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By Design : Our Irrefutable Right to be Remembered & Forgotten

“Every great and just struggle you care to mention, has been necessitated in order to address a wholesale abuse of power.”


For years I have considered the interrelationship between power and strength. We so often hear the term ‘an abuse of power’ but never have I heard the term ‘an abuse of strength’ before.

In recent history, one of the most visual and striking examples of these two forces of nature facing off against one another, was the instance of “Tank Man”. When a lone figure in Beijing, temporarily stopped the advance of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, in what is widely considered one of the iconic images of the 20th century.

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Tiananmen Square – Power Meets Strength

The anonymous man who stood in front of a column of tanks that morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests by force, achieved widespread international recognition. Some have identified the man as Wang Weilin, but the name has not been confirmed and little is known about him or of his fate after the confrontation.

So why did such a show of concentrated military power yield to a lone and defenceless student carrying nothing more than a shopping bag?

We can all understand power versus power confrontations. For instance think of the Cold War deadlock between the super powers of capitalism and communism, or WW2 when the free democratic ‘Allies’ united in defence against the totalitarian fascist ‘Axis’ powers.

Equally, strength versus strength show downs which capture our attention are also easily understood. These are the preserve of accomplished and driven individuals pitting their wits and courage and in some cases their very lives against each other in a bid for glory or immortality. Think of the great tennis, racetrack, political, or business rivalries. Or any other concentrated arena where the limits of human skill, resilience and endurance are on full show.

But it is the David and Goliath, strength versus power struggles such as the one witnessed in Tiannaman Square that day that continue to intrigue me the most.

So why does power appear to present more often in collectives and strength in individuals apart from the obvious inequality of resources that they each possess?

And even then, why does collective power so often yield to individual strength?

Fundamentally, what is it that majority power lacks, that minority strength has to it’s distinct advantage?

Perhaps, a vital insight has come from my own experience with customer surveys over the years. At Present Group while conducting Net Promoter Scale (NPS) customer satisfaction surveys it has become apparent that individual services score on average significantly higher than those rendered by collective teams.

It just goes to prove that great services provided by committed individuals are so much more apparent than collective services delivered by some committed individuals and some not so committed. Which leads to them being compromised in some way, sometimes to their total demise.

This leads me to conclude that greatness is far more likely to manifest as a result of a great individual’s heart or soul presenting as courage or truth and preferably both.

Therefore intrinsic courage and truth which distill together as strength are far more easily maintained in a committed individual than any more powerful collective, where any one weak individual within its ranks can dilute their entire resolve.

Without doubt, fear and lies can bring together powerful collectives but they will always lack strength when it is likely that many of their individual members will be rendered powerless in the face of a strong and committed individual, who has an unbending fortitude and in some cases is even prepared to die for their cause.

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Quadrants of Influence on Society

This consideration has led me to devise the ‘Quadrants of Influence’ in the above diagram. As you can see the top right tile is both present and active representing the embodiment of a strong individual who leads based on merit. Presence is my definition for a combination of courage and truth which dispels fear and lies.

Present meritocratic individuals use their strength of advocacy to wield power by consensually harnessing the democratic collectives shown in the bottom right tile. Absent bureaucratic collectives and autocratic individuals will always feel their own power bases threatened by this and so they despise and challenge that strength with all their might.

The absent active force represented in the top left tile is defined by an autocratic individual who can be powerful and lead by force but their power is so often grounded in fear and lies. Active autocrats will use their force of will to wield this power over the passive bureaucratic collectives shown in the bottom left tile. That is of course until those usually passive bureaucracies have had quite enough and overthrow their pet tyrant, only to replace them with a fresh one.

A great example of this whole dynamic would be the showdown between two very meritocratic individuals; Churchill and Roosevelt, who both had the strength to advocate that their respective democratic collectives should rise to meet the threat of the Axis powers. Whereas the Axis powers were largely bureaucratic collectives ruled by poster boy autocratic tyrants, namely, Hitler and Mussolini.

