Opinion

Paul McNamee: Let's take back control of the streets

Couldn’t those controlling our data direct us to stop doing everything online, to get out and use old bricks and mortar retailers

It would make a good game. Which is the real headline and which came from an Armando Iannucci/Chris Morris random generator?

Of course, a contemporary parlour game like this would be conducted online. An innocent quiz, with access to your Facebook profile,  asking a few questions that give you a sense of who you are. Great larks.

It would also give a shadowy data-collecting organisation a great insight into who you are, and that organisation would then be able to focus use of this to nudge behaviours in a way that would make you change the political landscape of the entire world, to work to their agenda. Which will then lead to more headlines that you can try and guess are real or made up.

The data exploitation at Facebook is more than a little murky. But it’s not the availability of the data that is the key part. Because we all go on social media and share EVERYTHING. All the time. We freely give.

What is sinister is what is happening to that. Rockefeller didn’t become the richest man alive because he brought the oil out of the ground. He worked out how to refine it and controlled the distribution networks. And so, the Cambridge Analytica story is casting light on the modern equivalent of controlling the oil network. And within those pipes are the dark thoughts that play to our basest fears. They are mixed with treacly lies and half-truths that are presented as reality. As a result, we trust nobody except those who are loudest, those who roar that they can challenge the harbingers of our darkest fears, and vanquish them. When we take back control. Bigly.

For all their scale and might, retailers are dropping and failing

At the risk of sounding like a confused bystander in a superhero comic, couldn’t these powers be used for good instead of evil?

All around us, shops and restaurants are closing, the high street is becoming a wasteland. This is not good for anybody – those employed in the shops, those of us who like our towns and cities to be places of community. Yet, for all their scale and might, retailers are dropping and failing. Couldn’t those controlling our data direct us to stop doing everything online, to get out and use old bricks and mortar retailers. To breathe some life back. That wouldn’t be REALLY illegal. Would it?

It may well be too late. It may well be that our streets will soon be lined only with a succession of charity shops and overpriced coffee retailers  – with the rest of the fronts painted over to look like the sort of places that existed in the old days.

I have faith in smaller, niche, smart operators coming in and finding a way to flourish. Hopefully that won’t take too long. Hope always springs.

In the meantime, we can play the guess the real headline game. All those mentioned above relate to real events, of course. And they happened within the last week. But you knew that anyway.

It’s the satirists I feel sorry for.

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