Friday, July 8, 2016

Not Every Life Matters

The Black Lives Matter movement evokes the question, "Do black lives matter?" The group, in its name, is saying yes, but that is their response to the question. Asking that question may be helpful in understanding the present conflict. It also leads to other questions. Does every individual life matter? Are each of us special and interesting? Do we all have a place and purpose? 

The answer is... no. 

Let's take the race thing away for a moment. I am not writing this to prove that black lives do not matter. The racial tension in America is palpable, but black people are not uniquely unimportant. People of every skin tone are susceptible to meaninglessness. 

There are huge numbers of people out there whose lives do not matter. Take a look at any random street in any large city and you will see people whose lives do not matter.

You don't have to look far to see drug dealers, drug users, pimps, prostitutes, and other examples of humans who are not making a positive impact on the community. The good of the society as a whole does not rely on these people being alive. 

I know what you're thinking, 'those are degenerates, they don't count.' That's not true. If every life matters than everyone counts. These people are lives that do not matter. There may come a time when they clean up, get born again, and turn it all around... at that point they might matter more, but in their current state they matter not. 

For the sake of your counterpoint, I will also bring into the argument the likes of loners and cat-ladies. The guy who watches the same horror movies over and over every night and who has nothing in his life besides a few hours spent selling cigarettes at a gas station. Perhaps he makes a few customers smile when they come in. The woman who has more cats than friends; living in a litter-covered house and completely giving up on lint brushes. She matters to her cats. Well, maybe not. Cats don't really care. Either way, neither of these people matter much to society as a whole. 

How do we decide whether or not something matters? Well, that is largely subjective. I am not a fan of basketball, so it does not matter to me who the Knicks are playing, or if they win or lose. 

When people hold up sign that say "Black Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter," I would urge you to disagree. It's about numbers. The more our population grows the less significant each human life becomes. There was a time in human history that every member of a village made a contribution and had value. They all mattered. 

Let's say there are 4 people living in a village. Each of their lives count for 25% of the whole. If one of those people dies, leaving the village at 75% output, the other 3 would each need to contribute 8.33% more to compensate. They would pick up an extra task to compensate for the loss of the fourth person. That person's life mattered to the other three people, because that person's efforts were necessary to the daily survival of that community. 

Not All Lives Matter Black White Cops Shooting Shoot Kill Harmony Live Life Love TogetherAs of March, 2016, there are 7,400,000,000 people in the world. That means each life counts for 0.000000001% of the whole. That's a very low individual contribution. It would take 1,850,000,000 of us to amount to 25%. That's 500 million more people than are currently living in China. If the entire population of China died tomorrow the entire world would certainly feel the effects. If one person died tomorrow, the only people impacted would be those who cared about that one person. 

There are certainly spectrums of importance. I think we can agree that the life of a doctor who specializes in heart disease or a scientist working on a cure for cancer are undoubtedly more substantial than a loner or a cat lady. You simply cannot argue that the lives of some people matter more than the lives of others. 

As George Orwell put it in Animal Farm, "All pigs are equal... but some pigs are more equal than others." Some of us matter very much. Some of us do not matter at all. Corporate downsizing has proven that it does not matter if a company has 500 employees or 200 employees. The same work will get done. Even the loss of someone as profound as Robin Williams only impacts us for a week or two. There will never be a sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire. What does it matter?

It is up to each one of us to make our lives matter. They do not matter on their own. It is not the body but the soul that gives us value and determines who we are. It is not the color of our skin but the content of our character. We each need to define what is important to us. We need to do good things and choose the right paths. If you want your life to matter, pick a cause to champion, build a great career, or cultivate a healthy family life. If your life matters to the people you spend your time with then you have succeeded in adding value to society. 

...only then will your life matter. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Facebook is Listening

 Background App Refresh Facebook Mobile Runs Listens Mic Microphone Terms of Service Use Update Agreement Hears Conversation You Talking Private Privacy Spy Creepy Confirms Stores Data

So... Facebook is listening to your conversations. There's no fancy or poetic way of saying it. Those 'terms of service' agreements you acknowledged when you downloaded the app updates gave Facebook access to your phone's camera and microphone (as well as pictures, video, call log, and contacts). There is literal proof that this is happening. I'll tell you my firsthand experience, but try it for yourself and be prepared to be scared. 

Background App Refresh Facebook Mobile Runs Listens Mic Microphone Terms of Service Use Update Agreement Hears Conversation You Talking Private Privacy Spy Creepy Confirms Stores Record Data
My wife and I were having a conversation with my brother and his wife about ADD. One of us suggested that perhaps it is a condition caused by lazy parenting, and that some attention and restrictions could make a child more patient and well-behaved... another idea was that perhaps all children struggle with a short attention span. Either way, someone noted, there are better solutions than medication.

Minutes later my wife opened the Facebook app on her phone and saw an article on ADD and the over-medication of children. 

Coincidence? Maybe. 

Later that night we get on the subject of dentistry. I explained my "dentists are quacks" theory and we slowly moved to discussions about fluoride and Tom's organic toothpaste. Finally, my brother made the point that Neanderthals did just fine without ever seeing a dentist. That's a very far-out topic and the last thing we would expect... happened. 

My wife opened her Facebook app to find an article suggestion about prehistoric dentistry. 

Still not convinced? Ok. 

We explained this phenomenon to my parents and my Dad couldn't resist testing our hypothesis. After we told him Facebook is listing for keywords in conversations he leaned close to my Mom's phone and started describing how much he wanted a new Jaguar. "You know, I am really in the market for a new Jaguar, I just don't know where to get one." 

Seconds later my Mom looked at her phone and sure enough the very first "article" Facebook suggested was an ad for a Jaguar dealership. 

...we all know that terms you search in Google are tracked and categorized (in case you murder someone and recently did a search for axes and the best place to hide a body). We have come to accept that the things we type into a computer are no longer private.

However, we have not intentionally signed up for this flagrant invasion of our privacy through our phones' microphones and cameras. Conversations that we have with other humans should be private unless we are aware that they are being recorded. Most of us have no idea that our phones are listening in on our private exchanges with loved ones and trusted companions. We have a right to know that social media companies are tracking our interests and opinions based on the things we say... while the app is not even running.

Turning off the "Background App Refresh" button is no longer an option. I have not updated my Facebook app since version 29, but my wife has version 46.

Background App Refresh Facebook Mobile Runs Listens Mic Microphone Terms of Service Use Update Agreement Hears Conversation You Talking Private Privacy Spy Creepy
As you can see, she does not have the option to shut off Background App Refresh on her phone. It is "greyed out." That leads me to believe that Facebook is running anytime it wants, and can access the microphone, camera, or any other feature... anytime at all.

... but what are we going to do about it? Log off? Use Safari instead of the app? We are so addicted to social media that we have little recourse. We want to see our friends without calling them. We want to see our families without getting on a plane. The price of this convenience is our privacy, and we are paying dearly.

The only thing that can stop an irresponsible company from taking advantage of people is a massive shift in perspective. The people need to choose not to allow this to happen by deleting the app or turning off their phones.

... hey, it worked with MySpace!

Watch 'Facebook': A parody by John Powers

* it should be noted, this is not the first article to address the breach of privacy in the Facebook terms of service. Various news media have tried and failed to save us from ourselves. Here are several other sources that address this topic...

This article is on Facebook Messenger permissions:

This article poses the question, then quotes Facebook saying it's a myth:

This article covers Facebook identifying songs:

International Business thinks we will get used to the privacy invasion:

Facebook got this article to correct itself and remove the word "eavesdropping":