This all leads us back to a greater understanding of the Tank Man phenomenon as it too involves all four quadrants of influence. Our anonymous hero was the perfect example of a strong individual meritocrat, facing down a powerful collective bureaucracy that had been ordered by forceful autocratic leaders, to quash a collective democratic uprising.

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“Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.” – George Santayana.

Enough of the history lesson. So what if we took the understanding of the ‘Quadrants of Influence’ and sought to understand a present day struggle?

The personal data sovereignty movement is a great case in point. It is a mounting necessity in a digital era where there are endless issues surrounding the ubiquitous nature of our data and how it is constantly being misappropriated.

This movement already has key collectives forming like Privacy by Design (PbD) and the Respect Network and they are championed by meritocratic individuals who have seeded compelling advocacy in their charters to win over the hearts and minds of the democratic collective.

– Privacy by Design – 7 Foundational Principles:
http://www.privacybydesign.ca/index.php/about-pbd/7-foundational-principles/

– Respect Network – Respect Trust Framework
http://openidentityexchange.org/trust-frameworks/respect-trust-framework

On first reading the PbD – 7 Foundational Principles, I was struck by the uncanny parallels with an older cause championed in conventional industry, that of ‘Safety by Design’.

Most telling of the similarities between the two causes are the first two of PbD’s – 7 Foundational Principles;

1. Proactive not Reactive; Preventative not Remedial:
The Privacy by Design (PbD) approach is characterized by proactive rather than reactive measures. It anticipates and prevents privacy-invasive events before they happen. PbD does not wait for privacy risks to materialize, nor does it offer remedies for resolving privacy infractions once they have occurred – it aims to prevent them from occurring. In short, Privacy by Design comes before-the-fact, not after.

2. Privacy as the Default Setting:
We can all be certain of one thing – the default rules! Privacy by Design seeks to deliver the maximum degree of privacy by ensuring that personal data are automatically protected in any given IT system or business practice. If an individual does nothing, their privacy still remains intact. No action is required on the part of the individual to protect their privacy – it is built into the system, by default.

Likewise, Safety by Design is a concept and movement that encourages construction or product designers to ‘design out’ health and safety risks during design development. The concept supports the view that along with quality, programme and cost; safety is determined during the design stage.

At Present Group we service the industry sectors of mining, oil & gas, utilities and infrastructure for some of the worlds largest public companies. We help them to safely and effectively commission and operate their major assets throughout their life cycle. Over the past few decades there has been a great struggle in these sectors to win over the hearts and minds of individuals to embrace the concept of zero harm. Basically the right of every individual who works in industry to return to their families and loved ones unharmed and in one piece no matter how hazardous their work environment happens to be.

Just as PbD advocates, one of the greatest challenges has been shifting the focus and culture from a reactive to a proactive approach. A reactive safety culture is easily identified as it will mainly attend to Lag Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). Unfortunately this places the emphasis on attending to issues after the fact and invariably people continue to be injured or worse as a result.

Lead indicators on the other hand are the preserve of proactive cultures who aim to identify and attend to safety issues before someone has to suffer the consequences. At Present Group we often say of some clients, that they do not have to get it in their hearts and minds that this is the right approach, as long as they at least get it in their minds that it is good for their business if they do not harm people with impunity.

Privacy then has many parallels to safety. For in the earlier days of industry and still to some extent in emerging economies today, large corporates have continually trampled on individual safety rights in their pursuit of profit. It appears that the very same attitude is occurring with regard to an individual’s right to privacy.

Since the proactive approach of ‘Privacy by Design’ is relatively in it’s infancy compared to the movement for ‘Safety by Design’, most of the major tech companies and government surveillance agencies still only pander to reactive cases; usually only changing their behaviour once they have been caught red handed and publicly chastised.

– ‘In safety culture terms; poor reactive or lag measures, invariably means that we are forgotten until people get hurt?’

– ‘In privacy culture terms; poor reactive or lag measures, will no doubt mean that we continue to be remembered until personas get hurt?’

