Dashboard Society

Dystopia Unfolding As We Stand and Watch

Obsessively busy with eliminating a permanent virus, one might almost forget that society is gradually reshaping into forms beyond imagination. For soon only a plain truthful description of our world is needed to set the gritty mood of a classic dystopian novel (though for some it may feel like a utopia). The repression against the unvaccinated increases as fast as it decreases for the vaccinated. On the other hand, the vaccinated ones are in fear of losing their short-lived privileges.

”I’m more afraid of the measures than of the virus itself” – Anonymous quote, taken from a comment section.

Austria has the doubtful honor of being the first EU country where unvaccinated (or, displeasing) people are entirely excluded from social activities by means of a QR code. Not even a negative test will allow them to participate in social life, such as going to the hairdresser or visiting public places. It’s a rapid dissolution of ethical standards and constitutions that were considered immovable just a few months ago.

As the Netherlands is heading in the same direction as Austria, it is noteworthy how little resistance it evokes among citizens. The narrative of fear, which has been imposed on citizens since the very beginning, still seems to effectively maintain a state of panic.

The fixation now seems to move from trying to control the virus, towards controlling the population, towards controlling the individual, in a hopeless attempt to exterminate corona. As we will see further in this piece, it is in fact an attempt to quench the dashboard’s thirstiness.

It’s not the quiet, unchallenging epochs of peace when everyone enjoys a quiet comfort-coma, but it is in times of heavy turmoil, that the real dignity of a nation is disclosed; in economic crises, in pandemics or in wars. Infection rates have reached 19.000 per day at this moment. So, how far will we go if the numbers will multiply? And multiply again? Where will this string of events end? 

People As Dependent Variables

Personally, it feels like there won’t be an end, but rather a beginning. A dashboard society, which we are becoming, needs knobs to twist whenever it wishes. This type of society came into being because of the myriads of data that are continuously collected. Infection rates, death rates, human movement, behavior, opinions.

All these variables allow us to monitor every tiny movement or change in society, insofar as it has created the idea of a controllable dashboard. Yet, what makes the reliability of this notion highly doubtful, is that statistical data are never absolute, since they depend on the values used, the data input and interpretation.

Nonetheless, relying on a dashboard is very alluring during times of peril. Like a car or an airplane, it endeavors to turn on and off certain switches when the situation demands it. Having access to so much data, this type of society wants to regulate, control and steer the effect of all its components, separately or apart.

Human behavior is one of the data variables that requires ‘adjustment’ here and there, to please the dashboard’s parameters. The behavior-reward construct of QR codes; (access to social life) as a condition for good behavior (taking a vaccine), is a classic example of direct operant conditioning. 

Even though they’re often blamed, ministers or the parliament aren’t the real leaders of a dashboard society. They merely fulfil the thankless task of hiding the unethical side-effects under a pile of euphemisms. There is also no great reset or a dark elite that wants to rule us all. No, the true determinants of current lives are the numbers that appear on the dashboard screens, and whether they’re satisfying or not, depending on the goal. An undesirable set of data can lead to intervening in another set of data to reach the desired numeric goal. Human consideration is chiefly bypassed.

In other words: when infections increase, vaccinations must increase to balance it; and QR codes to ‘steer’ people’s decision making in a way that the ‘right’ numbers appear on the dashboard. As observed from the dashboard, this is the one and only way.

The Programmable Human Being

At the beginning of the pandemic, this behavioral component was not that sophisticated yet, wherefore we needed to lock down entire cities in order to satisfy the statistics on the dashboard. Understandably exhausted from lockdowns, citizens have made themselves part of the dashboard, by installing a seemingly harmless app on their phones.

Meanwhile, they have allowed a statistical framework to begin to master their behavior, beginning by becoming a dependent variable on the corona-dashboard. Indeed, seen from this angle, the vaccinated QR users are very right when they say they have offered a sacrifice. But no one knows how big this sacrifice -in potential- really is. It’s a first exploration of the programmable human being. An exploration, because the mechanism scans how far it can go with conditioning and programming ‘good’ human behavior, so that it becomes predictable on the dashboard. Thus far, developments show that there is no clear limit to the integration of people into the dashboard.

When proven effective (and it will, because it sets and measures its own goals), it might extrapolate to other life areas that it seeks to control. Tax payment or civil obedience, for instance, might be upcoming determinants for privileges such as access to events, bars or restaurants. You wouldn’t like to sit in a restaurant full of tax avoiders or disobedient citizens, right? So by the time such a thing is to be implemented, we’re so used to it that we’d think it a plausible plan for retaining a common good.

That the QR users live under the grace of an app, doesn’t mean they’re freer than the ones who don’t. In contrast, they have submitted themselves to the machine -if I may borrow this term from E.M Forster-  and are rewarded for it with conditional freedom, at least for now, until the meters on the dashboard decide it is time for a third or a fourth or even fifth jab to reach its statistical ideal.

The philosophical question of whether such an invasive instrument is desirable, or would contribute to a better life, has neither been asked nor answered. Like other modern innovations in a technocracy, it seems to be always accepted out of ‘necessity’. Stringently they invade and then dictate our lives as if there could’ve been no alternative whatsoever. So these innovations always appear out of the blue, without being interrogated critically. And that’s worrying because the decision regarding its presence in human lives seems to escape human (democratic) scrutiny.

© Stefan Hoekstra /The Social Writer, 2021. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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