Inside the Dark Net episode 2: Hyper-connections mark the end of privacy as we know it

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“We are in a consciousness crisis with technology,” Chris Dancy told SiliconANGLE, a man said to be more connected to computer technology than any other living human. Dancy had recently been featured in the second episode of the new series, Dark Net, thanks to his vigilant use of self-monitoring systems to live a healthier lifestyle. 

Showtime’s second installment of its series Dark Net isn’t quite as edgy as the opening episode “Crush”. In fact, depending on which way you look at it – to be or not to be more connected? – you may find the issues in episode 2, “Upgrade”, don’t warrant being lumped-in with many of the more nefarious activities happening in the darker side of the web.

In this episode we are introduced to three people who have chosen to upgrade their bodies. One of these people is a filmmaker who, having lost an eye in a gun mishap as a child, says he is hell-bent on “Hacking my own body”. To achieve this all he’s actually doing is putting a tiny camera in his glass eye, thereby recording more natural reactions, emotions, of the people he secretly films.

The technology itself isn’t mind-blowing, but if we cast our eyes back to the series Black Mirror and its episode titled “The Entire History of You“, what’s interesting is the ethicality and possible consequences of recording without someone’s consent.

The second person is a young Swedish woman, who, with the help of a Stockholm start-up, Epicenter, is “getting chipped”. This means implanting a small RFID (radio frequency identification) chip in the soft flesh between the thumb and the forefinger. The group of self-confessed bio-hackers involved with this process have been said to be transforming people into cyborgs, although as yet the chip, the same kind of chip in a bank card or passport, is used mainly as a security interface to open doors and even devices.

I see people as information

The third and unforgettable person is the afore-quoted Chris Dancy, who is said to be the most connected man in the world. At one time he was vastly overweight, stressed, and smoking and drinking his way to ill-health. And “300-700 tracking and life logging systems to monitor every aspect of his life,” later, he is slim, trim, but seems still somewhat ambivalent towards some aspects of the hyper-connected life and how it will play out.

He meets a man using the dating app Grinder, only for the date to seem quite stilted, especially when he informs his interlocutor that his pulse rate went up after touching his hand. “Relationships are difficult,” he tells the audience later when alone amongst his machines, “I see people as a pile of information.” Data makes us lonely, he concludes, telling us as he almost sheds a tear that he and data also need human interaction.

Intrigued by Dancy’s successes, but also his misgivings, I got in touch with him. Not surprisingly, given how connected he is, he replied very quickly.  He informed me that at the present moment he was recording sound, light, activity (sitting still after in a car), behavior (listening to music), biology (meals, sleep, activity), and he was also using a Fitbit Charge Hour, Apple Watch and Jawbone.

As for his apparent sadness during the final sequences of Dark Net Dancy puts that down to editing, highlighting only a particular narrative for that one hour show. “Editing is a lot like data that way,” he says. “Bias is surfaced upon the recording of information.”

He explains that in the summer of 2015 when Dark Net was recorded, he was struggling with depression about technology and friends. However, he now says his general well-being is “greatly enhanced if you look across all the areas of my life (relationships, career, health, spirituality, environment, financial). The true measure of well-being is the resilience that is found when things fall apart.”

Since being connected to his numerous gadgets and systems he says that the best part of being connected is, “The simple act of caring enough for myself to take time to pay attention.” When he no longer feels he needs a certain technology he stops using it. He says that he has, “Given up on many things that I no longer need because I’ve trained myself. For instance, I don’t need a posture belt, I’m pretty straight up!”

The end of privacy

As for the unnerving statement that he sees “people as a pile information” he tells me this was certainly meant in the negative, explaining that, “We live in a culture that is obsessed by measurement and data. While I struggle with my own quantification, it is difficult to not see people as information systems. It is the downside of heavy measurements, a sixth sense of sorts.” Some of his anxiety, he adds, comes from his observing how people weaponize data and information against each other or how companies sell us back our own data. This is why he feels we have a consciousness crisis with technology.

The world’s most connected man is conscious of the importance of, and sustaining of, human relationships. For him being connected doesn’t have to mean less human interaction, explaining that he would never “do anything with technology that could make my convenience outweigh my desire to interact with people.”

Dancy has been called the future, a kind of pilot project in which his present life is an example of how we will all be living in a few years’ time. While many people may see this as a step in the right direction, others have their misgivings about being hyper-connected, and perhaps even hyper-exploited.

Dancy is proof of some of the positive elements of being constantly and thoroughly connected, but he also has some misgivings about a near future. “Within a decade our phones will be used for everything from digital prescriptions, security systems (biometrics), life automation, hyper proximity information beacons and more importantly a monetary system.” But all this, he believes, will mean the end of our private life as we know it. He says that, “Our behavior currently known as ‘privacy’ will be used in a free market system where we are sold goods and services in exchange for economic value. Privacy will have collapsed under the weight of connivance and economic disparity.”

The way we look at it

“When do we stop being human and start being tech devices?” is one of the last things the audience is asked at the end of the episode.

Pioneers of the DIY RFID implantation movement state on their website dangerousthings.com, “We believe our bodies are our own, to do with what we want. The ‘socially acceptable’ of tomorrow will be defined by boundaries pushed today, and we’re excited.”

Subcutaneous technology is nothing new. For many years we’ve heard about implants that will work as credit cards, but perhaps one of the things holding such technology back is that some people find it creepy, intrusive and dangerous. For such implants to work with our surroundings the technologies would also have to work together. In the near future every apparatus you use in the gym, or everything you order from the menu, could be recorded without your having to do anything, provided you are chipped. But this would only happen if there was one massive ecosystem, and we are not near that yet.

Just for the record, in spite of theories that all Americans will be forced to have such implants, at least for ID purposes, these allegations have been debunked. At the moment there are few chip-ees in the world, and most of them are using their upgraded bodies to open motorized doors and operate photocopiers.

Watched, measured and judged

We are currently in the position, or will be soon, of having to weigh the pros and cons of being more connected, “watched, measured and judged,” as games developer Jesse Schell once famously said at the D.I.C.E Summit. As Schnell some years later said in an interview with SiliconANGLE, while there will be commercial and perhaps negative aspects of such technology, he also believes it will give us, “meaningful, educative, life-affirming, experiences; experiences that might eventually become necessary, rather than oppressive.”

There will be an internet in everything, Schnell told us, and it’s a matter of accepting this and making it work to our advantage, while acknowledging someone else will try to exploit it.

Photo credit: Chris Dancy via Flickr