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Living in the present

Writing as someone whose degree of contact with the ways of the modern world is relatively limited and simultaneously – as technological progress continues at its breakneck speed – decreasing exponentially, I am watching from the welcome relative safety of the side lines as the generations after mine wrestle with the inevitable issues of ‘personal privacy versus the means of readily-available surveillance’ that abound.

I’ve mentioned this tale previously on this website so apologies to those who may remember it, but only about ten or twelve years ago I raised at an extended-family gathering that I had seen our surname available to buy as a website domain name. What did anyone present think of a suggestion that we acquire and use it as a means of keeping in touch and sharing our family news and photographs?

One rather strident sister-in-law gave the idea very short shrift indeed. She wasn’t going to have her precious daughters’ photographs and movements, still less their addresses and other information, potentially made available to every pervert and ne’re-do-well roaming the internet.

Fast-forward to 2016 and – naturally – her precious offspring are now happily sharing not only their personal details but every movement, relationship, crush and embarrassing party moment with the world via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and whatever else may now be the latest ‘social media outlet’ of fashion (but which I’ve never heard of).

As is – albeit in a rather more restrained manner – said sister-in-law.

Of course, that’s one of the problems ‘that comes with the territory’ when you’re one of the world’s great prophet/sages.

I don’t know whether to sneer at my sister-in-law – and indeed the others who poo-pooed my ‘family website’ idea – for their abject lack of foresight and faith in me, or instead just throw myself at the carpet in rage/frustration at their part in my lost opportunity to have become to British version of Bill Gates.

chainAnd yet these issues are very real. Never mind the Levison Inquiry, Hacked Off, celebrity super-injunctions, the freedom of the press, the public interest, the public’s right to know and so on, there is no doubt that we are under more voluntary and indeed involuntary surveillance than ever before.

Only yesterday Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent, commenting on the breaking news that five people from the Birmingham area had been detained by police in connection with an MI5 investigation into possible connections with the Paris and Brussels bombings, reported that the average person travelling across London would be picked up over 200 separate CCTV camera recordings.

No doubt those in the ‘So what? If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide’ camp would have little problem with that. Meanwhile, those of a more sensitive disposition might be calling to mind the worrying prophesies that may or may not have been first raised by Brave New World, 1984 and other novels, sci-fi fantasies and movies trying to ‘predict’ how things might pan out for the human race.

Personally it doesn’t seem to affect me much. I had a brief relationship with Twitter – largely because others I trusted (perhaps erroneously in this case) assured me this it was not only wonderful but essential in terms of relevance to the world and personal fulfilment – but gave it up when I realised that me tweeting that my commuting train into London was four minutes late this morning … effectively just to myself and my four other ‘followers’ … was scarcely adding to the sum of human knowledge or indeed my enjoyment of life.

Ditto with Facebook. When I floated the idea of joining said website ‘in order to keep up with what’s happening in your life’ with my daughter, this was summarily vetoed with the dismissive comment “No, Dad – you’re on a strict ‘need to know’ basis only’ as far as I’m concerned …” and to be frank, ever since, I’ve been completely content with her response.

mattressA few days ago a story appeared widely in the British media about a new high-tech mattress which, allied to that inevitable accompaniment to everything we do in the 21st Century – an app on your smartphone – can tell if your spouse or partner has been having an affair.

Jose Antonio Muinos, spokesman for Durmet, the Spanish company which developed said product, told reporters that they had begun developing the project in response to the results of a new survey showing that the Spanish were the most unfaithful nation in Europe.

Apparently the system operates via 1,200 sensors placed in the bed springs which are able not just to relay ‘suspicious activity’ via the mobile app, but also to indicate which parts of the bed are moving and with what degree of intensity – this all in ‘real time’ – i.e. as it is actually happening.

I couldn’t help but see the potential funny side of this product in action.

Decades ago, embarking on a sports-spectating trip to Italy with a bunch of fellow male forty-somethings, I went round to the team leader’s house where we were rendezvousing in order to make our way to the airport.

rugbyHe – in a display of strange bravado I thought – told his Other Half, with a knowing wink to his wider audience, that we would inevitably be sampling the fleshpots of the city in question, including perhaps visiting table-dancing clubs, but she was not to concern herself about any strain upon his marriage vows because of the male bonding “What goes on tour, stays on tour” principle.

Without batting an eyelid, his Other Half shot back equally theatrically: “Don’t worry [name redacted] – I’ve never had any worries on that score. You couldn’t pull a bird even if you tried!”

After that, I and a couple of others in our group noted that our esteemed team leader was somewhat subdued for a period, at least until he had his first four pints in the airport Departure Lounge bar.

In which context, I got to imagining how the above-mentioned Other Half might react if she was given one of these new Spanish mattresses, together the relevant smartphone app, for Christmas. No doubt she’d be telling her girlfriends over one of their weekly coffee mornings that so far, scrolling through the 24/7 app data coming through to her phone, the biggest ‘activity’ registered by the 1,200 sensors in their marital bed every week – whether she was present at the time or not – had been that caused by her spouse’s stentorious snoring.

Mind you, I suppose that if we ever reached a ‘Big Brother’ world in which everyone could be watched everywhere, irrespective of what they were doing, the authorities would have no problem attracting applicants for jobs monitoring the CCTV footage. Indeed, does any Rust reader have any information as to which ministry one should approach?

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About Guy Danaway

Guy Danaway and his family live on the outskirts of Rugby. He is chairman of a small engineering company and has been a keen club cyclist for many years. He has edited Cycling Weekly since 1984 and is a regular contributor to the media on cycling issues. More Posts