By Larry Day
Some years ago a stand-up comedian who was known for his self-deprecating humor, was arrested for fighting in a bar after his show. The comedian had smacked his opponent in the face. When the case got to court and the judge asked the comedian how the fight started.
“He laughed at me,” said the comedian.
There are nearly five billion websites in cyberspace. There are more than a billion unique You Tube users on the planet. There are six billion hours of video in 61 languages on the World Wide Web.
In this interconnected world, millions of people use Internet to invite total strangers into their lives. They invite everyone from elderly Mongolians in Ulan Bator, to Argentine teenagers in Mar del Plata, to connect to their websites and view intimate details of their lives. Then these website owners are stunned to find out that crooks, scam artists, identity thieves, Internet marketers, and digital sales representatives have honed in on their websites and have exploited the information they found there.
That comedian became rich and famous by inviting audiences to laugh at his fabricated foibles. But when a stranger in a bar laughed at one of his real foibles, the comedian doubled his fists and started swinging. Lots of folks are like that comedian. They spread their personal information all over the Internet. But they get mad as hell when they hear that authorities are analyzing Internet data flow patterns to see if they can find information that might thwart a terrorist attack. Whoa. Whoa! That’s a violation of people’s privacy.
Finding out what constitutes acceptable government surveillance and what is considered unacceptable prying, is a valuable process. Most of that process is serious, but sometimes it can be funny.
Consider this story: Back in 2010 forty-year-old Ginger Pitchfork of Mound Tree, Texas, phoned the U.S. Census Bureau to lodge a complaint. She said a census worker had called and asked about her marital status and her vaccination history. Ginger said that Census call was an unwarranted government intrusion into her privacy. What was hilarious was that at the time Ginger was operating a website that chronicled intimate details of her love life.
And how about this?: A herd of pigs broke out of their sty on a Midwest farm and ran down to a four lane highway. Kurk and Wadley, a couple of forty-something city dwellers, were driving along in a heavy duty pickup truck and saw the pigs. They decided to round up the pigs and put them in the truck and drive them to a nearby stockyard.
Kurk and Wadley figured that since they had found the pigs on the highway it was a “finders keepers,” and they offered to sell the herd to the stockyard manager for $200.
The stockyard manager declined their offer, and retrieved ownership data from tattoos on the pigs’ ears. He called the owner. The owner was looking for the pigs and was not far from the stockyards. When he arrived, the owner thanked Kurk and Wadley, and gave them each$40. Then he loaded up his pigs and drove back to the farm.
Wadley and Kurk were fascinated and amazed. They didn’t know how the pigs had been identified. They jumped the conclusion that there was a government surveillance system so powerful that it could even keep track of an obscure herd of pigs.
Kurk and Wadley organized a series of workshops to tell their story. They told those who attended: “If the government can spy on a herd of Midwest pigs, what do you think it’s finding out about you and your family?”
After that, Wadley and Kurk found what they considered evidence of government surveillance in virtually every aspect of U.S. life. So they set up a network of vigilance websites to warn people of an impending dictatorship that would take over the country as soon as the government had processed all its surveillance data. Kurk and Wadley shut the website down after it become a target for stand-up comedians and late night talk show humor.
Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co