Intellectual Property for Sale

“OMG I was just thinking that!” “I was just about to say that!” “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”…How many times have you found yourself in a conversation with a close friend, colleague, or sibling and found yourself saying something like this in jest? The idea that two people can have so synchronous a thought that one actually says what the other is thinking is a phenomenon that is neither new nor unique. But while most of us can attest to saying at least one of these commonly used phrases, what if the person finishing your sentence wasn’t simply in a moment of synchronous thought, but was actually in your mind? What if the person finishing your sentence knew of their power but decided to hide the truth from you? From everyone? Virginia Hamilton addressed this very scenario in the novel Justice and Her Brothers. As I was reading the novel I couldn’t help but wonder about (and feel sympathy for) the character Levi, who was the most effected by the mind-reading abilities of his siblings and friend. The sympathy I felt for Levi as I read the novel not only comes from the artful way in which Hamilton presented Levi’s situation, but also from my own feelings of intellectual intrusion.

Intellectual intrusion, it feels exactly how it sounds: to have your private thoughts invaded by an unwelcome visitor, an unwanted being, an uninvited adversary. Thinking about Dawn and Justice, I can’t help but wonder if both Octavia Butler and Virginia Hamilton drew inspiration from the military intelligence scares in the US during the cold war. Considering how frightened people may have been by the idea of the ‘evil’ communist forces listening in and encroaching upon their private lives, I can’t help but think about the degrees of willingness that we today give up our intellectual privacy and freedom. I know this seems far-fetched (as is the idea that pre-teens can read and control minds) but follow me here:

Today we willingly give our intellectual property to anything/anyone; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Blogs (oh my!). However, we never fully think about how quickly an action as simple as taking a picture of a breath-taking sunset and sharing it with our “friends” and “followers” becomes the means by which we all but summon an intellectual intrusion—an assault of our privacy and private thoughts. I wonder how the heroines in black speculative fiction would regard our willfully giving up of our intellectual property, what advice would Lilith or Justice give to us from the future? At the end of it all I’m left wondering: can humankind really become “slaves” if our freedom was never actually taken?

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3 thoughts on “Intellectual Property for Sale

  1. It’s interesting to think about “surviving” or “living” in the minds of others; and by interesting, I mean scary. My own mind overwhelms me on a consistent basis, so to listen to another person’s thoughts on a regular basis would be a nightmare. Various websites have personality quizzes (like buzzfeed) and they often ask “if you could have a superpower, what would it be?” NEVER do I pick mind reading. I think with that comes a great deal of responsibility, and Thomas really abused that power. I felt a lot of empathy for Levi. In terms of social media and networking, I think an intrusion can only be defined as unwanted. If you’re participating on Facebook, and sharing photos on Instagram, there is a certain level of attention that is desired–that’s not an intrusion. I also think those are outlets to share our lives with one another and stay in touch with those who may be far away. I think where you were going was interesting, but the argument falls apart a bit when you label it that way. Should we, as people, be more private? Depends on who you ask. Privacy definitely has its benefits–I’m a huge fan, but the only way we can truly learn is to be open.

  2. Courtnee, what you said about one’s “participation” in social media outlets made me think about a question from Dr. Viceisza in my business management class. He asked the class to quantify how much of our time we spend taking in “useless” information, and when someones mentioned social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, he simply just said if you think that’s “useless” get off of it…So I go all long-winded to say that I totally agree with you about that, and I also agree with you about being a fan of privacy.

  3. I think the fear of intellectual control is very real–not just in people knowing exactly where we are and what we’re thinking at every moment in time, but also through the very invasive use of ads. For example, a dress from forever 21 will follow me for days on the internet! Imagine that Thomas wasn’t as responsibility with his ability, then it would change from mind reading to mind control. If we’re continuing to use the metaphor for how we interact on the internet, it is a form of mind control. That forever 21 dress will follow me around until I finally decide to buy it, whereas before, it was just a fleeting thought. Even the radio works this way. Horrible songs get replayed until we’re signing along with it (i.e. Rihanna’s “Umbrella). The main problem with this is that it becomes a norm, so people don’t end up thinking about how much control they don’t have over their environments. The very things that make us modern also make us powerless. Information about us is uncontrollably everywhere, but it has become such a norm, that it isn’t considered problematic or even slightly abnormal. I think if we all took a step back, we would see how strange our current interactions with technology are. The amount of influence that facebook has over my buying decisions is unreal and writing it here, now, it seems like a dystopian trope, but this is real life. So to answer the question, the members of humankind already have their freedom taken away and their decisions highly influenced. We just don’t realize how much.

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