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Whose Garage is it, Anyway?

April 6th, 2017

A Stupid House is a Happy House

I have a smartphone. Sometimes I wish I didn’t. If it’s not the Mark of the Beast, at the very least, it’s his friendship ring. I gave in and jumped on the smartphone wagon, but I do not want a smart house.

To some degree, I’ve already bought into the smart house paradigm. I’ve had a couple of Internet-connected burglar alarms hooked up. They’re for rental properties. I’m not that concerned about the problems a tenant might have with Big Brother. I suppose in the case of tenants, Big Brother is me. I don’t want to sink any farther into the quicksand, though. I don’t want smart appliances or a smart air conditioner. After reading about a company called Garadget, I don’t want a smart garage door opener.

Garadget sells a garage-door-opening system that hooks up to the web. A customer bought it, and then he could not get it to work. Filled with the kind of fury one can only experience during divorce or when rendered impotent by an intransigent computerized device, the customer went online and left some abusive reviews. He told other people not to buy the product.

Mr. Garadget himself, one Denis Grisak, responded by taking control of the garage door system. He cut the customer’s access to his server, and the customer was no longer able to open his own garage door using his phone.

Think about that. You come home from work, you want to pull the car into the garage, you try to open the door with a gadget you paid for, and you can’t do it, because some jerky nerd a thousand miles away has taken control of your opener. It could have been worse, because Grisak wasn’t able to disable whatever system was in place before Garadget was installed, but still. You don’t treat customers like this, and at the very least, you give them prior notice.

When the public became aware of Grisak’s disturbing behavior, a certain percentage were smart enough to take the consumer’s side, and Grisak had to yield. Although he gave in, he seems completely unrepentant. A customer insulted his product, and he seems to feel entitled to blockade the customer electronically and deny him the use of something he paid for.

Here’s something crazy: a lot of people–maladjusted tech types, I assume–think Grisak was right to do what he did. This is the scary thing about the story. People are too brainwashed and ignorant to understand how serious it is when a stranger who is legally obligated to look out for you betrays your trust and turns on you.

When Garadget took the customer’s cash, it assumed a duty to him. It accepted a position of trust and responsibility. Grisak may not get that, but it’s true. Think of it this way: when you buy a “dumb” garage door opener, the person who installs it has a clear obligation to refrain from using his skills to lock you out and force you to lift the door manually. That obligation doesn’t change just because the equipment is a little different.

I’ve written about this before: tech people have no oversight. They have almost no regulation. As a lawyer, if I represent a client, I am forced to assume a position of near-total loyalty. If I get out of line, I can lose my license and possibly go to the penitentiary. On the other hand, what if I run a hosting company? I can do just about anything I want. I remember a well-known blogger complaining that a cantankerous host company operator went through her emails during a feud. In that situation, the blogger had no one to run to except possibly a very expensive lawyer. Nerds have no bar association or department of professional regulation. Most don’t have to have licenses.

Here we are, in a world full of potentially devastating technology, depending on immature people with small hearts and no right brains.

What could possibly go wrong?

The CIA and God knows which other government agencies can wake your smartphone up right now and listen to you. Presumably, they can turn the camera on; at least one school district (presumably less savvy than the CIA) has done it with student laptops. That’s terrible, but we put up with it, because Americans don’t really care about liberty. As bad as it is when the government does things like that (and they do it around the clock), it’s worse when it’s some 23-year-old kid who makes six figures handling other people’s sensitive data.

In four or five years, you won’t be able to buy a vehicle the government can’t shut down at will. Count on it. Ten years later, you’ll probably need a permit to operate a car that isn’t self-driving. The government will be in the system, and when you tell the car where you want to go, if Uncle Sam doesn’t agree, you will have to walk.

No matter what I do, the lamprey of technology is going to consume more and more of me, but I don’t have to make it worse by inviting strangers to spy on my washing machine.

The great mass of sheep are helping Big Brother shove this stuff down our throats. They’re extremely excited about gadgets, convenience, and safety. They’re too stupid to know what liberty is or why it’s harmful to lose it. When the TSA took nude photos of us at airports, the indignant sheep bleated, “Would you rather be blown up?” When private companies give us gadgets in exchange for liberty and privacy, they say, “Would you rather have things the way they used to be? Do you want to go back to [insert minor inconvenience here]?”

About 400,000 Americans sacrificed themselves in World War Two, in exchange for things like privacy, freedom of movement, and freedom of speech. Obviously, to generations past, liberty was very, very important. No one seems to understand that now. There are worse things than dying in a terrorist bombing. Similarly, there are worse things than having to operate your home’s thermostat by hand, exhausting though it is.

