This is the sort of post that I’d rather think through properly, but on the other hand I’m struggling with a subject, so here goes.
I’ve just renewed my car tax online. Logged on to the website, gave them the reference number from the reminder letter, and sixty quid later my car’s taxed and the disc is on its way. This is incredibly cool! It saved me scrabbling round for the MOT and insurance certificate, filling out the form, taking it to the Post Office, queueing for 15 minutes or so, (big queues at lunchtime), and buying a steak bake for lunch on my way past Greggs to help me recover from the trauma.
But…… it further undermines the viability of the Post Office and it’s yet another example of joined-up data (they checked my insurance details and MOT certificate while I was online). Ariel Dorfman‘s comment in the late 1970s on Chile that…
… many otherwise normal, decent human beings in my land allowed their liberty … to be stolen in the name of security…
… reminds us that we can sell our freedom but it is never a good bargain. This is not a new thought. In the 19th Century, Gibbon said of the Athenians
In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all — security, comfort, and freedom.
Us too, perhaps?
In 1985 Neil Postgate warned us of the seductive dangers of modern life in his book
Amusing ourselves to death
It’s a sobering read, and he was writing it before the wonderweb.
What all these thoughts share is the warning that we will trade the true gold of liberty for the false coin of security, convenience and entertainment. I have just accepted the offer and traded my privacy for convenience. As a side effect I have undermined the viability of a physical service provider, and threatened people’s jobs and the quality of service to those who are too old or too impoverished to use the internet.
I feel dirty. However, I am about to go online to get quotes for car insurance.
I guess I am part of the problem.