Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Fresh Squeezed Taste of Paranoia

I tend to ignore the second two films in the Matrix trilogy.  But the first was something wonderful when it came out (despite Keanu "Whoa!" Reeves's stony-faced acting).  There's this nifty little scene where they're talking about how the robots know how things taste like.  And the one kid says something about how maybe they didn't know what chicken tastes like, which is why everything tastes like chicken.

I recalled that scene when I read this article about orange juice over at Gizmodo.  The TL;DR of the article is that our orange juice is artificially flavored to taste like orange juice.  All the oxygen is removed from it for storage (which has the side-effect of removing the flavor) so flavor packets are added to the juice to return flavor.  That's also why the flavor of a brand's juice can be so consistent despite the inconsistency of oranges and orange crops.

As a native Florida boy whose mother grew up around the orange groves, I was appalled.  Mortified.  

How soon will it be before kids grow up without ever knowing what actual orange juice really tastes like?  What's to stop orange juice manufacturers from slowly changing the way juice really tastes, to the point where reality and what we've been trained to believe is OJ no longer gel?  And if it goes on long enough, how will we even comprehend the concept of truth and fiction?  If fake OJ is all we've ever known, couldn't it then be argued that fake OJ is the real truth?  If you gave a kid from the future who had only ever had bottled OJ a glass of juice squeezed straight from the fruit, isn't it plausible that he might think the fresh juice was the fake?  Would he be wrong?

And if all the oranges disappeared tomorrow, which flavor of orange juice would be considered the most real?  The packet or the real orange?

That's what scares me about the digital revolution.  Once we digitize everything—music, books, history, research—we lose the ability to tell the difference between truth and whitewashed the fiction they want us to believe is the truth.

Imagine you're reading Frankenstein on your Kindle.  In the end, Dr. Frankenstein sails away and lives happily ever after.  You think to yourself, "Self, I don't remember this book ending that way."  So you borrow a friend's Kindle.  It has the same ending. You look at the ebook editions owned by friends, teachers, your parents.  They all end the same way.  You begin to doubt yourself.  You begin to think that maybe the happy ending was the truth all along and that you'd remembered it wrong.  Because the truth is what's in front of you, right?

You try to find a non-digital source, but there are none. Books have become a casualty of the digital revolution.  Huckleberry Finn never uses the "N" word.  History books no longer mention anything negative about the countries in which they're printed.  History is truly written by the victor.  Our foibles are excised and cast into the digital black hole.  

The flavor is sucked out of our digital archives and replaced with artificial information.  Sweetened.  Homogenized.  Delicious.

We believe it because it's what we know.

And there is nothing left for us to compare it to.

Next time you pick up an ebook, ask yourself what orange juice really tastes like.


  1. Killer post, Shaun. Seriously.

    However, I don't think it will ever come to that. I think there will always be an element to humanity that seeks the truth at all costs. Look to groups like Anonymous, and Wikileaks if you want to know what the future of digital looks like.

    Also, I just read Wool 1, by Hugh Howey, and it goes right into this concept. Fascinating stuff.

    1. Thank you. I had fun with this one. I've heard about Wool and I'm intrigued. Your recommendation is enough for me to put it on my TBR pile.

      I think that people probably felt the same way when 1984 came out. They probably figured a society where everyone is watched and everyone is controlled was something that could never happen because we would be vigilant. But we're living in a world where I didn't know OJ wasn't real. Where our wheat has been modified so much that it no longer resembles the wheat our ancestors ate. Where the government doesn't need to place cameras in our homes, because WE do the filming for them. We record our lives and put them on the internet for everyone to see. We give our secrets to corporations who then sell them to the highest bidder, which can and does include our government.

      They don't tell us what to buy and think and feel, they simply guide us in the right direction through direct marketing. If little changes were made to books over time, would we even notice? It all feels like so much paranoia, but there was a recent article about how your online behavior is tracked, and then the Internet your shown is based on your habits. If a site knows you buy a lot of books, you're likely to pay more for those books than someone else. Pricing for items, travel fares, and insurance is modified based on what the Internet knows about you. And most people aren't aware of this or don't care!

      Our biggest enemy isn't the State or corporations, it's our own apathy. We can't expect places like Annonymous or Wikileaks to protect our future because, as you can see on the news, governments will do anything to put them down.

      I'm not a paranoid person, nor am I scared of the future. I just hope that we're wise enough to see that these companies and governments who are guiding us don't have our best interests at heart, and that we must be the custodians of our own future.

      Where's my tinfoil hat?


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