Grisak isn’t an outlier; he represents a large segment of his colleagues. If you know nerds, you know I’m right. Most people who are technically inclined are deficient in other areas. Most physicists would have a hard time finishing a crossword puzzle (I know from watching them.). People who devote their lives to technology tend to lack empathy, love, and mercy. They thrive in an artificial online environment that promotes cruelty, dishonesty, and pride.

We used to think nuclear weapons were our big existential threat. It turned out it wasn’t that hard to control them. Until Clinton and Obama demonstrated extraordinary incompetence by allowing the Norks to arm themselves, the world managed to rein in nuclear aggression. The tech community isn’t like that. It’s impossible to control. It has no location. It has no government or identifiable leader. It has a million ways to escape detection and defy authority. And here we are, pulling its tentacles and claws into our houses. Technology will succeed where bombs failed.

It’s unfortunate, but the second we get the power to do a thing, we usually decide we need to do it. We “need” to be able to look at the contents of our refrigerators before we drive home from work. We “need” cars the manufacturers can unlock or shut down remotely. Grisak’s customer “needed” an Internet garage door opener, obviously. In reality, much of this junk wastes our time and money and leaves us no better off.

Technology gives us the illusion of omnipotence. Humans have always wanted the power of gods with none of the pesky moral obligations.

I remember Hurricane Andrew, which may seem irrelevant until I explain. Andrew hit before the Internet was part of most American lives, but it came between us and the technology we had at the time. The power was out for weeks. So was the water. So were the phones. We couldn’t watch cable. We couldn’t talk to anyone who wasn’t physically present. For a number of days, we couldn’t even drive. The thing is, we survived, and it wasn’t that bad. Once you found a cool place to sleep and a place to shower, you were okay. You could read books. You could talk to other people. You could eat reasonably good food out of a cooler or fresh off a grill. The point I’m making is that we clutter our lives with a lot of crap that only seems necessary. A natural disaster will help you understand that.

I’m not saying we should give up all of our toys, but a lot of them convey worthless benefits and have hidden costs that are truly obscene.

This problem is more acute if you’re conservative or Christian. Tech people, overwhelmingly, dislike Christianity and Republicans. They really hate Trump. The polarization of American society is becoming more and more venomous, and in the tech area, people who hate us hold most of the cards. They’re already abusing the power. Facebook is notorious for persecuting us. Twitter goes after us. So does Google. Ebay and Paypal banned firearms sales. So did Craigslist.

The government, putatively, is required to be impartial with regard to religion, and it’s supposed to keep its hands off political speech. Unfortunately, private entities aren’t bound by the Bill of Rights, and as we become more dependent on them, we give them power the government never had. Many people depend on tech nerds for their livelihood. Many people make a living on Youtube. People use Facebook to promote their businesses. We are deeply plugged in, and there is no legal guarantee that we can’t be unplugged without our consent.

To shut down someone’s Youtube channel or Facebook page arbitrarily is, in some cases, more damaging than any restraint the goverment could impose, yet it’s completely legal. Remember what happened to Milo Yiannopoulos? He depended on Twitter to feed himself, and he got the boot. He had no recourse whatsoever. He still had freedom of speech, but it lost most of its value because he lost his ability to be heard. I’m not saying I miss him, but if he’s vulnerable, so are you.

For many people, the liberty to use online services is just as important as the liberty to travel and speak, but there is no way to protect it, because we are not legally entitled to it. No one has a Constitutional right to a Facebook page. Right now, greed is our only protection. The tech Borg will try not to offend us too much, because they need our participation in order to make money. If they ever decide stifling us is worth the financial sacrifice, we will be in trouble.

I’m glad no one else can control my garage door, turn on my sprinklers, or stop my truck in the middle of the road. I’m going to try not to give more control to the nerd collective than I absolutely have to. They have so much control already, though, I wonder if there is any point in resisting.

At least I’m aware of what’s happening. That counts for a lot.

I hope this Grisak person has a moment of self-awareness and comes to understand how wrong he was. A person a bad temper and a control-based mindset has no business in a position of trust.

One Response to “Whose Garage is it, Anyway?”

  1. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    ” Most physicists would have a hard time finishing a crossword puzzle (I know from watching them.). People who devote their lives to technology tend to lack empathy, love, and mercy. Most physicists would have a hard time finishing a crossword puzzle (I know from watching them.). People who devote their lives to technology tend to lack empathy, love, and mercy.”

    ???

    The pro-abortion people sometimes claim to be speaking on behalf of Science.

    As usual, they are wrong. (Have you noticed the lack of scientific fact in the proposed signs for the “March for Science”?)