dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Call Our Mass Killings What They Are

August 16th, 2019 by dk

If we can agree on only one thing about guns in America, it’s that the debate has become stale. Both sides are entrenched. Every argument is well-rehearsed. Patterns of response have become so predictable that they invite parodies from all sides. The issue must be reframed if there’s to be any hope for change.

The most recent mass shootings might not have attracted so much attention, except that they happened within hours of each other. Twenty-two people were killed and more than two dozen were injured at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas. Hours later, nine people were killed and dozens injured at a popular nightlife district in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

By any objective measure, mass shootings are becoming more frequent in the United States. It was inevitable that two shooters would eventually share a national headline. This is what prompts my modest proposal. If we can’t figure out a way to reduce mass killings, we may need to regulate and schedule them.

We should acknowledge this ongoing horror as the ritualized human sacrifice that it is. Then we can coordinate our nation’s thoughts and prayers. We can schedule our national grieving. Speechwriters can work a new spin on an old topic. We can shop and dance and worship without fear on shooting-free days between scheduled sacrifices.

Some would say religion has lost its hold on modernity. Others see our unquestioned beliefs simply shifting to more material matters.

Think of the superstitions that support our status quo. Any new gun regulations will reduce our overall freedoms and leave people less able to protect themselves from government overreach. Freedom and prosperity have expanded together for generations, so losing a holster might hurt our pocketbook. Our founding fathers had Nostradamus-like foresight into how modern society should be organized, so the 2nd amendment is sacrosanct. Nothing can be changed, even as we all wish things could be different.

Superstitions eventually require oblations. We’ve reached that point.

Author Shirley Jackson has been shocking high school students since 1948 with “The Lottery.” Nuclear holocaust was Jackson’s new fear. Domestic terrorism is ours.

In her short story, traditional families gather in the town square for the annual lottery, disdaining other villages where the tradition has been abandoned. One old-timer warned against change. “Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery.” The person chosen in the annual lottery is stoned to death.

Are we living differently now? We use ritual to mark time, just as Jackson’s villagers.

“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries any more.” Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row.

“Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”

“Time sure goes fast.” Mrs. Graves said.

Time sure goes fast for everyone participating in the ritual, except for the “winner,” for whom time stops altogether. Given our current predicament, we need a fresher and more honest discussion about what we’re doing and why we’re allowing it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Jackson’s short story can be read here:

Tags: No Comments.

Self-Selection is Diversity’s Natural Predator

August 16th, 2019 by dk

Last week’s decision to appoint Jim Torrey to the Eugene School Board reminded me of an implicit promise I made to readers ten years ago. After engineering a little social experiment, I wrote a 2009 column about the experiment and pledged to update readers on its long-term effects.

We say we want diversity on our boards and in our clubs, but there’s another force that works against it. Self-selection is diversity’s natural predator.

Here’s how I described it a decade ago. “Like sad replicas of Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp, a hidden force kicks the hat [of diversity] away from us, just as we’re about to reach it, over and over. We reach for the hat of greater diversity with all the best intentions, but just as it’s almost within our grasp, our own comforting foot of [self-selection] kicks it away. That only increases our resolve, which starts the cycle again.”

Even though Torrey lost his re-election, and other qualified candidates were available, the four returning board members overruled the two new members and chose Torrey to fill a vacant seat. His experience and their familiarity outweighed other factors.

Ten years ago, I led the Round Table Club of Eugene to remove self-selection from its membership recruitment process. We invited new members who were vetted by the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce or by the University of Oregon’s Tenure Review Committee. We welcomed a dozen new members without knowing them personally. So, how did that work out for the club?

I can’t speak for the club itself, but here’s what I’ve observed. The long-term effects have been mixed. A few members quit on the spot, resenting the idea that current members may not be most qualified to choose future members. Several others drifted away slowly, possibly because the club felt less comfortable — less “clubby.”

One year later, the club decided not to repeat the experiment, returning to the old way of doing things. A handful of that unusual membership class became active members. Some rose to leadership positions.

Cohesion inside the group seems to have waned, but it’s impossible to identify a single cause. Everyone’s life is busier now. We’re more tethered to our phones for more hours each day. We’ve all gotten older.

