Posted by: jgurner | April 5, 2010

The Game of Life

Life’s but a walking avatar, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the screen
And then is heard no more: it is a game
Played by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

-From Macbeth IV: Banquo’s Rio Spring Break Adventure by William Shakespeare

When’s the last time you pulled Monopoly out of the closet and played? How about Scrabble or Stratego?

In fact, when’s the last time you played a game that wasn’t on your computer, your iPhone, your Gameboy, Atari 2600 or ColecoVision?

Been awhile?

Okay, when’s the last time you DID play a game on some type of video device, especially one that can access the Internets? Hey! Stop playing video Sudoku on your 3G iPad and pay attention!

According to this guy I’ve never heard of but he must be an expert because CNN says so it won’t be long before everything we do in our pointless, hum-drum, day-to-day loves will be turned into a game. A pointless, humdrum game. He uses brushing your teeth as an example, but I’m sure we all immediately thought of more disgusting or intimate activities.

No… Just me…? Okay.

Anyhoo…

Basically, if we follow the scenario set out by Expert Guy, the vast majority of the American public will willingly or unknowingly allow the corporate world to run our lives even more than it already does. With wired devices such as toothbrushes, vacuum cleaners, and kitchen sinks, not only will corporations be able to see how we live and offer us incentives to live the way they feel is best, at least for their bottom lines, but I’m sure we will be able to download a Facebook program that will notify everyone on our friends list as to when we’ve finished doing the dishes. Or maybe the iFridge will alert your friends whenever you’ve bought a case of beer and some nice juicy steaks so they’ll drop by for an impromptu visit.

But, it’s not just putting this information out there for everyone, it’s about how we work psychologically and how corporations will use that to manipulate us. Think about it. What if you could “win” by brushing your teeth.? Or by doing your laundry? Or by drinking an extra case of Slurm Cola a week? You want to win, don’t you? I mean if you don’t win, you’ll be a loser. And you sure don’t want your friends, co-workers, cult leaders, cryogenic tube mates, or spouses to beat you, do you? You have to be the FIRST person on the block to win that 25 percent off coupon for Cheetos offered by Frito-Lay. And what do you have to do? Nothing. Just make sure the motion capture camera on your Nintendo captures you eating bag after bag of yummy snacks. That’s all.

But don’t worry. It’s not Big Brother. It’s only a game.

Kind of like Russian Roulette is only a game.

We tend to think of technology only as intrusive if it sticks its nose into something like medical records or credit card records, or if it’s the government wanting to know what were doing by tracking us through those anti-counterfeiting strips they put in our money that lets them know where we are by sampling our DNA when we touch a bill and uploading it to the NSA every time we go near a microwave oven.

I mean, if someone came up to you and asked you if they could monitor how often and how well you brush your teeth and then provide that information to your dentist and the company that provides your dental insurance, you probably say no in a way that would leave someone made of lesser stuff scarred for life.

But, what if someone said “Hey. You can use this toothbrush that’s hooked up to the Internets and play a game while brushing your teeth that may let you win fabulous prizes! We call it Plaque-Man!”? A goodly portion of the American public would be all like “Hellz yeah!” And would sync their wireless toothbrush to their home network and start brushing away.

Of course what you don’t realize is that Whizo Internet Toothbrushes is affiliated with Gummo Toothpaste, which is a subsidiary of Mutant Baby pharmaceuticals, which, in turn is owned by Monopoly Enterprises, which owns, of course, Happy Tooth Dental Insurance Company, your insurance provider. And that document you didn’t read that came with the toothbrush says your information will never, ever, ever, eeeeeever be shared with anyone else and will be used solely by the company. The whole company, which includes Happy Tooth Dental Insurance.

And guess what. Once you got tired of the game and quit brushing your teeth after every meal and quit brushing them thoroughly each morning – you put a dab of paste on the bristles, brush, brush and 10 seconds later you’re done – then Happy Tooth Dental Insurance Company receives a report that you aren’t brushing your teeth properly and, as a result, they drop your coverage. So, they send a report to your dentist saying you don’t have dental coverage and the next time you see him at the Piggly Wiggly shopping with his kids, he points you out and says “That’s what happens if you don’t brush your teeth!”