To drive this point home to reactionary safety laggards we often tell them: “If you think honouring personal safety is expensive try having an accident?”

Again, in privacy terms a similar phrase could be used to address privacy laggards; “If you think honouring personal privacy is expensive try having a breach?”

Recently the European Court of Justice has made a ruling that could have significant implications for search engine providers such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. It has also elevated the phrase “the right to be forgotten” into the public domain for no doubt endless heated debate. Although the arc of this debate will probably trend from the black and white quest for “the right to be forgotten” to a more realistic and achievable; “right not to be found easily.” Still it is certainly a healthy move in the right direction.

So why are our rights to personal data privacy not taken seriously, just as a few decades ago our basic right to a safe work environment was largely ignored too? One simple way to explain this, is with the aid of Maslows Hierarchy of needs;

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As you can see our basic needs for safety and security (privacy) are somewhere down the bottom of the pyramid.

Much in the same way that the majority on our planet who were not fortunate enough to be born into the first world are constantly preoccupied with the daily struggle to secure their lives and families with food and shelter, today’s digital economy appears to be denying the vast majority of first world users and browsers the basic right to secure their privacy.

Quite simply, those further up the hierarchy who have met both their physical and privacy security needs, as they can well afford to, just do not see the importance for those still struggling to achieve it. Especially when it may also impact on their business or investment interests ability to profit by it and stay up there on the higher reaches of the pyramid seeking self esteem for themselves.

Call it the cost of progress if you like but it is imperative that a more evolved proactive approach as outlined by PbD helps us all to catch up.

This temptation for those who have taken care of their own basic security needs to continue to exploit those who are still struggling to do so has always been there. Especially when it means that they can profit further and satisfy the higher level aspects of the hierarchy of needs albeit at other less fortunate peoples expense. Today the new fortunes are to be made in the digital arena so it is little wonder that it is personal privacy rights that are being ignored, just as the early industrialists did with regular impunity in regard to personal safety rights.

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The above meme is true to the extent that the desire for personal space may have always led to antisocial behaviour but with one vital missing element; The key difference is that unlike today’s online experience, no one knew in the public domain what you read, or what you thought about what you read in the newspapers, unless that is, you chose to break your own anonymity and wrote to the editor.

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“Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society.” – Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli’s stark warning remains true to this day. So who are today’s autocratic Princes and bureaucratic governments described in the left hand column of the ‘Quadrants of Influence?’

Well, when it comes to the digital hierarchy of needs, the current boys club of tech billionaires will do nicely in the role of self serving Princes. While the NSA and other government agencies are obvious candidates to be branded as intrusive government bureaucracies.

Without casting too big a shadow on these two influences, it all comes down to a simple matter of maturity. You see, archetypal Princes unlike archetypal Kings and Queens don’t tend to serve the people. Without a true Monarch’s sovereign burden of serious matters of state, that serve, to serve the greater good, Princes are free to be frivolous and selfish play boys if they so choose.

In a recent interview Bill Gates demonstrated that he himself has dramatically made the shift from tech Prince to King consciousness, replacing his own self interest with that of the greater good. Technology is “amazing,” Bill told the Financial Times, but it’s not going to save the world. The Microsoft co-founder said that though improvements in technology may have their benefits, they won’t meet the needs of the world’s most desperate.

“I certainly love the IT thing,” Gates said. “But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition. PCs are not, in the hierarchy of human needs, in the first five rungs,” he later added.

Gates’ comments come just a few months after Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and a group of other more recent ‘Tech Princes’ had tried to position Internet connectivity as a primary humanitarian concern, promising to bring Internet access to the entire world. It would be very much like a stereotypical Prince to confuse self interest with philanthropy in order to feel better about themselves. While, great leaders, like great Kings and Queens always eat last.

So when asked by the Financial Times whether Internet connectivity is more important than, say, finding a vaccination for malaria, the mature Gates responded: “As a priority? It’s a joke! If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t,” he added.