The club’s new leaders have accelerated a different trend, at least to my eye. History and tradition — important elements to a club formed in 1912 — are less a constraint now. Those who instituted those traditions were no longer solely responsible for the new members’ inclusion. Original intent behind each tradition is available in the archives, but not deemed dispositive.

Diversity accelerates adaptation, once self-selection has been removed. Allegiance to one another and to those who came before occurs less naturally, and so less often. History has less sway on the future. Nothing seems quite as comfortable, but that might be my nostalgia speaking.

If our experiment is relevant to the Eugene School Board, returning Torrey to their ranks by self-selection may increase cohesion but inhibit change. Keeping things comfortable will naturally also keep things the same.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Kahle’s earlier column on the topic is here:

Tags: No Comments.

Outrage is Not Easily Contained

August 10th, 2019 by dk

I don’t attend many parties. It’s just not my idea of a good time, watching people vie for attention, competing with one another. I left two get-togethers over the past few weeks early — each for the same reason. That reason is not unrelated to recent headlines about gun rampages. It’s also relevant to the latest controversy on campus.

At the first party, people were chitchatting about innocuous topics, doing no harm to anyone. The conversation somehow landed on airline mishap stories, with each person telling a more harrowing tale than the last. It became weirdly reminiscent of scouts telling spooky stories around a campfire.

Sharing little frights can be a pleasant way to pass the time. But it didn’t stop there. Which airports are the least convenient? Which airlines have the worst policies? What’s the worst excuse you’ve received from customer service?

I felt bad for those poor employees, who became the characters in the stories we were swapping. They weren’t at the party to defend themselves or to fill in details that might have made each story less absurd. They were straw men, buttressing our judgments.

That wasn’t a fun discussion for me, so I exited early. Less than a week later, something similar happened. This time the company person, a Starbucks barista, was cast as a hero. A rude customer played the villain. He was asking for a free cup of ice on a very hot day.

The young employee told the man that she wasn’t allowed to fill his outside cup with ice. He became angry. “I understand that it’s the rule,” he bellowed at the teenage girl, “but it’s a bad rule!” He continued berating the poor employee, with my friend watching as the next person in line.

Unable to persuade the employee to violate store policy, the non-customer raised the rhetorical stakes. Slavery was a “bad rule” that he certainly wouldn’t have followed. (He was white. She was not.) Equating a cup of ice with owning another human being blew things out of proportion in a hurry, but it also did something else.

Everyone at the party leaned in, hanging on every word. “Can you believe this?” “What happened next?” “I hope you left that poor girl an extra tip!”

I watched how outrage brought people together more powerfully than anything else. It worried me. Outrage is rage aimed at outsiders. Both halves of that formula are dangerous. We don’t usually have the tools or the courage to stop what we’ve started.

Shared outrage gets everyone’s attention, and who doesn’t like that? But who among us will step in its path to slow its spreading destruction? I left the parties early, but that was hardly a profile of courage. We must learn to identify a straw man before setting it aflame, whether it’s invading immigrants, a heritage statue, or a cup of ice.

Outrage at somebody who isn’t named or known will draw rapt attention. But rage spreads in ways we cannot predict or control. The same force that quickly brings us together can just as quickly blow us apart.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments.

Simple Fixes to Overly Dramatized Democratic Debates

August 9th, 2019 by dk

Nobody I know was happy with the first two sets of Democratic presidential debates. Most are hoping against hope that the field is winnowed sufficiently before the next debate(s) in September. We’re all tired of the circus spectacle — watching too many clowns exiting too small a car.

I don’t blame the number of candidates for the numbing nonsense we’ve seen so far. I blame the networks. I’m astonished that we allow networks to interrupt the presidential debate to sell commercials to the highest bidders.

Moderators drum up intra-party conflicts to liven up the action because that’s their job. Tension increases ratings. Viewers stay engaged, ready to be served up to the advertisers. Everybody wins, except democracy. The fabricated controversies are out of proportion and stripped of context.

Also-rans, positioned at the edges, lobbed incendiary assertions at the frontrunners in the center. Montana Gov.Steve Bullock accused Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren of “wish list economics.” Former Maryland representative John Delaney labeled their Medicare-for-all plan an “impossible promise.”