You think that’s bad, wait until the iToilet starts analyzing your urine. Okay, once again, try and imagine what kind of game might entice people to get a toilet with wireless Internet capability. But keep it to yourself. I remember seeing a show on the Science Channel a few years back where a guy got drunk the night before then, the next morning fell down his stairs. When the toilet tells the insurance company dude was drinking the night before, they promptly cancel his insurance. Supposedly, insurance companies won’t be allowed to cancel like that at some nebulous date in the near future, but still, I’m sure they, and other corporations, will find ways to screw us over using all this exciting new information they have gleaned from these exciting new games they will invent for us.

Maybe I’m being paranoid. But people said I was being paranoid when I said KFC changed its name because they were no longer using real chicken but some form of genetically mutated meat substance. Or when I said that the Men in Black secretly put a chip in my brain to monitor the transmissions aliens are using to steal all my ideas for Stargate fan fiction. And let’s not even start talking about how the CIA controls the weather.

Seriously. Let’s not. So stop talking about it.

I guess the whole point is that while some things technology brings into our lives are not so intrusive, others are, or potentially can be. And we might be signing on to one thing that seems innocuous – and it truly may be – but, somewhere down the line someone  finds a way it can be used for profit, exploitation or control.

Does control sound too Orwellian and the stuff really lousy ripoffs of 1984 are made from (the book, not the Van Halen album)? Maybe a little bit, but think how much your life has changed in the past 10 years because of technology. I’m not talking about the big stuff. Just look at what’s in your pockets. A cellphone? An iPhone or other Internet phone? Do you have your iPod nearby? (It might be some other MP3  device and not be an iPod, but I know it’s not a Zune.) When’s the last time you printed directions off MapQuest for a trip. Or looked it up in a road atlas. Or wrote a letter to someone and mailed it? Not a bill, which you pay on-line now anyway, but an honest to Flying Spaghetti Monster letter. When’s the last time you looked up a hotel in the phone book and called to make reservations? Or had to get up, stagger over to the record player, the one in the middle, and flip over to Side B of Dark Side of the Moon? (Have you every watched The Wizard of Oz with the sound turned down and listened to Dark Side of the Moon?)

The truth is technology has the potential to change our lives in huge ways and do it quickly. Ten years ago, I didn’t have a cell phone. Eight years ago, I had a cell phone, but never used it. Five years ago, I had another cell phone and used it tons more than my land line. Two years ago, I dropped my land line. A year and a half ago, I got an iPhone. Now, I’m dependent on it for everything from GPS, to Internet searches and e-mail, listening to music and watching video. And, occasionally, I use it as a phone.

With technology comes information storage. Whether it’s phone numbers, credit card and bank account numbers, e-mails, web histories, it’s all out there, whether we realize it or not. There’s already a ton of information out there already on our spending habits, reading habits, gaming habits, eating habits (Kroger card, anyone), games we enjoy, what type of porn we prefer…

Maybe 99 percent of it doesn’t really matter… yet.

Maybe as we evolve as a society, having all this information out there won’t matter because we will have evolved beyond the quest for material gain and the desire to exploit our fellow man. It’s a nice thought. But, until we reach the point where we’re hanging out with Wesley Crusher and watching him miserably strike out, even on Risa, we might better at least keep our eyes open to what’s going on around us. Having our toothbrush monitor our brushing habits might not be a bad thing. It might help us improve our oral hygiene making painful trips to the dentist more rare. Monitoring your health through items at home, including the toilet or your bed might also be of great benefit. They could notify officials in case of a medical emergency or let you know your cholesterol is getting a bit too high so you can take the necessary steps to make it better.

The thing is we have to be careful. And we, as the public have to be aware of what’s going on, where, how and by who our information is being used and, when information is abused, we have to fight it.

This is life. It’s real. But if we’re not careful our first life will become just another character in a bigger version of Second Life.

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