What is a dystopia? It is usually an imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control. In Sweden, every citizen is a number inside a computer, literally. A scenario like in the film THX 1138 is pretty much what exists in Sweden today. The only difference being that the film takes this concept to an extreme.
Transparency frightens a lot of people, but in many ways it kindles honesty. In some cultures that may hold true, while in others honesty could be considered a long-lost virtue. Here, it is very easy to find out quite extensive information about any person. In Sweden, everyone registered here has a so-called Personnummer. This number is your identification; without it, you are not in the system. If you are not in the system, then you cannot make use of many services. Everything from ordering a book online to getting a new mobile phone contract requires indicating your Personnummer. Here, it is not even a secret that everything about you is stored.
Sweden is a great country. Just over six months ago, I moved here from Germany. The mentality of transparency immediately struck me. Mostly I am not one to question everything. Like most any, I follow my dreams and live my life without getting overly involved with state affairs. I am not the modern-day rebel, fighting for a cause. So, perhaps, I am proof that the general population lives in apathy. While some may argue this to be a detrimental state of mind, I ask why I should fight something that doesn’t limit me at all? The truth of the matter is that in Sweden, data collection is already done on a large scale. Even if one is not living in Sweden, one can access websites to find out phone numbers, birthdays, partners, and addresses of most anyone.
On Google+, I had a dialogue about this. A lot of people seen genuinely concerned about the ramifications of their government logging their digital life and keeping the data for months at a time. Is such a paranoia exaggerated? You can easily find out almost anything about my persona or my life — personally, I am indifferent about it. To me it makes no difference how much information about me is legally obtainable. If anyone means to harm me, then my fate is probably sealed already. It sure makes matters easier for those seeking to wreak havoc.
The other day I ordered a book online at a large, Swedish online retailer. As part of the purchase process, I had to type in my Personnummer. Furthermore, in the ensuing confirmation email, I noticed that my IP address also logged. In Germany, I know companies could be forced to shut down if they had a similar practice. In Sweden, it is allowed by law. However, the people here accept it also, and never question the dubiousness of it. Generally, no one doubts the government’s intentions.
Personal recommendations rely on data collection. These bureaucratic mechanisms are already in place on Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Google, and many more. One needs to always keep this in mind before rebelling against the status quo. I see posts on Google about the lack of freedom if SOPA (or something like it) were passed by the Congress. Well, this is already in effect in some form here in Sweden. The government has the data, but does not intend to use it in wars against copyright infringement. Coincidentally, The Pirate Bay has moved its domains to Sweden. A free Internet is an oxymoron. The Internet already embodies freedom of speech, really. Do you want to live without such beloved services like Google, Facebook, or even email? All of these rely on the foundation of data mining. Here in Sweden, the mentality does not seem to include a double standard. If anyone chooses to oppose data mining by governments, then this person must also stop using virtually any digital service.
There are three legal ways to inquire about a person (even if you are not in Sweden):
The question to ask is whether or not human nature can actually be trusted. Does common sense still exist in modern societies? Here in Sweden, I could be sitting in a car and find out who the owner is of the car in front of us. I can do this simply by typing the license plate into an app on my phone. Then I can receive a text message with the owner’s name, for just a nominal fee. This is, to my knowledge, not possible in very many countries of the world. If that is wrong, please add it in the comments.