The next night New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio could barely be distinguished from the hecklers in the audience, badgering former vice president Joe Biden from one end. Author Marianne Williamson dismissed the whole event as nonsense from the other.

Those polling at less than one percent popularity had nothing to lose. The moderators egged them on to attack the frontrunners in the middle. Viewers did not gain a more nuanced understanding of the issues at hand.

If we can’t ask networks to forego the revenue they receive from advertisers, it’s not too late to make future debates more substantive and less silly.

The networks could use a journalist who is not on their payroll to moderate the debates they broadcast. There are plenty of print journalists who know the issues, but don’t care about ratings. They wouldn’t feel a need to drum up drama that could earn bonuses for their bosses.

It’s bad enough that ten candidates are elbowing one another for screen time. Do we really need three more voices in the room? A single moderator for each debate, who is not on the payroll of the broadcasting network, would do a better job.

That won’t happen, because the networks want to build their brands as much as the candidates do, so I have an even simpler plan that would curb the worst aspect of the debates we’ve seen so far. The Democratic National Committee could simply ban the split-screen video effect.

If a candidate on the end wants to attack a candidate in the middle, the reaction shot would have to widen to include the three or four candidates who are standing between them. Those wide-angle shots are less captivating, so networks will naturally try to avoid them.

When the two front-runners engage at center stage, nothing will change. Show candidates going toe-to-toe, but only those who actually are toe-to-toe. Viewers will see what audience members are seeing, not a special-effect video screen that heightens a tension that isn’t there, or shouldn’t be.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments.

Glenwood’s Indoor Track Facility: A Few Questions

August 3rd, 2019 by dk

I’m as excited as anyone by the prospect of an indoor track facility in Glenwood. My son recently bought his first house in Glenwood, motivated partly by the aspirational plans for the area. The listing agent shrewdly posted them in the dining room to capture a buyer’s attention.

We’ve known for decades that Glenwood will boom soon. We just didn’t know from which direction that boom would come. A surge from the east would return the area to its West Springfield roots, extending downtown as it did a century ago.

The burst could have come from the north, replicating the mix of hotels and shopping in the Gateway area. But now it looks like the energy and vision will come from the west, extending the reach of the University of Oregon and meeting some pent-up demands that downtown Eugene and the Lane Events Center can’t accommodate.

Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg, former TrackTown USA leader Vin Lananna, and TrackTown USA CEO Michael Reilly are solidly behind the project. “We’re working away madly,” Lundberg said. “We’re meeting every week … to make sure that the indoor track is as much a world-class facility as Hayward Field is.”

I have some questions.

Lundberg characterized the track facility as Springfield’s “priority 1A” and a convention center as “priority 1B.” Can one start without the other, or are their fates conjoined?

If the two don’t have to be connected, can the track be built on the inland side of Franklin Boulevard? River views won’t be critical to its success. Another skybridge could always be added over Franklin if necessary.

Travel Lane County representative Andy Vobora described the planned facility as “multi-use,” but that can be interpreted many ways. How will such a large and prominent development be designed so that it’s active all the time?

What will be the University of Oregon’s role in building and maintaining it? They’ll certainly want space for practice and training, but the multi-use aspect promises other opportunities. Poorly conceived sports facilities can become urban “dead zones,” producing a net loss for its neighborhood’s safety and economy.

More to the point, how (and how publicly) will Phil Knight be involved? Will he pay for head-turning architectural design that matches Hayward Field?

Lundberg announced, “We want cranes up by the spring of 2021.” Does that mean its exterior shell could be up in time for 2021 World Championships? The area’s leaders are determined to project imagination and ambition during our moment in the sports world spotlight. Having this structure rising from the ground by July 2021 will tell the world that TrackTown USA isn’t slowing its pace anytime soon.

Parking will always be a bone of contention when a large-capacity structure is sited near neighborhoods. Will this project include a sky tram over the river, allowing Autzen stadium’s plentiful parking to serve this facility, as well as Hayward Field, Matthew Knight Arena, and general campus needs?

Some questions will be answered quickly. Others may be debated for years. Fortunately, TrackTown USA made that name for itself first with long-distance running.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments.