This myopia of youth has also lured the two well meaning founders of Google to naively claim that they would ‘do no evil!’ Before the full understanding of how their mission statement; ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ would come into direct conflict with their own self interest and that of the people.

And so in the interests of seeking to understand all, in order to forgive all; It is probably fair to view the current array of ‘Tech Princes’ as immature and misguided ‘Sorcerers Apprentices’ as imagined by Goethe, who have tried to seize power too soon and wield it before they themselves fully understood the serious implications and consequences to an entire world.

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Apprentice Prince Mickey confronting his own consequences.

And when it comes to passive governmental collectives, your average bureaucracy is just not as mature as your average democratic collective. Ruling by fixed rules as bureaucracies tend to, invariably leads to many a hypocritical reaction which have been used to justify amongst others things, the NSA’s breach of public trust. Whereas ruling by consent as democracies do, can on the whole deliver a more proactive majority endorsed solution.

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“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

Just as we have struggled for the irrefutable right to a safe work environment in order to protect our physical selves while making an honest living; We must also challenge the tech corporates and government bureaucracies to put aside their respective profit and political imperatives until such assurances are given for our sovereign right to privacy.

This realisation is now setting the stage for a great and just struggle of epic proportions. The autocratic Princes and their bureaucratic machines pitted against a handful of committed meritocrats speaking for the hearts and minds of the passive democratic collective to take it back!

Rachel Botsman http://www.rachelbotsman.com/ captures this well by describing the three camps which are either engaged or disengaged from disruption.

– Ostriches: ‘First response is to act like an ostrich and deny the change is happening, not a very productive response but too often what we see in Australian businesses.’

– Fighters: ‘The second response is to try and fight the disruptive force to stop it changing the market place (think music industry and online music purchases).’

– Pioneers: “The third and most progressive response is one of a pioneer where you embrace and adopt the disruption for the good of your organisation.”

In terms of the ‘Quadrants of Influence’, Rachel’s ostriches could also be said to resemble the passive bureaucratic and democratic collectives.

Her ‘Fighters’ description is also text book for how the tech and industry Princes act out if threatened. They made it to the top with their own disruptive practices and so intend it to stay that way by either acquiring new disruptive entrants or using Machiavellian political, economic or legal power to bar the way of any new entrant.

Lastly, there are her ‘Pioneers’ who start out as strong and disruptive meritocrats but don’t always stay that way when they get on top. Like all pioneers some don’t make the cut, succumbing under the onslaught of arrows to their backs.

So stopping others ascent is a clear example of Rachel’s ‘Fighter’ mentality when it would endanger their economic power base. Although the term disruption which is in common usage for new technological advances is not so often used for social disruption, the principal is basically the same.

Last century it was social emancipation, such as the struggle against racial and gender inequality that disrupted the status quo of political and economic power. This century it will be a struggle for technical emancipation that will guarantee the freedom to live our lives as sovereign beings.

And so the same powerful and privileged minorities will use all of the political power at their disposal to maintain their economic base when challenged by a cause such as the right to ‘Personal Data Sovereignty’, maybe even more so as it will combine aspects of both social and technological disruption.

The current boys club of autocratic ‘Tech Princes’ who have built their fortunes mining our personal data have no interest in honouring our irrefutable right to be forgotten if they can help it. Therefore, we will need to struggle to remind those higher up the digital hierarchy of needs that we have a right to be forgotten, just as we called on the powers that be in industry for the right to remember our personal safety concerns.

If as it appears, the personal data sovereignty movement is one of the people, for the people then there is no room for immature Princes serving their own self interest. For this movement can only manifest in a grown up internet where values come first and respect and honour aren’t just reserved for tokenistic mission statements.

One clear way to distinguish who? might be who? in the zoo so to speak would be to look out for Level 5 versus Level 4 traits in the emerging movement’s leadership.

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Jim Collins of ‘Good to Great’ fame neatly summarised the two approaches.

Level 5 leaders are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the organization, the work, not themselves and they have an iron will to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition. Level 4 are ambitious for themselves.

