Happy Goldfish Bowl to You, to Me, to Everyone

Isaac Asimov's classic 1956 story "The Dead Past" describes a technology that lets everyone spy on everyone else everywhere. The government tries to keep it secret but some rebels reveal it. A government official (Thaddeus Araman), once he realizes the technology has been made irrevocably public, utters the following lines to the scientists who released it:

"Happy goldfish bowl to you, to me, to everyone, and may each of you fry in hell forever. Arrest rescinded."

What happens if, one day, advanced technology allows everyone to see everybody else's activities? This technology has been labeled "sousveillance" -- all seeing all -- as contrasted to surveillance, in which the few observe the rest.

Thaddeus Araman considered sousveillance a bad thing -- and many would agree.

But on the other hand, in Asimov's story, the government was just leaving the "sousveillance" technology dormant -- it wasn't using it for its own purposes, to implement Big Brother or some yet more dire alternative.

So if sousveillance sounds scary to you, consider: What if the alternative is only the Chosen Few getting to look into everybody else's minds? At least sousveillance lets the watched watch the watchers.

And in addition to its potential for avoiding surveillance, sousveillance could have other benefits as well.

There's no doubt that sousveillance would wreak havok with current notions of sociology and psychology. Self-models would never be the same! But self-models in their current versions cause a lot of problems -- a bit less self-delusion, induced by sousveillant transparency, could potentially leave us more relaxed, realistic and cooperative.

One challenge in a sousveillant society would be maintaining diversity -- resisting the pressure for conformity that would come from having one's deviances made public.

On the other hand, if everyone's secret freakishness is revealed, perhaps this would make everyone more tolerant of everyone else's freakishness!

And what about strong sousveillance -- where everybody can see into everybody else's minds?

Certainly, strong sousveillance would open up tremendous possibilities for novel forms of creative consciousness and cognition. We could think and feel together in ways that aren't possible now.

And yet the difficulty of understanding others' minds should not be underestimated. In a sousveillant society, not just intelligence but incomprehensible intelligence will be at a premium.

Would strong sousveillance inevitably lead to the formation of a unified overmind, or at least a mindplex with emergent social-level coherent self and reflective awareness, along with individual-level self and reflective awareness?

At this stage it's hard to say whether (either weak or strong) sousveillance would prove a good or bad thing in term of the principles of Cosmism ... it may depend upon the details.

But it does seem clear that the potential for various forms of sousveillance would be a positive -- if it were managed in a spirit of growth, joy and choice. Experimentation with sousveillance of could be fascinating, and lead to all sorts of social and mindplexish patterns we can now barely imagine....

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