Eugene Needs a Fringe Festival

August 2nd, 2019 by dk

Eugene is still searching for a replacement to the Eugene Celebration, which eventually became a victim of downtown’s success. The Whiteaker Block Party resembles the Celebration’s early years, but it lacks broad appeal and wide renown. Other attempts have struggled to raise enough financial support.

I may have just the thing. Eugene could host a Fringe Festival.

I stumbled across the Rochester Fringe Festival last fall, and learned there are more than 100 Fringes around the world. I googled “how to start a fringe festival.” The second hit was on an academic site in the United Kingdom. This wasn’t surprising because the worldwide Fringe Festival movement began in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947.

The surprises came quickly after that. The document I downloaded was titled, “On The Fringe: A Practical Guide to Creating a Fringe Festival in Portland, Oregon.” It was Chelsea Bushnell’s thesis project for her Arts and Administration degree from University of Oregon. Bushnell was born and raised in Eugene. She graduated from South Eugene High School.

I tracked her down in Portland, where she has worked for various arts organizations since completing her degree in 2004. She hasn’t executed the guidebook she wrote 15 years ago, but she’d love it if someone in Eugene did. “Eugene is so Fringy!” she exclaimed to me this week.

To deepen my understanding of “fringy,” I’ve been working at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC. I agree with Bushnell’s assessment. Eugene is definitely fringy.

Fringe Festivals share several defining characteristics. They are as inclusive and diverse as possible, offering every sort of stage performance imaginable. They not only run on modest budgets — they celebrate that. They commandeer leftover spaces — empty storefronts, parks, church basements, building lobbies, even random parking spaces. Performers are vetted for safety and technical requirements, but are not juried.

Taken together, Fringe promotes risk-taking by artists and audiences alike. Entry fees and ticket prices are low. Nothing is guaranteed, except the unexpected. People come together, bound only by curiosity. As it turns out, that’s often enough.

Bushnell and her mother have attended Fringes across Canada. She’s traveled to Scotland to see what has become the largest performing arts festival on the planet. “I still dream of Fringe Festivals and love building my vacations to attend them and see new cities,” she told me.

Oddly, there are no Fringes in the Pacific Northwest — nothing between San Francisco and Vancouver, British Columbia. A town like ours, renowned for its risk-taking and frugality, could join the circuit. People love visiting Fringe cities.

In my three weeks managing a stage in Washington, a choir rehearsal room was transformed into an intimate theatre for six different one-person plays. We staged 29 performances, satisfied hundreds of audience members, and forged many new friendships.

We heard one lonely frog keeping perfect metronomic time with a pianist’s musical autobiography. An actor proposed marriage to his playwright girlfriend after their final performance. And I learned that glitter may never come out of a church’s sofa cushion.

Fringy indeed.

Eugene could start a Fringe Festival. After all, one of our own wrote the book on it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments.

Oregon Could Attract Influencers With Incentives

July 26th, 2019 by dk

The best time to suggest even the slightest tweak to the state’s tax code is immediately after a legislative session ends. Lawmakers need time to internalize the suggestion. Once a legislator takes ownership of the idea, the complexities ahead can be navigated by that champion.

That incubation process slows innovative ideas. It may have been on the cutting edge when it was conceived, but dull or derivative when it’s born. Once it bursts into public view, it may look more like a clone than a baby.

Consider film production tax incentives. Oregon has them, but so do most other states. Everyone wants feature films to highlight the scenery and specialness of their state. Film crews spend plenty of money and the most successful projects can attract tourists for decades. How many people over the past 40 years have visited Cottage Grove, to see where Bluto’s gang disrupted the parade in “Animal House”?

Film professionals sometimes come for a tax incentive, but then stay. Oregon is a great place to live, filled with scenic vistas, but also filled with loads of interesting people. Attracting the creative class to live in Oregon provides long-term benefits. That justifies some short-term costs. Legislators like that equation. It’s the public policy version of a truism in business. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

Film production subsidies are yesterday’s news, so what will be tomorrow’s? Podcasts and video shorts.

Podcasts have a low threshold for entry. Anyone with a smart phone can start one. Videos likewise can be made with the equipment most of us carry around in our pocket. People who succeed in this arena sometimes earn a good living. They are called “influencers.”

These productions don’t take a lot of money to start, but they do require some investment from their creators. If anyone can do it, and they can do it from anywhere, why not make Oregon one of the first places to roll out the welcome mat?