Level 5 leaders practice the window and the mirror. They point out the window to people and factors other than themselves to give credit for success. When confronted with failures, they look in the mirror and say, “I am responsible.” Level 4 leaders do the reverse, they use the mirror to credit themselves with success and the window to find someone else to accredit blame for failure.

Level 5 leaders might be charismatic, but this is not the primary source of their effectiveness. They inspire others primarily via inspired standards for excellence, hard work, sacrifice, and integrity not with an inspiring public persona as many a Level 4 leader does.

These observations bring us back to my earlier awareness of strength versus power;

– Level 5 Leaders are without doubt strong! then powerful!

– Level 4 Leaders are without doubt powerful!

Therefore, Level 5 should be the sole preserve of our greatest Kings and Queens who understand and honour sovereign rights, be they individual or collective. Princes can achieve Level 4 but they will never unite and govern the people effectively for many generations to come.

Thankfully the Personal Data Sovereignty movement has many level 5 candidates and soon we shall all find out who has the courage to carry our age and the truth to lead us all in the right direction. Only then will we have a mature and safe environment with which to navigate and transact our lives.

The Respect Network global launch begins on June 23 2014.
http://info.respectnetwork.com/launch-events/

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The Onexus Republic : What If =Plato Blogged Thought Leadership from his own Personal Sovereign Cloud Kingdom

‘Those who intend on becoming great should love neither themselves nor their own things, but only what is just, whether it happens to be done by themselves or others.’ – Plato

First of all I must thank Dan Blum of Respect Network http://security-architect.blogspot.com & Katryna Dow of Meeco http://katrynadow.me for suggesting the original premise for this piece. Basically, what if Plato, the founding Father of Western Philosophy, was kicking around today.

Plato was undoubtedly a giant in the wisdom stakes and like Lao Tzu before him it is so easy to be in awe of such a compelling character as he appeared to understand everything that was important about life before anyone else got out of bed. He even knew he had the sciences trumped before most of them had even emerged.

‘Wisdom alone is the science of other sciences.’ – Plato

So what if Plato had a second coming and presented today as an untypical, typical 21st Century Gen Y hipster with a burning desire to blog his paradigm shifting philosophy without fear of being shutdown.

Well, in this era he would be far more likely to emerge as the Founder and CEO of an Onexus Republic rather than form his Academy amidst a grove of olive trees outside the city walls.

As an aside on the brand Onexus http://www.onexus.com In the late 1990’s I had a flash of inspiration when describing what I thought the first wave of dot-coms could do in terms of disruption. For a start they could be one nexus, eliminating all middlemen and allowing the meeting of one with us. One day the two separate words of ‘One’ and ‘Nexus’ happened to combine in my minds eye as I spoke them out loud and Onexus or one multiplied by us was born.

I was so ecstatic that I now had my quintessential dot-com brand that I lay on the office floor making carpet angels and letting the euphoria wash over me. I’m a little more reserved these days but only a little as those that know me will testify.

Anyway, rolling forward over a decade and I have dusted off the brand again to embrace the Personal Sovereignty movement and MeCommerce in particular and I am also pleased to see that the rate of disruption is increasing as promised.

Disruption is nothing new, only these days because of technology it affects more of us much faster than ever before. This acceleration is no doubt due to the fact that our technology has reached a level where we have tools, mainly computational ones, to shape newer more complex ones, and so the half lives get halved again and again. All this innovation started somewhere and some 3000 years before Plato, the advent of the wheel no doubt disrupted those who carried things on their backs for a living.

So today Plato would be spoilt for choice to disseminate his ‘School of Thought’ through any number of technology delivery systems. Once his reputation was established he could even consider co-creating with a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

One of the fastest means however would be for him to simply register his own personal cloud name with a CSP like Onexus as part of the Respect Network http://www.respectnetwork.com the world’s first Personal Cloud Network. He could then blog to his hearts content building his thought leadership within a peer to peer sharing network of like minded souls without fear of intrusion by the ever present powers that be?

