Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.  Things keep coming up that relate to how I currently think about knowledge or information.  I think the saying “Knowledge is Power” is true, but only when that information is not commonly known.  In other words, when information is known by only a few,  that can be immensely powerful, but if everyone knows it there is no power there at all.

A classic example is sexual orientation.  In many parts of the world if you’re gay and you haven’t told anyone that secret, that information is very powerful.  In many countries you can be legally put to death for being gay.  Even in the “civilized” US some people could be blackmailed, lose their jobs, their families, and yes even their lives.  But if it’s common knowledge that someone is gay, there is no power there.  You can’t blackmail Ellen DeGeneres with the knowledge she’s a lesbian because everyone knows she’s a lesbian.

If I tell you that on August 21st, 2017 there will be a total solar eclipse plunging most of the United states into darkness during the middle of the day you’ll probably believe me.  Most people reading this will understand what a solar eclipse is and that they can be predicted.  But that same knowledge, a few hundred years ago or in some of the less educated parts of our current world, could brand me as a wizard, require animal sacrifice or elevate me to the status of a god.

Now how does technology fit into this?  Technology makes it easier for everyone to know.  And that scares a lot of people.

Here in Wisconsin we have something called Wisconsin Circuit Court Access or WCCA.  Anyone can go to the website, input someones name and find all public court cases they were involved in for approximately the last 20 years.  Go ahead and put my name in there.  Josh Zytkiewicz You’ll find a traffic ticket, and an incident where I chose my roommate poorly and we got kicked out of our apartment.  Here is the record for former state Senator Chuck Chvala, you can see why he’s the “former” Senator.  In the past, and in many other states currently, you have to actually go to the county courthouse, stand in line, probably fill out some forms, maybe pay a fee for “copying” or “searching”, and you might get to see them the same day.

Or how about the City of Madison property assessment.  Punch my last name in, find out about my condo I bought last year.  Or find out where our Mayor Dave Cieslewicz lives.  Pull the address up on Google Maps and you can get a nice picture of it from Street view.

Some people call this invasion of privacy.  But it’s not.  This is PUBLIC information, and more and more information about you is becoming public.  I say that’s okay.  I’ll even go further and say that’s a good thing.  But only when that information is truly public.  When everyone can access it, and everyone has an equal chance to find information about others and for others to find out about them.

People say they are afraid of Big Brother.  That’s because it’s a one way street.  Big Brother knows about you, but you don’t know Big Brother, what he knows about you, or anyone else.  I like “little brother” better.  Little brother knows about you too, but you also know things about him, and you both know things about everyone.

Big Brother is the CCTV systems in the UK.  Where the government operates them and no one can see what they see unless they choose to show us.  Little brother would give us the same access to those cameras.  We would get to see what they see, all of us, at any time.  We would be the watchers and the watched.

Can you see?
Can you see?

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