President Snow Is Watching

All the Hunger Games movies are free on IMDB right now. I was expecting to be disappointed. But I do like dystopian science fiction. It was worth checking out.

What’s more disturbing than this movie, the photos that came up in my Instagram feed visually matched the scenes in the movie. Jennifer Lawrence screams with her palms pressed against a shiny plastic tube as her friend is killed, and Instagram selects a photo of a woman in a similar pose, pressed against a similar shiny surface. Just a coincidence, right? Let’s not be paranoid. Jennifer Lawrence pops up on a platform on a tropical beach. A nearly identical image of a woman standing on the shore of a tropical beach appears on my Instagram. That was way too similar. Close Instagram.

I was experiencing some kind of new feature, but not in a good way. If it seems too coincidental beyond a certain point, it’s probably not. Especially because I could code that algorithm myself, just use ffmpeg to extract stills and match them up using an API, not that difficult. Fiction becomes reality. Being watched becomes a normal thing.

That’s partly what this movie is about, surveillance. President Snow is always watching.

Clearly this movie targeted teens. Unlike my generation, Gen X, teens today are growing up like lab rats under the watchful eye of a massive digital surveillance system.

The main character hides in a tree in a forest, which you think would be a private place. But no, there’s a camera in the tree. She has a knife and could easily destroy the camera. But no, she wants “sponsors” to keep an eye on her. Her “mentor” suggests this is a winning strategy. Children watching this are conditioned to think being watched is a good thing, you can grow up to be a professional YouTuber or social “influencer” and the whole world will admire your “spontaneous” acts of valor.

You can watch and watch and watch people, tag them, study them like lab rats, zap them with notifications at precise moments and study their reactions. How effective is all that? I don’t know. Facebook can sell you a basket of “lookalikes” (assuming you buy ads.) But how similar are you compared to that basket of other people?

The majority of the data collected is completely useless and should be illegal, and I think the world will eventually adopt some GDPR-like system. On the other hand, it’s really hard to destroy data, and even if “shadow gate” was totally fake, you know some obscure offshore company will end up collecting everything without our knowledge. Even with our knowledge, legally, various companies do openly collect every little detail about us. You are a lab rat, whether you like it or not. How does the world stop that from happening?

From another angle though, you can watch all you want, you can spy all you want, but you’ll never really know what people are thinking. Even if they say they are an open book, do you really know that? Maybe you think you are an open book, but I would argue you’re not. You’re infinitely more complicated than the most advanced computer algorithms. In other words, all the watching and analysis seems futile to me. People are unpredictable. Economists say the same thing, people should behave a certain way, but they don’t.

Even with the “right” data, I bet most assumptions turn out wrong. AI can predict mechanical failures, for example, but people are vastly more complicated, more random and more exceptional. I think over-confident engineers assume otherwise, and that drives them to keep digging into your life. If he buys X and likes Y, the model says he will do Z. Like the invisible barriers of the Hunger Games, once they become visible, the “game” is no longer fun or fair, and freedom becomes a cage.

At some point people will feel the fatigue of being watched, because they know they are being watched, and if they can’t game the system to their advantage, they will find a way to opt out of the system. It’s probably a natural instinct, especially as people experience diminishing returns when they’re online. I’m “online” is a way of saying, President Snow is watching.

Other notable aspects of the movie:

1. The tangential focus on fashion, art, and the sacrificial Lenny Kravitz character. His sketchbooks feed into #2.

2. The meta aspect of a show about making a show tends to inform the show you’re making. Is that lazy or clever, or both lazy and clever?

3. Similar to #2, you can’t judge the enslaved fools watching the games because you’re watching the games too. For entertainment? Therefore, you’re as sick as the oppressed people in the districts. However, the movie softens the violence of the “game” with flowers, singing, apple targets, healing medicine, various alliances, “hide and go seek” camping, and a Romeo and Juliet reference. Otherwise, I think people would hate this movie.

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