‘There must always remain something that is antagonistic to good.’ – Plato
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As you can see a Personal Cloud can be reduced to a bucket with your name on it. For added security you can always add a lid. That concludes the tech part of this blog, now back to the philosophy.

In reality of course a Onexus / Respect Network Personal Cloud is so much more than a bucket. It guarantees the option to be anonymous, the ability to sign-in, sign-on, communicate, exchange and be part of a decentralised peer-to-peer network where a Plato could continue to exchange his ideas freely and directly. Unlike current Social Networks he would not have to risk his ideas being indexed or data-mined or used for advertising or be removed totally from society so he was denied a voice.

The Personal Cloud itself is a commodity which can be carried around like a bucket. It’s most important feature as far as Plato would be concerned is that it is undeniably yours to decide what to carry and what to share. A Personal Sovereign Kingdom.

Like Plato I’m no great fan of democracy. The best you can say about it is that It will do for now and as modern polls show the rate of disenchantment within us the ‘Sheeple’ is growing worse by the year and yet again Plato was across this inherent trait of democracy as early as 400BC

‘One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.’ – Plato

A more recent thought leader: Churchill, also captured Democracy’s pros and cons nicely in two short quotes:

First he said that: ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’ basically apart from all the others. Even Churchill may not have seen that our digital technology will allow us to explore forms of government that have not been imagined as yet, although he did concede that ‘the empires of the future are the empires of the mind.’

He also said in his usual cheeky fashion that ‘the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.’

Overall then, when it comes to democracy we don’t vote them in so much as we tend to vote them out. It’s not proactive or generative, it’s instinctive and reactive at best.

And so we let the self serving polarities rule us in turn, largely through our own default apathetic resignation. We are lucky if we get mediocrity for a term or two and a Plato ideal such as a Meritocracy ruled by Philosopher Kings and Queens is as illusive today as it was in his day.

‘Your silence gives consent.’ – Plato

Democracy does have certain advantages though, when it comes to keeping other less desirably forms of government in check. Plato saw this first hand himself when in his youth he witnessed the rise of the ‘Thirty Tyrants’. An oligarchy which by comparison made the previous democracy in Athens resemble a golden age.

And now coming up for three thousand years later our personal data is largely ruled by a small group of corporate oligarchs supposedly providing us services for free while they in turn are hacked by their own democratic government.

‘Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.’ – Plato

Even Plato would acknowledge that this mess is still progress of sorts when you consider that the ‘Thirty Tyrants’ in his day, also eradicated five percent of Athenians during their short reign of terror.

My own most recent insight into the pros and cons of democracy came on a much anticipated visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral this April.
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The previous day my son Ross had checked off his holiday bucket list when we experienced the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios after suffering over two hours in a queue. Now it was my turn as Kennedy was firmly on my boyhood bucket list when it had been the launch pad for the massive Mercury, Apollo and the Shuttle Programs.

There was also the added bonus that a launch scheduled for earlier in the week had been postponed to go ahead on the day of our visit!

Sadly the days of the big scale NASA programs are over and the one we witnessed that day, the Falcon 9, while still quite spectacular is financed by SpaceX, a private Company. The Falcon 9 Rocket is the brainchild of their Founder Elon Musk who made his first fortune in the dot-com days with PayPal before investing in the more tangible engineering fields of space rockets and Tesla electric cars.

Anyway, while I pondered this odd state of affairs and the shift from public to private Space activity, the Falcon fired it’s 9 Merlin Engines. Ross and I stood in the shadow of a Sycamore “Moon Tree.” The tree’s plaque described how the original seed had been to the Moon with the Apollo 14 Mission. It had now grown to maturity and as Ross watched the rocket journey out of site, I saw a relatively straight branch that had fallen at our feet which I quickly stripped down and fashioned into a wand.

