Osmosing Data and Leaky Cell Phones

In 1990 I found a wacky (and vaguely depressing) manga anthology by Joji Manabe (whose work I love) called "Dora." One of the stories in it (actually the first few pages of one of the stories in it) contained the germ of an idea I eventually turned into a short story called "Norma" (no relation to Dora). A couple of years later I decided that Norma had a lot more to do and so I spent the next five years turning it into a massive first novel with the pretentious title "The Electric Gods." To this day I  haven’t gotten it published, and considering the quality of the writing and the manuscript’s stupendous need for editing, that’s probably just as well.

Anyway, one of the things that Norma learned in her adventures in that (vaguely depressing) universe was that information has a way of osmosing from one place to another regardless of the efforts people and their machines put into restricting it. That’s probably a function of how we utilize the stuff–we tend to organize things into disjointed bits and pieces that we call "trivia", which is a distinctly twentieth century creation. In the nineteenth and earlier centuries, data were organized in rather more coherent forms. Little was truly disjointed, and details coalesced into a particular process. With the advent of assembly line manufacturing, you didn’t need to know the details of the process, just your little portion of it. That little portion, from the point of view of an earlier age, might have been essentially meaningless–trivial–but to the line worker, it was everything.

Eighty years later, we are walking data banks of trivia.

So it’s no surprise to see an article like this one: Don’t Keep Secrets on Cell Phones, from USA Today. People put what can be considered classified secrets (even just to themselves) on cell phones, and then tend to forget that they’re embedded on bits of silicon that can be mined by people who know what they’re doing. Random things: birthdays, addresses, phones numbers for cell, work, and home, as well as those for the spouse, parents, kids, coworkers, etc. Social security numbers. God alone knows how many e-mail addresses and whose. Work and home addresses, meeting schedules, date books. Bank accounts. Credit card numbers. Every one of which has potential value to someone who knows data systems and isn’t too scrupulous about selling that data to someone else.

I have read one economic (slightly off the wall) theory that says that money has a natural tendency to pool where it will do the least good to the fewest number of people. There may be a similar theory of information that says that information tends to pool in places where it will do the greatest harm to the largest number of people (Total Information Awareness, anyone?) Or maybe this is just the result a crapload of trivialities finding critical mass.

Anyway, read the article, and fry your cell phone before giving it away.

About Jon Frater

A gaming industry stalwart dating back to the 1980s, Jonathan Frater is the co-author of roleplaying game books Robotech: Return of the Masters, and Robotech Adventures: Lancer's Rockers, both for Palladium Books. Jonathan also wrote a column on writing and game design called The Tome in Gateways magazine. He's currently a librarian at Metropolitan College of New York. Article 9, the first in his ambitious Blockade Trilogy, is Jonathan's first full-length novel.

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