The popularity of these productions will continue to increase, but eventually there will be too many of them. When that happens, there will be a shake-out. The herd will be culled, because that always happens. Nothing expands indefinitely.

It’s when things start to get harder that the most talented or ambitious will emerge from the pack. They will be hunting for advantages over their competition. That’s what Oregon could position itself to offer them.

Since most of these productions require only a modest investment to launch, Oregon should try something bold. Tax breaks for film productions in Oregon require budgets that exceed a million dollars. A tax incentive aimed at these new “influencers” should have no minimum investment required. An immediate tax benefit for small productions who are starting with nothing but a dream and an iPhone would attract talent to Oregon.

If podcasts and video shorts received even a modest tax advantage, how many “influencers” will choose Oregon for their home base? Not all will stay and not many will succeed, but the state’s investment would be small. That should be filling some legislator’s imagination during their current idle moments.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments.

There Is Some Fakery in Our News

July 26th, 2019 by dk

If I learned anything from marriage counseling, it was this. It’s always best to assume your partner’s complaints are not 100 percent wrong. Discovering what part of their complaint is true will benefit you, even if the relationship cannot be mended.

This presidential administration has had a fractious relationship with news media outlets that cover him. Editors and reporters struggle with how and whether fabrications uttered by the president should be conveyed. The president’s instinctive counterpunch has been to label us “fake news.”

Did you see what I did there? I used the word “us.” I included myself.

Beat reporters are trained to avoid such pronouns, except when quoting other people. We’re taught to paint ourselves out of the picture. Even columnists, who have the privilege of using first person singular pronouns, are generally discouraged from using “we” or “us” to refer to the larger enterprise of news gathering and news reporting.

We portray ourselves — hide ourselves, really — as dispassionate observers. And that’s fake. The truth is, most of us got into this business because we enjoy being steeped in the details of public life. Chasing corruption, mastering arcanum, collecting data, connecting dots — it’s not always fun for us, but we believe it’s honorable work.

We hide ourselves because we believe the story deserves your attention, not us. That’s good practice, as far as it goes. But detaching ourselves has subtle consequences. If we report that a falling tree made a sound where no one could hear it, we seem to be solving the ancient philosopher’s puzzle. But we didn’t solve it, because that’s not exactly what happened. We were there. We heard it. (The philosopher never contemplated whether a tree falling “off the record” makes a sound if no one hears it.)

When the passive voice seeps into our narrative, it keeps readers from seeing us and our process. In the worst cases, it gives readers inaccurate impressions. We shouldn’t allow grammarly conventions that deny our readers the most accurate account.

Take just one example: the phrase “could not be determined.” It pops up in news accounts all the time, usually as a coda at the end of a paragraph. If we pull back the curtain a bit, that phrase means different things.

The editors may believe additional information should have been obtained but the reporter failed to ask the necessary follow-up questions and sources couldn’t be reached for clarification before deadline.

The questions may have been asked and the source didn’t have an answer. Or they may have refused to answer. Or they may have answered, but only off the record. Corroborating that background information another way may have failed, or it may not have been attempted.

“Could not be determined” — in other, clearer words — has at least four different meanings: We didn’t ask; we don’t know; we can’t prove; we can’t say. What do each of those more accurate accounts have in common? “We.”

If we admit that President Trump is at least a little bit correct when he accuses us of being “fake news,” it will make us better and it will give readers a more accurate view of the world around them. Will our admission mend the rift between us and the president? That could not be determined.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments.

DC Fireworks Were a Sight to Withhold

July 22nd, 2019 by dk

Residents of Washington, D.C. love four family traditions, strategically strewn across the calendar. Sledding around the Capitol building’s hill. The Easter egg roll on the White House lawn. Independence Day’s parade and fireworks. And lighting of the National Christmas Tree. Taken together, it makes a year of growing up near the nation’s capital.

Changes made to the town’s 4th of July fireworks created plenty of chatter. Not much has been written about what it was actually like — aside from the tanks and other disruptions of tradition. I was there. This is what it was like.

Finding a good vantage point for watching the fireworks was trickier than usual. I wanted to see, but not be seen. I worried that any throng on the mall could later be compared with President Obama’s inauguration crowd. I wanted to be no pixel of that.