Now to me this was real Magic! Not the manufactured magic of Hogwart’s from the day before when we had purchased the obligatory official merchandise including replica wands. Ross lit up too when I explained the significance. The DNA code in this new wand had been to the Moon and back. He was holding in his hand something material born from 4.5 billion years of geosphere evolving into biosphere, that had then journeyed to another world and back again. This one data point made a common or garden tree branch wand priceless as far as Ross was concerned. While an official Harry Potter resin wand made in China will only set you back $40 US including tax.
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Apparently ‘Moon Trees’ have been planted in cities around the world. Just don’t tell my Son that the Cape Canaveral Sycamore is not the only one. I don’t want to dilute the magic.

‘Wonder is the feeling of the philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.’ – Plato

Now please stay with me because it struck me like never before how a single data point on a material object could change everything in terms of how we placed value on it. Even when the object was intrinsically exactly the same as before.

I also then remembered an article I had read a few years back about Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, a vital data point that had destined him to become the most famous Astronaut to ever launch from the Cape.

The article had described how Neil had become involved in an unusual legal battle with his barber of 20 years. After cutting Armstrong’s hair, the barber had sold some of it to a collector for $3,000 without Armstrong’s knowledge or permission. Neil threatened legal action unless the barber returned the hair or donated the proceeds to a charity of Neil’s choosing. The barber was unable to get the hair back, but decided to donate the proceeds to the charity of Neil’s choice anyway.

If you have read Neil Armstrong’s bio then apart from his amazing feats as an Astronaut and Test Pilot, you will know that he was an incredibly private and humble man and sadly he passed away a couple of years ago in 2012.

‘A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men.’ – Plato

In this crazy and unjust world that over values exclusivity this would no doubt have made the stolen sample of his hair worth even more?

So this got me thinking; why is it that when something leaves your body such as hair which is not special other than the fact it contains our unique biological data in the form of DNA that it is held in so much higher regard than digital data which is also uniquely ours and in most cases these days will have a far greater impact on our lives when it leaves our control? Neil’s biological data was attributed extra value because of his historic achievements but this is not the case for the rest of us mere mortals.

In short, a meme is not worth a gene! Or at least this is the case for now?

I was still considering this bias in favour of value placed on our personal biological data versus the value we place on our personal digital data when I boarded the flight home. Our technology is no doubt moving so fast that our emotional connection has not caught up with the fact that discarded or stolen digital data is far more likely to come back and bite us than our misappropriated biological data?

One of the movies I chose to watch on the long flight was Rush, a film about the 70’s Formula 1 rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda directed by Ron Howard who incidentally also directed Apollo 13. One scene stood out for me like no other. In it, Niki is crossing the pit lane to start the race which is about to nearly end his life when an autograph hunter stops him and he obliges, but when the fan troubles him further to put the date to his signature. Niki asks: “The date? Why?”
The fan responds: “You never know. Could be your last.”
Niki looks back in anger before walking away to his fate in the ensuing inferno.

If ever there was an example of Katryna Dow’s vital insight that one of the four key aspects with which to value personal data is it’s time bound nature. In this case the fan would have in his possession proof of Niki’s last ever signature which would no doubt make it more valuable than all the rest he would have given out in his career which lacked that one vital data point.

So now let us come back to how a modern day Plato might perceive things in our digital democratic era? For one he would witness that the same form of democracy that captured our hearts, minds and imagination with the NASA Apollo Moon Shot program, is now capturing our personal data with their NSA surveillance programs, like PRISM.

Both of these democratic government agencies required billions of dollars and tens of thousands of their citizens to achieve their ambitious aims. One filled us with inspirational awe and advanced our everyday technology in so many ways and while it may be argued that the other may still advance our surveillance technology? This will be unlikely to serve us the people, instead the whole sordid realisation just brings our contempt and quite rightfully so.

So what has changed in the 40 years from NASA’s glory days to the recent NSA revelations, apart from the coincidental dropping of a letter from a government agency acronym?

The short answer is nothing has changed in terms of a democratic government’s desire to spy on it’s own people. After all, we had the Watergate debacle in the same era as Apollo, it’s just that our governments now have the technical ability to sanction wholesale industrial scale eavesdropping on our lives these days and so they do.

