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Just a Thought - The Chip of Life

by

- April 22nd, 2005

You wake up one Sunday morning in the not-too-distant future. It's early yet, sunrise is still a good hour away; you thought you'd get in a 5 kilometer jog before breakfast. As you rub the sleep from your eyes and pad your way into your bathroom, low-level, ultra-efficient LED lamps light your path.

When you enter the bathroom, only the areas of the room you normally use are illuminated; the light seems to be confined to sink, toilet, and shower, like dull spotlights on a performer on a blackened stage. There is no glare from these glowing stations, the light isn't bright enough to make you squint. As you walk towards the sink a spot of light illuminates your path. You hardly notice, but you know your home is tracking you.

15 minutes later you are dressed in running shorts, a jersey, and shoes. A minute earlier, when you had put on your shoes, a small section of your wall lit, and your weight, heart rate, and other vital statisitcs appeared. You had causally glanced up at the text. "Geez, " you mumbled to yourself. "I put on another 2 pounds. Maybe I should make that a 10 klick jog."

You tell the wall to turn off. Before it does, it reminds you that you only have approximately 25 kilometers of good running left in your current pair of shoes, and asks if you would like to order another pair. Slightly irritated, you tell the wall no, and before it can inform you of the hole about to form in your socks, you say, "Off! Now!" The wall complies and turns dark.

You make your way through your 2 bedroom apartment, always preceded by a spot of light showing you the way, towards the front door. As you pass a street-side window a chime sounds, breakfast has arrived. It is encased in an airtight, weather-proof container that's on a track outside your window. Only you can open it; the box will scan you as you approach, and open at your command, but you are intent on completing your run before eating.

You look at the nearest wall and say, "Time." Instantly, the time is displayed on a blank spot on the wall nearest you, then the number slowly fade. "Breakfast is a bit early," you mutter to yourself. "I'll have to call Central Services about that."

Instantly, a voice, sounding as if some computerized demon has possessed your brain, says, "Central Services has been notified of your complaint. They apologize and offer this morning's meal free of charge."

Your irritation blossoms into annoyance. "I was talking to myself," you tell the wall. "I didn't want to call Central Services."

The wall is silent for a moment, then says, "This unit apologizes for its presumption. How you would like for this unit to rectify the situation."

You think for a minute, then realize that the wall did get you a free breakfast. "Do nothing to rectify, just stop listening to everything I say."

"This unit shall comply."

You know that breakfast will still be warm when you get back from you run, so you head for the front door. Five steps before you get to the door the door frame begins to glow red, a warning that the door is in motion. You never slow your stride and the door opens wide enough for you to step through, then immediately begins to close. You stand by the door long enough to hear the 3 dead bolts engage. Satisfied that your home is secured, you head for the stairwell. As it did in your apartment, a circle of light precedes you down the stairs and into the lobby of the apartment building.

As you approach the door to the street, the picture in a frame on the wall nearest you disappears and is replaced by a weather report. You glance at it and note that there's a chance of rain today. You unconsciously sniff in response to the thought of catching a cold, and before you look away, the report is instantly replaced by an ad for a cold remedy.

"Why suffer with the sniffles when real relief from that cold is just a word away. Try Sneez-ez today! Just say, "I'll try it."

Your earlier annoyance has flared again, and is rapidly edging towards agitation. It's bad enough that the building tracks your every move, but it really steams your buns that every movement or sound you make seems to be cause enough to get some stupid commercial. "I guess if I pass gas I'll get a commercial for Fart-ez," you say half-jokingly to yourself.

The frame lights up again, this time displaying a receipt. The little demon in your head speaks, "Your account has been debited $5.53 for your purchase of Fart-ez. Your purchase will arrive shortly. Thank you for shopping with Central Services."

Now, you are angry.

"But I didn't order Fart-ez! I was just making a joke!"

"This unit apologizes for its presumption. The order for Fart-ez has been cancelled."

"Shove your apology where the sun don't shine!"

You storm through the lobby door before the door has opened fully.

"Friggin Chips! Friggin Chips of Life! More like Chips of Big Brother if you ask me," you grumble as you make your way to the corner where you normally start your run.

As you stretch, still angry and grousing about the lobby incident, a police car glides by. The officer in the car gets an alert on one of the many screens in his vehicle, and he pulls over and gets out. You eye him warily.

He approaches you with a smile. "Nice morning for a run."

You regard him and his comment with a nod, and continue your warm-up routine.

"As I was going by I couldn't help but notice that you seem a bit agitated. Any particular reason?"

You know the cop is just doing his job, but he would've been around the corner if the damned Chip of Life implanted in your hip hadn't told his car about your elevated blood pressure and adrenaline level, as well as your elevated heart rate.

The policeman's car had queried the RFID tag in your hip as a normal routine, and flagged your heightened vitals as a possible sign of emotional unrest that usually precedes a crime of passion.

Of course, none of that matters to you, you are just angry that you can't be allowed to vent exasperation or anger without someone or something apologizing, trying to calm you down, or sell you something.

The officer, a young Hispanic man, has a congenital smile and seems sincere in his attempt to help you, but you don't need any help. All you want is to be left alone to sort out your emotions while running.

You reign in your anger as best you can and face the policeman. "Look, I know you are trying to help, but believe me when I tell you that all I want is to be left alone. Yes, I'm a bit perturbed. No, this is not a normal state for me. And what has me riled is nothing to be concerned about. I just want to run and get it out of my system."

The cop looks at you through the face plate of his helmet. You see his face clearly, but he studies your vitals being displayed inside the faceplate, and sees that your heart rate is indeed dropping. He smiles. "Sure, no problem at all. I was just checking. Have a nice run, sir."

You take off on a nice easy pace and let your mind drift. You think about how life was before the tiny RFID tags became part of the world you live in. Back then, you had to have refrigerators to store food instead of having each meal prepared and delivered daily. You had to wait until cancer made its hideous presence known before action could be taken. People lived in constant fear of each other, and that was a shame.

The tiny device has gone far beyond tracking goods. Now, everything is scanned, tracked, cataloged, and monitored, from your favorite kitty, to endangered pumas, from pandas and parrots to people. Illnesses are diagnosed and a remedy prescribed often before the patient knows he or she is ill. Poachers are caught and dealt with before the carcass of their prey has cooled. And no one has had a truly private moment to themselves since 3 months after they were conceived.

No, it's not so bad living in this Orwellian world. What's a little bit of freedom lost for a security blanket the size of a pinhead?

As you pass the 3 kilometer mark in your run, you decide that it's not all that bad to live in such a world. After all, when was the last time someone actually died of a heart attack? When was the last time you really had to worry about anything? Central Services knows when you are about to run out of shave cream, corn flakes, or condoms, and a fresh supply is always waiting for you in that little box outside your window.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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