I walked south from the National Mall to a development called The Wharf. It offered plenty of public seating and unobstructed views over the Potomac River. The fireworks display began exactly on time, at 9:07 PM. It was impressive for the first 90 seconds.

After several large booms to direct our attention, the sky lit up with what seemed like a chain-link fence of white lights. A luminous curtain hung in the air. Each burst seemed perfectly spaced from all others, as if they were pulled taut by invisible mesh. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

And then I didn’t see anything at all. None of us did. The opening barrage left a thick smoke that sat in the sky, obstructing all views from the east. Most of the city saw only black sky. That luminous curtain became a dark wall, unmoved for the next half hour.

Extremely humid air plus a marine inversion over the river created a standstill in the sky. That was impressive in its own right, but not worth watching. Any breeze would have dissipated the obstruction, but there was no breeze. None at all. Nature was holding its breath.

People wondered aloud if the planning and expertise necessary for a good fireworks display had been ignored. Humidity and marine inversions are not unusual in midsummer Washington. That impressive luminous curtain might have worked better at the end of the show. I don’t know. I’m no expert.

We could hear what was happening beyond our view. “It sounds like a good show,” one woman said as she left with a sigh. Pops and booms sounded like amplified microwave popcorn, but with the wrong smell. For the next few hours, Washington had the worst air quality in the nation.

Thousands were watching, but there was nothing to see. Occasionally a display — always red, it seemed — would peek around the edge of the smokescreen. Some cheered derisively, but most shrugged. When the 35-minute show ended exactly on time, that drew the largest cheer. The irony was as thick as the humidity.

I read the next morning that Virginia residents saw a great show. Like so many things in the political realm, what you saw that evening depended entirely on your point of view.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments.

Surveillance Capitalism Won’t be Benign

July 21st, 2019 by dk

Sociologist Shoshana Zuboff describes our modern economy as “surveillance capitalism.” She chillingly explains how all the free stuff we enjoy isn’t really free at all.

“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data, fed into … ‘machine intelligence’ … that anticipates what you will do now, soon, and later.” The goal is to automate us.

Have you used “auto suggest” while typing on your phone? This is what being automated feels like — efficient, empowering, almost endearing. Our phone magically suggests a word without requiring us to type all its letters — how cool is that?

Trouble is, we don’t type enough to provide a large enough dataset for the algorithm to make reliable suggestions. So the machine learning protocols collect typing done by others as well — others who resemble you. Once the line between resemblance and replication begins to blur, you’ve been automated.

Zuboff’s term doesn’t strike fear into people’s souls, because “surveillance” for most Westerners has been benign and ineffectual. We snuck back into the house after curfew as teenagers. We learn where police set up their speed traps. We think we know when (and how) we’re being watched.

But these emerging surveilling forces may not be benevolent. The watchful eye isn’t similar to a concerned parent, or even a “big brother.” Think instead of Santa Claus, without the gifts and the fatherly wink. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good.

You never get to see the list, much less whether anyone checked it twice. But it’s out there. It’s growing, and it’s being brokered beyond our view. We’re told this profile of us resides “in the cloud.” That makes it sound mythical. We shrug it all off as harmless. We don’t write or share or view anything that would embarrass us, so we have nothing to fear, right? Right?

At some point, these secret algorithms will know us better than we know ourselves. That’s the payday investors are imagining — when the behavioral data anticipate what we will do next. Those who control those data can shape what we will do next — “auto suggest” — to maximize their sales or profits.

The data being harvested are more than what you type and share and watch. It can track every side-glance on your device, where your keystrokes slow while you ponder, which names or faces make your heart rate quicken. It knows which songs fit which of your moods. It can hear you when you sing along.

Surveillance capitalists “extract predictive value from the exclamation points,” in Zuboff’s words, “from how you walk — not merely where you walk.”

Once we accept our automated selves, a new destiny awaits. Forces “in the cloud” can automate our communities, creating “smart” cities connected with “smart” grids that will provide us power and transportation, food and water.

We were offered fun games and useful search engines and easy social networks. Nobody asked us for money. Instead, they sought to replicate and then seize our identity and autonomy. That exchange was never clear. Its consequences will be.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Tags: No Comments.