‘He who steals a little steals with the same wish as he who steals much, but with less power.’ -Plato

So the original Plato and a modern day equivalent would see that not a lot has changed in terms of wielding power for the self serving objective of remaining in control of our shared resources.
And until the aspiration for power is used to serve some other notion, it will continue to shape our politics much in the same way as when the Greeks of Plato’s day used fire signals to communicate.

‘This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.’ – Plato
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Equally, all of our technological advances throughout the intervening millennia would ensure that a modern day Plato would find it even more essential to gesture upward to the immutable and eternal forms of truth, symmetry and beauty to counter a contemporary Aristotle pointing down to an empirical understanding of big data.

‘If particulars are to have meaning, there must be Universals’ – Plato

Since the fundamental political landscape has not shifted it would be to the technological advances that a modern Plato would look to caution against excess. I for one have noticed that all the new technologies I have encountered in life very soon demonstrate that their greatest asset so often becomes the source of their greatest liability.

Instant messaging’s greatest asset is it’s ease of use and not surprisingly it’s greatest liability is it’s ease of use.
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However on the asset side of technology’s ledger, a modern day Plato could instantly become his own Philosopher King. Albeit in a Kingdom of one on one with other Kingdoms of one.

‘There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.’ – Plato

With the personal sovereignty of his own cloud in a peer to peer network our reincarnated Plato would soon see that there in would lay the critical liability. Quite simply, the ease of entry into this type of Kingdom makes opinions or personal philosophy, ubiquitous.

Again on the asset side of the ledger at least the powers that be could not shut down a personal cloud the way they eventually shutdown the original Academy founded by Plato in Ancient Greece. But then, back in the ancient day there were so few scholars that they kept most of the good stuff hence Plato’s work was passed down. Whereas these days, there are so many pundits and opinions and storage is so easy that we keep absolutely everything and so finding the great above all the noise and nonsense, is the real issue.

I have no doubt that there are countless genius bloggers out there. Plato’s idea of Philosopher Kings and Queens who won’t be recognised in their own lifetime, if at all. Hidden in ubiquity or ahead of their time, which will make them wrong in their own time, they will go unheeded.

So the truth is that Plato’s vision for the rise of Philosopher Kings and Queens is more realisable than ever. Unfortunately the same technology that has empowered a peer to peer world where the great influence of wisdom can be disseminated to help humanity find it’s way is also the reason it is for the most part being drowned out.

‘The measure of a man is what he does with power.’ – Plato

One way to counteract this of course is the notion of up-votes. Unfortunately, as Plato would very quickly point out, up-voting and ‘Likes’ is still a democratic process that may or may not take merit into account. As an example, the only social network that I am still on is Quora http://www.quora.com ‘Your Best Source of Knowledge’.

Quora is a community of Q&A fanatics who ask and answer, seeking and dispensing the sort of exclusive knowledge that a Google search will not satisfy. Others like myself often amuse ourselves with harmless trolls of unanswered questions.
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As you can see on the left, my flippant answer regarding the parachute got an enormous rate of up-votes because everyone gets it and finds that it hit the spot. While some other more deeply considered philosophical understandings on the right, go largely ignored.

As in Plato’s day, it appears good still remains the enemy of great! The Plato’s of today who are ahead of their time may well remain so? Only to unlock the secrets of today’s unsustainable state of affairs with enlightened solutions for the generations to come.

So this brings us full circle to Plato’s great Allegory of the Cave. And as Dan Blum pointed out in a recent blog, at the end of the allegory the freed one is returned there to dwell with the prisoners, sharing in their labors and honors.

Maybe enough of us who have been set free by this latest awareness around privacy can encourage the others to turn their heads and see for the first time the real objects that deny us privacy. Only when others come to grasp the true forms that Plato espoused will they see the real causes of their distracting shadows and they will realise their error.

‘Thinking: the talking of the soul with itself.‘ – Plato
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