Blown To Bits

Were you at the Wu-Tang concert?

Saturday, April 19th, 2008 by Ken Ledeen

I was cutting through Harvard Yard yesterday evening on my way to the

Law School to hear Jonathan Zittrain speak about his new book when I ran into some of the loudest music I had ever heard. Wu-Tang Clan was performing on the steps of Memorial Church as part of Yardfest – a free concert for undergraduates.  Since my kids are in their mid thirties, Wu-Tang was not part of my musical experience.  They did, however, draw a big crowd.

Now when I was in school, a crowd this big would almost certainly have been for one of two things: a demonstration against the war in

Vietnam, or a demonstration in support of civil rights.  It was the sixties and those were the things that dominated campus life.  Either would have drawn a crowd, and, it’s highly likely that a couple of folks from the FBI with cameras would be there as well. J. Edgar Hoover liked to know who was attending those sorts of things.

There were no FBI folks at Wu-Tang yesterday.  That wasn’t because who attends a rap concert doesn’t matter to the FBI, it’s because pretty much everyone there had a cell phone in their pocket, and that’s all it takes to place you somewhere with decent accuracy.

Did you go to the Obama rally last October?   We can always ask Verizon.

All the technology is in place to do just that.  The phone company has to know where you are to route calls to you, and bits are so cheap these days that there’s no reason to throw them away, no reason not to keep the position history around.

I’m not saying that it’s all happening now, just that it can.  There is, however, plenty of evidence.  Consider Google maps for mobile’s ability to show where you are. (  No need even for GPS.  And if Google can get this information in real time, who else can? This is one more example of intended consequences of technologies, one more example of the good side / dark side of bits.  If you want to be able to ask your Google to find the nearest Chinese restaurant, then the capability to track your location must exist. And if it exists, we can save it. And if we can save it ….you get the picture.

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