Expanded Scope of Security

Advancements in technology have also brought about advanced abilities to track, locate, and monitor. The capabilities are there, but sometimes the controls are lacking. Often overlooked are the policies and controls surrounding who has access to the information and the impacts of these features. The scope of security for the information collected through these means should extend to all areas, even physical.

Some weeks ago I heard a news story about the improved tracking technologies on cars. It was one of many stories I’ve heard recently about the impacts of tracking car movements has on drivers. In this particular story, a woman had left an abusive relationship. She took the car, even though her ex-husband had purchased it. In time, she realized her ex-husband kept “running” into her because he tracked the car’s movements through a phone app. Even worse, the woman wasn’t able to disable this feature for her ex-husband. Even though she had documentation from the court proceedings to verify she was now the owner. To the car dealership, the ex-husband was still the “legal” owner of the car. Eventually she paid a mechanic to remove the wiring to permanent disable the feature.

While hearing this story, I kept wondering where are the policies for these types of scenarios to protect people in cyberspace and in real space. I’m usually focused on how big companies take our data and use it for all kinds of reasons related to advertising and marketing. Sometimes I forget about individuals using it. One of the worst parts to me is how difficult it can be to discover these features. Or to learn about them and figure out which data is being collected, tracked, and unintentionally shared. Even worse, some of these features can be incredibly challenging to disable.

I hope as law makers scramble to catch up with policies and controls, they consider the implications in both cyberspace and real space. The challenges are real. Frankly, it shouldn’t be so hard for us to be in control of data about us.

In the Path of Totality

Being on the path of totality for today’s solar eclipse felt grandiose and tiny all at the same moment. In fact, thinking about how to summarize the event, it needs more than just one word. Much like the name “totality” implies, the day felt like a sum of many small and big parts all work working together.

First of all, the weather was a big factor. Yesterday, the sun winked brightly at us through a cloudless, spring-blue sky. Today we woke up to clouds. Lots of them. And a dismal 60-80% chance of complete overcast during the eclipse time. A few patches of blue opened up in the morning, only to be quickly replaced by thicker, darker looking clouds. By the time the eclipse started, I sat feeling a little deflated on the couch. The live coverage of the eclipse in other, sunnier places didn’t improve my mood. I reached over and sullenly ate the “full sun” cookie on my eclipse cookie display.

About 20 minutes into our eclipse time, my mom went out to check. She ran back in reporting she could see it. We sprang into action and relocated to the backyard to watch. The sky remained cloudy, but sunny enough to watch the whole thing. Even enough to experience the temporary darkening and silence for our 50ish seconds of totality. As a special treat, the sun came out to stay for the rest of the afternoon.

The moments leading up to, and after, totality also exemplified small and big working together. Watching the moon creep across the sun’s path, everything felt like it was in slow motion. Staring at the sun, it seemed as though nothing was moving. Though I knew earth, moon, and sun were all moving fast. Faster than I could even imagine. Except during the event, it felt as though time had slowed down. We had time to breathe, walk around, check the pinhole viewer, and then gaze up with our eclipse glasses to see another small slice of the sun covered. Long after totality, we sat watching until the last tiny slice of the moon moved across.

Significant hype and expectations surrounded the event. This also felt like another example of totality. Regardless of how big media and crowds made the eclipse, I felt tiny watching this incredible event. An event shared by millions of people live, and many more through televised coverage.

The Breaks in Technology

The last few weeks, I’ve been scheduling an energy audit of the house. The government was offering grants for certain energy efficiency improvements. However, the grant money ran out sooner than expected. All of the changes we need, will come out of pocket. Even so, I thought it best to start with the audit. This is where the technology started to mismatch my expectations.

For starters, when hiring an energy auditor, I had an expectation this would be high tech. My impression was the process would be slick, streamlined, and seamless. An easy process to book, receive, and reference over time as needed.

After some searches, I found a local company. I easily found the contact email for arranging an auditor. Though in hindsight, this should have been the first flag the process wouldn’t be as high tech as I’d hoped. I copied and pasted the email to start the message. Having now gone through most of the intake process, my expectation would have been to fill out an online form.

The reply email came quickly and included instructions on how I could sign a petition to bring back the grants. Also included was an option to message my Member of Parliament (MP) and a few other key provincial and federal government contacts. All as a way to voice my dissatisfaction that the grant money had run out so quickly. It was easy and seamless. My MP was located through a built in search by postal code.

Even though the process started with email, it seemed well organized. Then the technology break occurred. In the reply email, the company sent me a list of questions to answer, in the body of the email! They were all basic homeowner type question that could have been easily answered through an intake form. Even worse this company was losing out on an easy way to aggregate important information about their customers such as house type, year of construction, etc.

I dutifully filled out the questions in the body of my reply email. Then waited for an appointment. Now at this point, you might be wondering why I didn’t just find another company. It was tempting, but I had already done some research and this company had high reviews. So I’m hoping the inspection meets expectations.

