BY ALICIA LUTES
Every so often, humans do something that changes the game and course of life on earth as we know it. This goes doubly in regards to war; we crave control and want the final say in these most scenarios (generally speaking), and being able to swing those proverbial nuts around is a big deal for most nations today. And like the nuclear bomb of 1945 before it, we’re experiencing the birth of the next game-changer right now—hacking.
As a tool of war, hacking has changed everything and raised the stakes to an alarming and as-yet-unknown degree. And as was revealed in the finale of USA Network’s new show, Mr. Robot, the personal, economical, and societal impact of being able to manipulate the world’s data shows just how bad—and surprisingly personal—it’s all going to be from here on out.
The Mr. Robot finale essentially began—after its extended cold open—with the above song by Time Zone, a group comprised of John Lydon, Bill Laswell, and Afrika Bambaataa back in the 80s. All of which is fitting not only for the series’ overall aesthetic vibe and sentiment, but because of the track’s discontent. Discontent that’s ultimately led to people in the world wanting more answers and taking things into their own hands to get the information they need. We are no longer a people satisfied with the idea that government and political entities have humanity’s best interest in mind. “World Destruction” talks of things that are incredibly resonant with modern audience: national, racial, gender, and religious-based divides; the divide between rich and poor; mother nature and our ecological collapse. It’s a perfect storm for all-out, world-consuming war to take place, because the reach of all these things is no longer specific to one country—the internet and modern connectivity has made this a human race problem.
Hacking is, essentially, an anarchist/populist version of the nuclear bomb. Both are highly volatile, intricate, delicately-crafted systems of parts and players that—when combined—cause total, systemic destruction beyond the limits of what we’ve ever seen before. We see just how much that is the case in shows like Mr. Robot and WGN America’s Manhattan (which follows the story of the people tasked with inventing the nuclear bomb). Whereas the nuclear bomb was controlled by the government, hacking detonates things on a far more advanced level than the bomb ever has or will—because it upends the one thing that, up until now, was a given: privacy.
As is showcased in Manhattan, privacy (and secrecy, and the data held therein) was the cornerstone of their success, making privacy the final frontier in regards to upending our current systems. Up until recently, we could all generally expect a certain level of personal privacy in regards to the things you do in your home and for yourself: be it emails, private messages, your general online behaviors, and/or in-real-life experiences. The minute details that made up your life were still yours, in a way. But as our world has increasingly connected to one another and our lives are lived out in a far more public manner, this privacy has become the new gold standard. To have privacy means you have secrets and knowledge and data that is wholly your own.
Hacking transforms all of that. Cyberwarfare has grown in popularity, use, and ability in recent years to a terrifying degree: and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of its capabilities. Within our private lives there is a picture that’s painted about who we are—be it individuals, companies, or governments—and how we operate. Where and how we spend our money and time. We can essentially call all of this data because that’s what it is to the companies and governments and hackers that want to know our habits to exploit them for monetary, personal, and/or political gain.
For a long time, companies and governments have been amassing information that paints a picture of people that can be used to a much more nefarious end—intended or otherwise. It’s data that can subconsciously or willfully steer the way of the world. And we’ve teetered on this manipulative line of data-collection and/or understanding for years. While the nuclear bomb created a physical representation of “look at all the bad we can do,” hacking does it in a removed manner—all of this from a computer screen, essentially!—to a far more damaging degree. And in movies like Blackhat you see that it’s not just a matter of stealing records: hacking can shut down water supplies, turn off power, and create a far more wide-reaching disruption of the way the world operates.
Just like in the era before the nuclear bomb changed everything, the world is divided. Groups like the Nazis terrorized the world in their misguided effort to make the world a “better place”—they were essentially erasing humanity and compassion from the way they operated, which ultimately led to barbarically slaughtering millions of people they believed were sub-human. And there’s an argument to be made that governing bodies and major corporations’ obsession with—and hoarding of—data, erases components of humanity and compassion as well. It’s no secret that the world is super divided right now on a whole host of topics, but privacy and data are at the heart of that.
People use data as a means to gain and create power where there otherwise was none. It creates a place for rulers and those who need to be ruled, and right now one could say it’s worse than it’s ever been. For as accepting as we’ve become, humans are still terrified of the unknown—whatever that unknown may be. The nuclear bomb looked to control death, but hacking looks to control life, because we’re now at a point where there may be things worse than death, and information is at the heart of that.
And it makes sense these stories—those like Mr. Robot and the more personal ramifications of the nuclear bomb’s creation in Manhattan—are happening on TV, the most dynamic medium up until the advent of the internet. And they need to be told this way. There is no hot take stance to be had on hacking; there’s good and bad to be had from people controlling systems in this way beyond placing a mirror on society and forcing it to gaze upon itself warts and all. The eradication of private lives has a cost beyond embarrassment or one’s sanity—it creates a system where privacy (and the data therein) is the new currency and it’s crazy-easy to steal it.