Borges and the NSA

It’s been a big scandal that the NSA is illegally taping the conversations of several million Americans. It’s been denied that the project was so out of control, but it seems like every time the story is returned to that the numbers go up.

There is a writer called Borges who came up with some brilliant ideas in his stories, but the one that returns to me as being the most relevant on an everyday basis is about a king who wanted an accurate map. I heard this several years ago, so this is probably my spin on it, but it went something like this:

There once was a king that, when he was done with war and had conquered all he desired, wanted a map so he could see everything that he ruled over. His closest entourage are sent to make a map of his land. They bring it back to him and spread it over his table. He looks at the map, and sees that it is good, but it does not show all the streets of his city, so he asks for a better map.

More people are sent out to make a better map. Much time is spent on making an accurate map of the city and the land. When it is done they return to the king and spread it out over the floor, because it is now much bigger than the table. The king looks at the map and sees that it is good, but it does not show every building.

A huge amount of people are sent out to make a map of the land so accurate that it shows every building, every field, every stable, and every shed. After many years the map is done. They spread it out over the city, because the map is so large that it cannot fit inside the castle. The king sees that this is a very good map, but it does not show the rooms.

The whole country begins to make a map that is accurate to the last detail. Everything, every room, every table, every tree, is included. The country begins to crumble and the map expands until it covers the whole land. The country is engulfed in the map, and in places the map and the countryside cannot be told from each-other. The map is finally completely accurate, but the land has been destroyed.

The NSA seeks to build a map of the people, but they are getting so much information that it becomes meaningless. The detail with which they are now capable of looking at people means that they can no longer distinguish any patterns or purpose. Meanwhile, the land itself is changing and being destroyed by the processes that are needed to collect all the data.