As the no-go areas continue to increase, more people seem to have a tendency to rationalize what they can and forget what they can’t. Another perspective might suggest that even referring to rationality at the moment is probably being overly generous. While we are entertained, on one hand, by the loathing expressed at the growth and influence of the likes of the BNP, on the other hand we’re treated to the prospect of another quasi-facist nanny law that would essentially eliminate any informed, or even humourous, debate about any of the big three major religions by turning any such commentary into a hate-crime.

And, to top it all, we get a re-hash of Norman Tebbit-style bile blaming everything that’s wrong with just about anything in modern thinking that doesn’t fit the current hysterical reality tunnel on some vaguely imagined, mythic “60s liberal consensus”.

If stupidity were a virus, perhaps there would be more of an incentive for the diminishing number of thinking individuals to find a cure. In the meantime, we have had muted warnings from the likes of the Computer Emergency Response Team, which advises the US government, telling us not to use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Why? Apart from being riddled with security flaws, nearly anyone can spy on your activities, steal your details or send junk email from your computer without your knowledge. Other recently exploited vulnerabilities designed to monitor keystrokes have allowed criminals to steal credit-card details as people shop online.
Other experts say there are at least 30 more flaws just waiting for a hack-attack. But hey… it’s made by Microsoft, it comes as standard on nearly all PCs, and it’s currently used by over 95 per cent of Web surfers. I’ve never used Internet Explorer on principle. But something apparently goes wrong in the wiring of most computer users’ brains. Despite the evidence, Uncle Bill still manages to get away with statements like Windows XP is ‘the most secure operating system ever’ while his sheep-like users continue to find themselves exposed to viruses because of innumerable bodged software fixes cleverly masked by a fluffy brand of despotic marketing that generally makes my skin crawl.

If the Redmond mob continues to have its way, I may not even have the freedom to decide what makes my skin crawl because the actual ownership of my skin may soon be up for grabs – and not in a fun way. Microsoft has recently been awarded a US patent entitled ‘Method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body’. That’s right, boys and girls: Uncle Bill wants to use human skin’s conductive properties to link Microsoft-compatible electronic devices to the body. While the company is being rather cagey about what it has in mind, this could be the starting point for a generation of portable, or wearable gadgets ranging from earrings for sound and special specs with flashing screens, to a skin-based keyboard for operating phones, computers, PDAs, MP3 players, and so on. These could also be connected with additional chips and sensors fitted into our clothes.

OK, some years ago when I wrote a book on PowerBooks and PDAs I did speculate on the possibility of computer technology eventually becoming wearable – and even suggested that if you had a shirt or jacket that worked a bit like a flexible screen, if you were out on the razz and threw-up on yourself, you could always re-program your clothes to hide the mess.

And most of the ideas about wearable gadgets like computer earrings or cufflinks were suggested by people like Nicholas Negroponte at the same sort of time. However, I don’t believe that skin, or for that matter any body parts, should be in any way patentable – and certainly not by a company like Microsoft. I don’t know about you, but I think that sort of thing is far more dangerous than someone having a pop at someone’s religion. But strangely enough, I haven’t seen anyone proposing legislation to ban that sort of activity.

While a skin-based technology may appear to be the ultimate in wireless networking since there would be no interference from other sources, the concept of hacking a human terminal could have gruesome consequences. Also, given the fact that Microsoft can’t even deliver a bug-free, secure Web browser, doesn’t instill me with a lot of confidence in the prospect of them mucking about with my skin. And it does suggest that St Augustine’s view that the world’s ills are divided into ‘natural’ evils such as disease and disaster and ‘moral’ evils, actually chosen by humans, might be worth reconsidering.

Whether we, as individuals, will retain the right to refuse such technology is a major question we should probably start thinking about now. If the by-then well-established police-state mentality gets hold of this stuff, privacy and unrestricted thought could quickly become anachronisms that would gradually fade from the generalized and anecdotal programming of the herd mentality. You could be tracked, monitored and regularly re-formatted in ways that previous despots could only imagine in their wildest fits of madness.
And the most disquieting thing about it all is that, given the tacit support that most of us are giving to the current range of scare tactics we’re fed on a daily basis to justify giving up the few rights and freedoms we have left, most people will probably rationalize to themselves that it is for the ‘common good’ and accept the notion that there is no other way.

For those of us who were there, the 1960s didn’t look or feel like a liberal consensus. Nor did it bear much resemblance to the twisted media image that most people these days enjoy mocking. For many, it was a time when free speech went hand in had with free thinking, and thinking meant thinking differently – and thinking a lot. Like it or not, that’s where the roots of the Apple ethos and so many other things, attitudes and essential human rights and freedoms we now take for granted actually came from. And despite the twisted scapegoating, they didn’t come easy. To paraphrase The Buddha, without thoughts we create the world. If that’s only partially true, if we lose our thoughts, we won’t have much of a world left either. MW