Freedom or Smart Control?

While sipping coffee on a chilly Saturday morning with my Guatemalan friend, Jose Andres Garcia, we came up with a random plan to visit Sydney, where his girlfriend resides in the next three months. The talk had me reminiscing the 2000 Olympic games that were held in Sydney. By then, I still was, on every matrix, a small, innocent, silent, intelligent and obedient boy with a passion so great for soccer. My Dad had introduced me to international competitions (1996 African cup of nations in South Africa and the 1998 world cup in France) way before I knew countries exist. Nonetheless, I still remember Nwankwo Kanu’s goal against Brazil in the 1996 soccer Olympic games. I must admit, that was one of the most splendid goals I’ve ever seen as a soccer fan.

The plan with Jose was a replica of Tony Musalame’s voice (Metro FM) announcing that the final Olympic soccer match between Cameroon and Chile will be aired live at 8 am Kenyan time on KBC TV. I am pretty sure those who have known me for long will tell you Chris never forgets. Churchill, my smart late brother, threw our shared blanket and shouted, ‘poverty meen’ three times. During those days only rich people in Wasundi village could own a TV. Fortunately, we witnessed a great match, how did we do it? If you know, you know! Samuel Eto was a beast! Cameroon won. What a jolly morning it was.

Since then days have turned into years and many seasons have passed. A lot has changed in my family, life, village, country and the whole world. As I write this short piece, I am a temporary resident of the smallest state in Australia. By the grace of God, I am now a grown adult pursuing my dreams in a foreign land. Just the other day, I was on zoom with my former campus mates, Maurice Osewe in China and Eric Mokua in Laos. Indeed, the world has become a global village. Amazingly, with my small iPhone, I can use WeChat, Skype, Messenger or Line to call my mum in Kenya at the comfort of my room. I can follow the young and beautiful girl, Nasenya, on my TikTok account to brighten my morning and be proud of my country Kenya and its creativity. I can send money to mum for lunch real-time with a simple click on my PC.

With all this, I am enslaving myself to marketers and institutions. My phone collects a lot of data from me, such as my GPS location, my audio recordings, my photos, websites I visit, the applications I am using. It is no secret that this data can be used by corporations/ Institutions/Companies/Employers. The more I use my phone, the more likely I can be evaluated, sampled and harvested for data. I used to joke with my former flatmate in Nairobi, Brian Cheye, that Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and even Amazon (Alexa) know me better than the girl I used to admire from Kamba land (my all-time crush).

In some Airports/Hotels/offices face recognition technology is common. This means that the more I travel to or visit these places, the more they will have my data on my travel habits. I still remember how my fellow villagers in the smiling village of Wasundi used to run away from police officers, especially those in drinking places. But how come I am submitting myself willingly to the authorities. Honestly, I can’t do without a phone. I need Facebook to follow Chelsea updates. I need Skype to call my sister Tina. When I shop in my current village, apple wallet makes it easy for me to earn points from Woolworths and pay without needing cash or my bank card. While my phone is making my life easy, I am increasing the power of institutions on me. They can easily limit my freedom. They can decide on what products to advertise to me and whether they should hire me or even accept me in an education programme. There is a day I googled flights to Kenya, and the next minute I visited Facebook, flight centre page was suggested in my feeds.

Honestly, I rely on electronic cards, MPESA, internet accounts, mobile services which can be shut off at any moment. Is there a need for jail in future? If I make a mistake against the state, they can shut my internet, my card for fuelling my car, my shopping card. Won’t I surrender? It is incredible how much freedom we have. Travel more, shop more, browse more because our data is needed. Although statisticians can bring in the idea of decreasing marginal returns as you have more data, I assert more data will increase prediction. Data is slowly becoming a new form of capitalism or monopoly power. Although one of my former big fish at CIAT, Leroy likes the version of, data is the new oil or Brian Cheye will tell you he mines gold every day in his work at ONA. As for me, I can easily follow Chelsea match on my phone with updates real-time. Hey Google is enough for me to access my favourite music playlist, get weather updates, call my love and even order food.

During feudalism regime, kings were the highest form of authority, vices such as stealing, killing, rape, among other types of crime were perceived as protesting against the king. Subsequently, punishment (like cutting hand after stealing) was used as an act of revenge on behalf of the king. Since humans are emotional, it was easy for people to sympathise with the culprit and rebel against the regime. With the coming of modernity disciplinary societies emerged. They entailed confining, controlling and instilling discipline to people in spaces such as family, school, hospital, prisons, barracks and factory. By these movements and communication were controlled. However, things are changing such that we have the freedom, and we can reside in more multiple spaces at a given time. We are no longer individuals but a sample of farmers, consumers, students, workers, among others. We never live work as we find ourselves responding to emails, waiting for updates or tweeting our work achievements at home. I love what my friend Cyrus does (https://github.com/cyrus-muriithi/covid19). He understands we are no longer individuals. He perfectly knows that we can be divided into groups. That’s why he is outstanding in statistics and deriving useful meanings from numbers obtained from a population. Exciting times ahead, have freedom while being perfectly controlled. Anyway, with COVID-19, we can only wait and watch. We might resort to online doctors!

Featured image by: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 


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