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'Terms and Conditions May Apply' (2013). 'HAPPENING NOW!'
‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’ (2013) is an acutely relevant documentary that anyone who uses any communication tool whatsoever-internet, computer, tablet, phone, etc.- must see. It is an accurate nail-biting suspense of a very real situation all of us buy into and sign up for every day, and yet neglect to really think about. Director Cullen Hoback’s thesis in ‘Terms and Conditions’ is a vital piece of journalism reminding us of the essence of freedom through freedom of speech and the ultimate price of using ‘free’ communication services, questioning us why we have stopped questioning and so easily give away our most hard-won liberties. The film features interviews with musician Moby, futurist Ray Kurzweil, science-fiction author Orson Scott Card, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. 'Terms and Conditions May Apply' premiered at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival and recently screened at the Sonoma International Film Festival where it won for Best Documentary Feature.
What is scary about losing one’s privacy?
Privacy leads to freedom of speech and expression, the ability to have an individual opinion, to act and say what one wills when one wants to without the fear of being spied on, judged or punished for his/her words. What happens when we cannot speak freely? We move from a democratic society to a totalitarian one. George Orwell painted a clear picture of the hyper-reality in his novel ‘1984’ of what could happen if humanity ultimately resorted to a situation where every word and every action was scrutinized by a higher (digitized) power.
Many will argue that monitoring every private action of individuals might help us defeat terrorism. Sure, if government and an unseen all-knowing eye can be privy to all of our communication and actions, then we might fight terrorism before it happens, but only if the right people are caught and only if those who decide the communication and proof viable enough are themselves trustworthy of such omniscient godlike power. But at what price? Is it worth it to give up all our freedom of thought, speech and personal communication liberties to a higher power to do with it what it will? Some might argue that they are law-abiding citizens, so what do they care if government intelligence or the powers that be are hanging on their every word?
I’ve heard it said that America is the best country and the most ‘free’ in the world. In some ways I agree; and yet, what is freedom without freedom of speech? What is freedom of speech without freedom of press and journalism? And what is journalism without the freedom to think, say and write what one feels, free of censorship? Journalism is the ultimate voice of power, the voice of the masses, the only more mighty thing than the great powers that be. A quote from the film ‘Gladiator’ (2000), a film about the seeds of Western civilization and the exemplary story of a slave at the mercy of a totalitarian government who fights for his freedom and becomes emperor of Rome, making it a democratic republic again, giving freedom back to the people: “Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar.” What happens when the masses (‘mob’) lose their strength, their freedom of speech, and become subject to a dictatorial type situation not unlike Communism or military rule where everything said is listened to and everything published is proof of evidence for a crime? And who ultimately decides the crime?
We all love social media. Without it, the world would still feel huge and cultural/border/language barriers difficult to penetrate. Aside from bringing the world together on a ‘free’ global website, social media has helped start modern-day world revolutions; it was the tool used to start the Arab Spring in Egypt. But the dark side of social media is when a government can purchase the intelligence of its people (their Facebook accounts and Google accounts etc.) to sift through personal private communication, and persecute accordingly. Who can purchase all this private personal info and is it possible? Well, one could argue that anything that exists has a price.
‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’ is a thorough suspenseful documentary asking the kinds of questions all of us should be asking. Do you read your ‘Terms and Conditions’ every time you press ‘I Agree’ to a digital service? Do you know what liberties you sign away every time you do click ‘I Agree’? We get cold feet when we say ‘I do’ at the altar of our own wedding because we know this is a ceremonial sacrifice and surrender. So, why don’t we realize that the ‘I Agree’ on the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of the Digital Age is as important a sacrifice as any? And now more than ever, it’s ‘Happening Now’ on a computer, tablet or phone near you!
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