The Million-Dollar Castaway

Smile, You're on 'Lord of the Flies'

What would he say of Survivor? Clearly, it embodies in a grotesque fashion the great American dictum to win friends and influence people. And at the same time it masks and normalizes the fact that this is already a surveillance society, a place where surrendering anonymity brings a reward.

You can see this tradeoff in action everywhere, but perhaps most vividly in another innovative product from CBS: iWon.com, a portal and search engine that entices users by entering them in a lottery. Ten thousand dollars is given away each day, a million a month, and 10 million at year's end. But this lottery is only nominally free to enter. One has to fill out an identity questionnaire to play, and so losing anonymity is the price of admission.

Of course, CBS plans to use those names to recoup its $100 million investment. That means laser-precise marketing to every visitor to the site, and beyond. The fine print on iWon reads, "The individually identifiable information that you provide will be used extensively within iWON to provide a personalized experience to you....It will also be shared with iWON's partners...." Considering the size and scope of CBS, its "partners" are just about every corporation in America. Welcome to the real survivor show.

And when you get down to it, Survivor and iWon are not such different enterprises. They both share the same Huxleyan formula of diminishing rights in exchange for increasing pleasure. Today's surveillance may be sugar coated—but it makes for good TV.

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