A friend of mine went hunting in Russia a couple of years back and among other interesting observations he made about the former USSR, one of the most telling was his account of getting by car from the airport in St. Petersburg to the little town several hours away where he was going to hunt.
Because he was a stranger in a strange land, he hired a car and driver to meet him at the airport and chauffeur him into the hinterlands. They got on the Russian equivalent of an interstate and drove steadily for four hours without incident, but when they stopped at what we might call a tollbooth to exit the highway, the driver had to pay a fine because a machine determined he had exceeded the speed limit by an average of two kilometers an hour.
Big Brother is watching you.
Jump to America.
For a variety of reasons, I had to drive my wife’s car for the first time a few days ago.
It is a brand-new, up-to-the-minute, non-descript, top-of-the-line Japanese economy car, bought primarily for the size of its cargo area (we have dogs) and secondarily for its fuel economy. It has a wide range of safety devices, sensors, and whatnots that detect this, that, and the other and then do an imitation of R2-D2 to let you know if something is amiss, emitting a range of generally cheery chirps and beeps and whistles and ding-dongs, all of which draw your attention to the dashboard where a screen tells you what to watch out for or what you’re doing wrong.
Like, for example, watching a damned computer screen instead of the road.
But so far so good. The little car was earnestly doing its job by communicating with me. Personally, my ideal vehicle would be a 1947 pickup from the golden age of pickups, preferably a Chevy that would get me from point A to point B safely and reliably and otherwise leave me alone. Sadly, that dream is long gone.
I realize progress is inevitable, but I hadn’t realized it was quite as pervasive or ominous as what I found in my wife’s little canine carrier with its computerized everything.
We live a little way from town and I was taking a series of secondary, or possibly tertiary, backroads. I tend to be just a trifle old-fashioned and keep my eyes on the road, so I don’t know exactly when it first started, but I suddenly realized that the car was picking up the speed limit on the two-lane highway and posting that number onto the screen next to the speedometer. When I turned onto a secondary road through a residential area, it sensed that speed limit and posted it accordingly.
So the car knows where you are driving, how fast you are driving, how fast you should be driving, and probably a wide array of other, ancillary information you might prefer to keep private: what music you listen to; whether you sing along to the music you listen to; whether your singing is good or bad; just how bad it is; who knows what else? I find all that incredibly creepy.
But it’s worse than just creepy. Think about it: today, with this car, it’s where you are, how fast you’re driving, how much over the speed limit you’re driving, but tomorrow…
“Ah, ha! That’ll be $178.85 for averaging five-point-two miles over the speed limit for a total distance of forty-eight-point-three miles, of which eleven-point-seven were in a residential area. But for butchering, atrociously butchering, “I Did It My Way,” there will be an additional $200.00 fine. You may pay now by credit card or check, or the total will be added to your income tax along with applicable late fees and penalties. Have a nice day.”
And think about the day after tomorrow. Your car will automatically determine the posted speed limit on each and every road and you will not be allowed to exceed the speed limit for any reason whatsoever. There will be no mechanical override. The car and Big Brother know what is best for you and you will not be allowed, or even have the capacity, to exceed the parameters set for all drivers at all times on all roads. Yes, Big Brother knows your wife died because the ambulance drivers’ union was on strike and you had to drive her to the emergency room yourself and could not go fast enough to get her there in time. Big Brother is compassionate, and he offers his condolences. Big Brother knows the death of a wife is lamentable, but the cumulative good of the collective is far more important than any single life. Or wife. Have a nice day.
Big Brother is watching you.