Such a Thing as Too Much Technology

Though I’ve never been in a Tesla, I understand a dashboard controls everything. This includes opening the glovebox or adjusting anything in the car. Controls work through voice commands or with a touchscreen. I must admit, I’m intrigued looking at the sleek handles seamlessly melding with the door. Even opening the car seems high tech and unfamiliar to me. Yet, it also feels like a sign of things that will become familiar, maybe at a faster pace than we would like.

During a cold snap this past winter, I read horror stories about electric vehicle owners. Challenges ranged from super slow charge times to more complicated problems like the controls not working in the sub-zero temperatures. In other words, people couldn’t open the sleek, technology-controlled door handles.

Driving the other day, I contemplated the simple action of reaching over to open my glove box for my emergency sunglasses. It’s tactile and easy to perform. I can reach over without looking, open it, and grab the sunglasses. What if everything in my car was controlled by technology and couldn’t be accessed unless I issued a command? Or touched a screen? Would this be an improvement? In some cases, maybe.

I do enjoy being able to do certain things in the car with voice commands such as calling someone, dictating a message, or changing what I’m listening to. However, these are all new things that became available with advances to phones. It feels natural to me that new things would work differently. But opening the car and the glovebox with a voice command or touch screen instead of a handle? That seems unnecessary. I would also feel a little concerned if anything happened to the computer in the car. Then nothing would work, all at the same time. I might get trapped inside, or locked out.

Sometimes I find the screen in my car annoying. The touch doesn’t always work the first time requiring me to press again. The screen changes based on what I’m looking at and there are a lot of options. Older cars didn’t have this many gizmos. I find it ironic that we talk about “hands-free” driving as less distracting, when really, most of the newer features are distracting by definition. Who says it’s a good idea to listen to messages, call people, and use voice commands for different actions…while you’re driving.

Response Time

I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with someone that wasn’t broken up by checking phones. It seems when our memories fail, we have to know the answer instantly. Thinking about it, I’m not sure I can even recall how I used to manage. Having access to information instantly in my pocket 24/7 changes everything, maybe in more ways than we’re willing to realize.

My first experiences with the internet was with a dial-up modem. We made sure the phone line was clear before dialing. Then waited expectantly for the grainy-sounding digits to echo, connecting us… to what exactly I can’t remember. I just know it was new and exciting. But also very, very, slow. Downloading an image took ages, maybe even something you would start before bedtime to have a surprise waiting in the morning.

As downloading and connection times increased, so did our expectations. Patience, on the other hand, moved in the opposite direction. Now I find myself impatient to wait a few minutes for a friend running late. Or feeling frustrated if it takes more than .000006 seconds for my search results to appear.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupréy was, and still is, a favorite book to read. During his travels around the universe, the little prince meets someone who created a pill for people to take instead of drinking. Questioning the reason for this, the inventor explains we would save 45 minutes a day by not drinking. The little prince answers that he would spend his “extra” 45 minutes walking to a fresh water spring for a drink.

Though written about 80 years ago, this feels even more profound now. What do we do with all this extra time we’ve saved by getting answers instantly instead of, perhaps, going to the library? Or asking around? Or reading something ourselves instead of a summary? Naturally we’ve found even more ways to fill that time. A new app, scrolling through feeds, answering messages and posting them. Instead of feeling like we’re saving time with these advances, it seems as though it’s being lost at increasing speeds. And along with it, our patience for taking a leisurely stroll to get a refreshing drink of fresh spring water.

Mix Tapes

One of the best presents I ever received was a mix CD. My best friend, at the time, compiled a song list. The songs alternated between featuring my name and his. He used pictures of us for the cover art. I haven’t had a CD player in years, but I know I will always keep this one. I’m also not able to burn it to my laptop. So unless I manually recreate the song list, this is the only copy of it.

Growing up, mix tapes were a big deal. Each one lovingly, and painstakingly created, for someone special. Or maybe just to have your favorite tunes mixed in one spot to play on a clunky, heavy walkman. There was something precious about a mix tape. Though I have to confess, once tape players became obsolete, I tossed my old tapes, most of which wouldn’t play anymore, the tape worn thin from overuse. I switched to CDs. At first, we also used to make mix CDs. However, as the formats have changed, I’ve adapted, but still retain my fond memories of the mix tape days. Now we just make digital playlists, which can be replicated and shared with anyone and everyone.

My orchestra is playing a pops concert this month. We’re collaborating with a rock band. I honestly hadn’t realized my life was lacking until the orchestra played “Thriller” at the last rehearsal. It brought back that perfect, sweet mix of emotion, nostalgia, and a lot of joy. The second bassoon player, a bit younger than me, hadn’t experienced the impact of “Thriller” when it first came out. I still remember shouting in the lunchroom at school to play “Thriller” on the record player. It was probably one of the first music videos I ever watched on MTV, also new at the time.

I explained all of this to the second player, my voice rising with emphasis and childhood emotion. He nodded agreeing it must have been something big. Then shrugged and said most people just get stuff like that from YouTube. What struck me about this was the way that everything is so instant these days. We used to have to wait for that one special music video to play on MTV. Now we can stream it anytime, anywhere we have a connection. And watch it as many times as we want.