Friday, September 28, 2007

The Common Mind Grows Eyes

The most profound event that has occurred during the last several months, a time when Alfredo Gonzales resigned from his position as grounding strap for Congressional fury, Karl Rove resigned as presidential brain, and "Petraeus = Betray Us", first uttered by arch conservative Rush Limbaugh, was condemned by both houses of Congress when uttered by anti-war activists MoveOn... the most profound event during these months has been a change in the cable television service.

The cable company is now able to tell which channels we are watching.

My cable service used to bring in the whole spectrum at once. I could connect the cable to a splitter. On different television sets I could watch different channels at the same time.

Now, that ability has been replaced. A new federal law is mandating a move to a new level of technology. The new service does not convey all channels at once. It needs me to request what I want, and then it sends it to me. The television connection now behaves like an internet connection.

While it technically lets the cable company send me a more data-rich signal for the channel I choose, it also lets them know which channel I am watching. If choices can be summarized instantly - no problem - and sold to the broadcasters, that information can guide their decisions. What a product! Our choices can guide the broadcasters' choices.

As soon as I turn off Glenn Beck, it will be known. As soon as 100,000 households turn off Glenn Beck during one of his less attractive moments, Glenn Beck will know. (Of course, you have to turn ON Glenn Beck first.) And maybe he will change the subject, or his outlook, when he sees that little red light begin to fade.

On the flip side, a person's viewing choices are now part of their individual profile. Cellphone calling records can already be bought on the public market. TV viewing records may soon appear for sale as well. They all sit waiting in warehouses of data streams that haven't yet been publicly connected.

Assume that the government has made the connection privately and is also watching our choices. Those of us who watch only Keith Olbermann, John Stewart, and a little bit of South Park may need to be monitored more closely. Flip a switch. Who do we talk to on the phone? Other malcontents? Flip a switch. What do we say when we talk on the phone? Any words of special interest? Flip a switch. Check us extra carefully when we fly. Flip a switch.

Paint a protest on a fence. You're on three cameras.

Exactly what the government should be doing with all this information about us and exactly why it should be doing it has become - as one might predict - a repeating story on the news shows. A major focus of attention. Man's mind is watching to see what happens.

Government knows Man's mind is watching it. Like an errant child given a raised eyebrow, soon it will realize that it must behave. Even Glen Beck will catch the scent.

Already now, my cable company provides a 6-cell screen showing what's happening on six different news channels. I can avoid the mama-baby stories and hop right to the blood and guts and the War On Bullying. Wherever it appears. Boy-o-boy.

Flip a switch.


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