One of the most important questions to ask today is: what is one willing to give up for the sake of safety? Since 9/11, we are frequently told that all of the new security measures we see are put in place to secure our safety from terrorists that would intend us harm. And certainly with all of the people who seem to intend us harm, from the underwear bomber, to the Times Square attempt to the successful Boston Marathon bombers, there are many dangers in the world that we may need to be protected from. But in our desire to be safe we seem to allow people to infringe upon our liberties in ways that we would never suspect. And especially given all of the new technology we are allowing into our homes more and more, we never even realize the full cost of this new security.
Cory Doctorow in his previous novel, Little Brother, and now in his follow-up, Homeland, explores the depths to which this new security can take us. Marcus Yallow, aka “M1k3y” (a previous computer alias that was well known in the computer hacker community), is trying to get his life straight after things have come a bit unraveled following the end of Doctorow’s previous novel Little Brother. His family has lost their jobs; he can no longer afford college and a bit desperate to find a job himself; and his life seems aimless. His friends have seemed to go their separate ways, as is true for many a college student, and he needs to find himself. Thankfully he still has his girlfriend Ange who brings balance to his somewhat chaotic life.
And while Marcus is trying to have his life get back to something that resembles normalcy, he is sucked back into the quasi nightmare that he had lived through before, with nefarious government agencies after him and he and his group of friends with the ability to expose their corruption. The only problem now is that the corruption comes from things that society likes and wants. It may be easy to explain to people that it might not be a good idea to have martial law and government officials setting curfews and harassing citizens in public. It’s much harder to tell them that they have access to your personal information through the computers that you enjoy or the iPads that you own. And that not only can they do that but they can watch you through the web cams that you set up through the Skype program that you love so much as it keeps you in contact with family members long distance.
Doctorow does an credible job of trying to explain, to what often seems like an ill-informed public, the possible dangers that can be involved when we let all of these bits of technology into our lives; and that we need to be able to ensure that the government we have is actually serving our needs, and not the self-serving needs of bureaucrats and other government contractors through enabling them to have access to records to which they should not have access. While sometimes he delves into the weeds of computer technology trying to explain to non-computer savvy people the intricacies of computer technology, he successfully brings home the dangers of a world where a computer is connected in every home, and information is coming at you a million miles a second. Where the world is readily at your fingertips, questions spring forth. What is safety? What is security? Are you comfortable that someone may be watching you on the end of your computer screen? And if someone is watching you, who is it? Would it make a difference if you knew? These are scary questions to ask; and Homeland suggests that we should be seeking answers.