know what the word freedom really means. I agree with your book, that each of us makers our own future but it may be very difficult,if we can not find a political solutions for our country’s structural problems. Perhaps the logic of technologist can help?

  3. I agree 100 percent and would offer that transparency is also bringing with it another problem – complacency. Because we are more accustomed on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to seeing corruption, lying and other abuses publicly outed, our threshold for it is rising. We’re outraged for a moment, blast out a few million tweets about it and then seem to just depressingly carry on.

  4. Neville Berkowitz

    Hi Thomas,your US based thoughts are very real, and probably not as alarmist as they appear when you consider the youth position from a more global perspective.The International Labor Organisation (ILO) estimates that there are 75 million 15- to – 24 year olds looking for work across the globe.While the OECD,comprising the wealthier nations, estimate that there are 26 million youths not in education,employment or training.They have even attracted the acronym (NEETs).In the developing countries the World Bank estimates that there are 290 million NEETs globally.That’s at least one out of four youths not being trained, educated or employed.These august Bodies reckon that half the youths are contributing to the labor market less “effectively” than they could be.That could be quite an understatement!
    But what does that mean for you and for your readers. Well if you don’t have a job paying you a reasonable income how are you going to get better educated and trained, how are you going to afford to get married and have children who are not consigned to the poor house, further perpetuating the poverty cycle. How are you going to afford a home of your own and develop an asset base.How are you going to afford goods like a car, furniture, household goods or clothing and food? What impact will this inability to afford the things that your parents, and possibly even your grandparents, took for granted have on future economic growth prospects,on future tax payments to afford the social welfare net of retirees as well as for the rest of the society’s needs, and, on future job creation?
    With so many unemployed and under employed youths the prospect of going to war in your own neighborhood to physically take what you want and what you desperately need can overwhelm cash strapped police forces.The inability to house prisoners who may create such a demand driven revolution or war in their own neighborhoods, towns and cities that make the surreal, apocalyptic Hollywood movies of the bleak future, which are so popular at present, tame by comparison.
    Of course, the powder keg is present for another Hitler type megalomaniac to come to the fore.
    The transparency you write about is a first world problem of being branded a terrorist but to a hungry person, possibly with a family to feed, being labelled a terrorist is the least of their concerns.
    We all face a future that requires each of us, who are able and capable to do so, the opportunity to stretch out our hand and to help those in need now and increasingly in the future.We cannot hide in splendid isolation and say that this is not our problem the government must do something.Well, the government can only do something with your tax dollars and we all know how the US Government’s finances look at present, and, the US is better off than most countries around the world in terms of its financial position as it has its own currency printing press, being well used at present.
    We can either do something now to help our neighbors in need or we can wait until they break down our door they are currently politely knocking on for assistance.
    The ball is firmly in each of our courts!

  5. Roger Loving

    Another viewpoint:
    There seems to be a consensus that radical restructuring is a bad thing…..but is it necessarily so?

    No, I’m not advocating that course of action; in fact I’ll argue that we should postpone it as long as possible. However, the long view seems to be that history is cyclical. One aspect of this cycle is that each revolution for equality is followed by a period of increasing separation between the “haves” and “havenots” – which in turn leads to another revolution….and thence to another step up the ladder of equality.

    Distressing though this is on an individual basis, it does seem to be producing positive results for humans as a whole. Few would argue that more people enjoy freedom and prosperity in our world today than in centuries past.

    I agree with Thomas – and so many others – that it would be preferable to find a better solution than one more repetition of the destruction & rebuilding that history teaches as inevitable. It would be wonderful to find such a solution!

    Until that solution appears, it makes sense to me to postpone radicalization by working to solve as many of today’s problems as we can. It also seems logical that the longer we have to work on this the more answers we will find.

    Even if we eventually fail and are overtaken by the historical wheel, the changes we make will become our gift to the future.

    But for the race as a whole, there is solace in realizing that the traditional way of solving this problem has not been completely without merit.
    roger

  6. Futurist Ronald C Holmes (rc)

    futurist frey is correct on so many fronts. the pictures portray a story of violence, mayhem and support a notion of insidious anti-gov/military/police, etc. certainly the growing disparity betwixt the screwed “knowledge” generation and the dying prospect of employment coupled with growing wealth of other societal segments is the historical equation for grave unrest.

    marshall mccluhan, the great canadian futurist, entitled his book, “the medium is the message”. it took me more than 40 years to figure that out. today, we have the tv generation in charge. their scurrulously classicist educational system imprints most folks forever, especially their self image. this media is “information manipulative”. information flows one way—unidirectionally. as futurists, we are stewards of a knowledge environment, which is shared information, which acn be distilled, collaborative, substantiated and acted upon by networked groups: call it crowdsourcing gone wild.

    it is we futurists who are failing most of all. a myriad of wealth/abundance/utopian producing technologies are poised lihe an asteroid sized dragon breathing a spectrum consuming front of lasers to illuminate augmented reality like, ubiquitous truth………..we are in the knee of the curve oe exponential change……all i see is diffracted equivocation……futurist ronald c. holmes (rc)

  7. M

    And we are all willingly on Facebook reading this…

  8. I have thought this for many years when applying for a job many years ago a question came up about my past that was very personal and private I wondered how anyone could have access to such information. I no longer wonder. When I Goggle people, I am astounded at what’s available to the general public. The new attitude that nothing is wrong unless you get caught is a huge moral problem in business today. It is being used to recruit like personnel. Government seems to want to hold all the cards and uses words like terrorist and national security to justify any collection of information on anyone.

  9. At the core of what you’re writing is the central question, “will two-way surveillance reduce crime and increase accountability? This article tackes that question:
    http://singularityhub.com/2013/06/11/watching-the-police-will-two-way-surveillance-reduce-crime-and-increase-accountability/

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