So, are you prepared for Big Brother?
I’m not referring to any conspiracy theory or any TV reality show. I am considering things I have seen in the news and in science magazines and on the web. While some of the things are speculation, or were speculation 25 or 30 years ago, many are happening now.
That sounds like the start of a conspiracy theory type article — I am sure. However, even as I write, the Province of British Columbia, Canada is in the process of swapping out the decades old analogue electrical metres from domestic households to replace them with new electronic digital ones.
These digital metres have been very controversial. There are the factions who are against the increase in microwave background — the metres use WiFi to send and receive information to the electrical power company on power usage in the household a number of times a day. (Even a number of times an hour.) While with my education in electronic engineering, electronic communications, and Animal Biology I have concerns over the general increase in microwave radiation in our environment — I am not overly concerned over the metres from this environmental point-of-view. I’m more concerned about overuse of cell phones, personally. My concern has to do with intimate personal monitoring of the usage of electrical power.
This monitoring is in part — they say — to help do things like catch electricity theft, quickly respond to power outages and developing safety issues in the power system. Officially BC Hydro says:
Once smart meters are fully operational they will:
- Help get the lights back on faster during power outages;
- Keep rates low by helping BC Hydro operate more efficiently and help to reduce wasted electricity
- Provide customers with new tools to conserve energy and money.
BC Hydro – Media Centre , “BC Hydro Smart Metering update” May 4th, 2012
Advanced Metering Infastructure meter
Part of the conservation is encouraging people avoid using power during “peak hours”. Also to be aware of “power vampires” — ie items that drain power even when apparently turned off.
Being aware of your power usages does sound wise. Having the utility company too aware of every Milliwatt of electricity I use bothers me a bit. With a bit of logic they’d almost be able to tell if I were home or cooking or when I went to bed, turned my computer on or off, my TV…
Water metres are very sophisticated too. From one metre on the outside of your house they can tell which faucet or fixture is being used for how long. Combine this with other smart metres available and inherent abilities to monitor such things as telephone and cellphone usage and Internet usage or even cable/telephone/Internet TV usage… we are or will be “very” monitored soon.
We are already visually recorded many times a day whenever we go out. Our picture is taken when we go into the bank or past any automatic bank machine — at least when we use them. While there are some shops that have fake cameras, the video surveillance is now so cheap that perhaps fake cameras are more expensive. Even without actual public surveillance cameras our images are caught by “Red Light Surveillance” cameras and where they exist Radar Cameras. We also are caught on the many “Traffic Cams”.
Those things are not conspiracy fodder or “things to come”. Nor are cameras mounted on “garbage” trucks which record the material dumped from rubbish bins at each house to enforce recycling bylaws by recording if there is an excessive amount of recyclables going into the trash waste stream. Those cameras keep track of the address each bin’s contents come from and while they don’t audit every piece of garbage, they do take a video of all the trash going into the truck. I wonder how long that information is kept for?
Ten or more years ago people were proposing that smokers be charged more for health insurance than others. That sounded almost fair until a friend pointed out that if that was fair, then it should also mean that people who skied should pay more and people who did anything to excess should be charged more as well. Along those lines, there is a movement that parents of obese children should have them removed on the theory that they are unfit parents.
Where does Big Brother come into this? A “smart toilet” might be able to tell many things to do about your health. That smart toilet combined with monitoring a person or family’s purchases might give health officials a very intimate view on a person’s lifestyle. Are you getting enough fibre? Too much fat?
When I recently was asking the pharmacist at the local area pharmacy (it just happens to be in a major grocery chain, but it is “my” local pharmacy) about the wisdom of a particular product on the shelves and if it would interact with my prescription medications — after checking my records and the medications I was on he gave me my answer. The answer included a tidbit of information I didn’t know. The pharmacist also knew what over-the-counter medications I purchased! Granted, in this case I am pleasantly surprised. The pharmacy record of my medications is available to emergency service providers and hospitals. Whether I am coherent or not when I reach an ER they will know what medications I am on.
But it is in part what got me thinking about this whole “Big Brother” issue.
I do watch what I eat. I’m diabetic an have a few other issues. I a lucky… a fluke of genetics perhaps …and have low cholesterol and low-normal blood pressure. I even have had a carotid Doppler and among other things they discovered that I have little or no plaque in my arteries and veins. That doesn’t mean I am in perfect health. Though I have never smoked and rarely drink, I was quite heavy and though I have lost 50 Kg or more I could stand to lose more.
But, I do sometimes like to have “Hint of Lime” Taco Chips with low fat sour cream. I also like to sometimes have a square or two of unsweetened semi-sweet baking chocolate. (The sort you buy in the baking section.) I also keep some regular Pop on hand for when I feel down. What of a time when there might be “smart fridges” or “smart cupboards” that will record what comes and goes through their doors based on the bar-codes?
I know a few people who live lives that are nearly that structured already. Their lives are measured and weighed. Every “movement” every morsel… unless they go out …is recorded and every time they go out of course is recorded. Even when they go out, “it all comes out in the end.” They have few choices in their lives. I know that most people would like more choice, but have to punch a time-clock — literal or not.
But when the time-clock becomes automatic and as non-invasive as it is invasive, will life ever be the same. Non-invasive, as in we won’t have to write anything down or punch anything; but invasive as in, it will pervade every intimate detail of our life.
Some people argue that if you have nothing to hide, you should have nothing to worry about. But do you want to worry about how everything looks? What if the author of that book you picked up on the shelf is unsavoury? Perhaps you didn’t recognize the author or what they stood for — but the person looking over your video feed might. Is your garbage pristine? Do you want someone knowing if you “do it” with the lights on? If you are unmarried and are “doing it” or if it is with someone of the same sex? Perhaps it might provide an alibi when you tell the judge were at home alone.
Perhaps we should stop saying “Big Brother” and start saying “Santa Claus”?
He knows when you are sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake!
He knows when you’ve been naughty!
So be Good!
For Goodness Sake!
But I like Santa.