The age of indifference

They call it the ‘information age’. In a week that’s seen Wikileaks release the Afghan War Diary, a compendium of over 91,000 US intelligence reports covering the war in Afghanistan, and a hacker compiling a torrent of personal information ‘belonging’ to over 100m Facebook members – one fifth of the total membership of the site – we’re starting to see exactly what that means: the age of secrets is coming to an end.

It’s harder than ever for our governments to keep things from us, or to keep us from each other.  For most of the 20th century that was the de facto approach to government – what we didn’t know couldn’t hurt us.  At least, not until it was too late for us or anybody else to do anything about it.

Nowadays anything and everything is only one faulty or functioning conscience away from the public domain.

Information can travel further and faster than ever before – huge quantities of information, instantly available to a worldwide workforce of have-a-go analysts and armchair commentators.

All of which means that plausible deniability isn’t going to cut it at the gates of St Peter.  We’ll need to be able to explain just how it was we came to know about the atrocities, the human rights violations, the lies and savagery of those to whom we willingly defer the ugly business of taking control of our lives, and did nothing.

Did nothing, that is, but salve our pangs of conscience with the kind of armchair protests that have become a depressingly tedious formality.  Spreading the hashtags and signing the petitions, doing the absolute minimum in support of fashionable causes that flare up and die down on an almost daily basis.

We infer the effectiveness of these protests from the occasional small victory. We #freethe guardian, or #save6music, or get Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number one. Who knows, we may even manage to #SaveTheUKFilmCouncil, without the vast majority of us knowing precisely what it does.  Or how much money it costs us.

And, in the process, the nature of the act of protest changes.  It becomes more passive, a button pressed, a box ticked.  None of us have to go out and get involved in the bloody business of revolution, we just watch it on YouTube, change our Twitter location to ‘Tehran’ and pop out for coffee in Primrose Hill.

They call it the ‘information age’.  We may come to know it as the age of indifference.