Saturday, April 30, 2016

Big Brother Is Watching

Several items in the media made me realize that Big Brother may be watching us a lot more than we realize. Some of this spying can be helpful, but other applications send a frisson of fear up my spine.

The first report that caught my attention was something I saw in the Daily Skimm, a cleverly written email summary of sometimes arcane news items. There’s now a smart mattress that can tell you if there’s been “activity” on it. At first I thought this was another aspect of the Fitbit craze, to help you figure out how many calories you burned during—um—your sleep activity. As a service to my readers, I did some on-line sleuthing to learn more about this slumber wonder.

It’s made by Durmet, a Spanish company, and it sends an audio alert whenever it’s “in use.” What’s more, it can tell the “duration, intensity and impact per minute” of that usage. The matt-app allows you to trigger certain music when a horizontal mambo is detected. One song that immediately comes to mind is Lay, Lady, Lay, but Tears On My Pillow might be more appropriate if there’s a cheating spouse involved.

A few days after I read about the mattress, the New York Times had a piece on being able to tell whether or not your dog was walked. That tool uses GPS to see where the pet has been. It seems to me that puddles of pee and piles of poop on your rugs would be a more immediate way of knowing if the walker has been ripping you off.

This reminded me of another GPS-based app that I found useful when I was consulting for Brown Development. At the end of the day I would take the Brown shuttle from the building where I worked to the main campus up the hill. Then I’d walk home the remaining mile, usually stopping to see my husband at his store on my way. The shuttle provided on-line updates of where it was along the route. When it was running late, I could keep working at my desk and still catch it without having to wait in the cold.

I think I also read that there are companies that can tell you the location of the pizza you ordered for delivery. Or maybe I just imagined that one. It makes sense, after all. If you think about it, there are quite a few ways that Big Brother could use this type of remote sensing technology. Let’s explore a few of them.

Your dentist could catch you lying about your oral hygiene if the free brush he gave you at your last visit had an app like this embedded. Disproving your flossing would be more of a challenge, and it’s the flossing that really helps keep your gums healthy. I’ll let the scientists among you keep working on that one.

Similar technology could monitor whether or not I really practiced the saxophone when I claimed I had. Maybe it could also produce an audio-graph that would provide clues to what songs I’d played. I’m not sure who would care about this, and frankly, there’s another way to know if I’d been playing. Just see if the cat is hiding under the bed; she’s not a fan of my music.

Speaking of cats and dogs, by putting sensors in their custom brushes, you’d be able to tell how long the salon spent grooming them. In our home, we can judge that by how much of their hair is standing on end from static electricity.

A real Big Brother application would rig the freezer door to tell when it’s been opened and for how long. I’d have a hard time lying about those midnight raids for ice cream. That might be even more effective than a food journal in reducing my caloric intake.

I think the most creative use is something that will put the fear of God in my Catholic readers. Or more accurately, the fear of their parish priests. The same electronics that report what’s going on with the smart mattresses could be embedded in rosary beads. The penance the priest doles out in the confessional would require you to use your beads. If you don’t work your way through the prayers as prescribed, your sins won’t be forgiven. It certainly adds a new dimension to “a good act of contrition.”

I’ve just scratched the surface here. You no doubt have many ideas of your own. Maybe I’m a romantic, but I’m confident our apps would find larger markets than that smart mattress.

No comments: