I logged into Amazon for the first time in years and there they were. Recommendations for books I might like.
What I really like is to make my own mind up, but this electronic ‘help’ seems to be increasingly the norm. Perhaps it’s harmless, just an electronic application of monitoring technology which is easily ignored, but how will it develop in the future. Take higher education. Some universities use electronic swipe cards and can monitor how long students spend in the library, lectures, the bar or the gym. In future it is envisaged that these will be linked up with fitness trackers to monitor sleep patterns, exercise regimes, heath stats and the like. From there it is not a huge step to constantly check the location of the wearer, possibly to ensure safety or to introduce predictive programmes which suggest modifications of behaviour. ‘In the past students with your profile have a 45% fail rate. You should consider three hours a week more study, joining the debating society and reducing daytime TV exposure’
And how long before these ideas filter down into the real world? At first the ‘pub app’ (PuP), could suggest places or drinks you might like based on past experience, in the way that predictive text anticipates what you are about to write. ‘Why not go down to the Dog and Duck on Thursday evening where the guest beer is Old Scroat which you rate at 92%. If you enter the pub quiz, you will have an 87% chance of winning’. It could suggest which beverage to choose. ‘The most suitable wine to drink with your fish and chips is Sarsons Special Reserve’
True, initially you won’t have to have to have PuP, but with the special offers and the chance to accumulate points, who wouldn’t? With your two for one offers on pork scratchings, and the chance to collect enough points for a special edition half pint Old Scroat glass, punters will be falling over themselves to sign up.
Soon, however the tone might change and the messages become less encouraging. ‘The drink you have selected contains 20% of your daily sugar allowance’ ‘If you consume another pint of Old Scroat, you will increase your chances of early mortality by 0.001%’. If persuasion doesn’t do the trick, more effective measures will be necessary
Perhaps you will need to have your PuP scanned before you will be served in a bar or be turned away if everything is not in order. Maybe the NHS will only treat those customers who wear their PuP if they turn up at A&E with alcohol related issues. Cars may have monitors built in and can only be driven by those whose PuPs certify that they are within the proscribed limits.
Will the day dawn when you are refused service because your PuP has been scanned and you have reached your weekly 14 units allowance, or you have failed to complete your two beer free days since your last visit?
Time was when the future seemed to hold the promise of excitement and unlimited possibility. We looked forwards to space rockets, supersonic planes, fridges, microwaves and video recorders. Now the bright hopes seem to have been replaced by a darker sense of foreboding. Perhaps, for a while, we will still have the freedom to make choices, but there will be a nagging little voice somewhere inside telling you it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s not safe, it has too much sugar, all alcohol is bad for you. How many drips of water on the stone before it is worn away?