Mom must have skipped some meds the day I dropped in on her because she took one look at my iPhone and launched into one of her kvetches.
“You know how I worry about those foilishtik internets, but I only nag you about it because I love you. I just want you should not be a schnook and watch out for golems. So put down that cell phone and look at me when I’m talking to you, bubala.”
She was quick to add “social media and mobile gadgets are not all bad—after all, schmoozing and calling your mother have never been so easy—so why don't you call? I heard scientists say that having social connections has survival value. Nu? Mothers already know that. But having them when you’re driving isn’t good, Sheldon. You want I should have a heart attack?”
I shook my head.
“So listen to your mother and mind your gadgeting. Don't you think you are schmeering yourself too thin online? And who knows who's listening in? Why can't you just talk eye to eye? And tell me who is this kibitzer Siri you schmooze with all the time? Aren't you afraid she's gossiping about you? It would make me so verkempt to see your reputation ruined by that little shiksa. Real friends don't trade in each other's secrets.”
I can’t believe such a busybody is coming down on gossip but don’t say anything.
“And what are you wearing on your wrist, Sheldon? It looks like one of those bracelets they put on criminals. Oh, now I remember—you said you got it for when you go to the gym, but you wear it all the time now. So now all your vitals are up in that cloud thing, ready to rain on your insurance company. Oy vey! You should stop schlepping it around, boychik.”
She had a point, I had to admit. Take that fitness wristband, which has an app that beams stats on your footsteps, workouts, pizzas and sodas to a mother ship orbiting out there where health privacy laws don’t apply. Those morsels of data are only marginally useful to you, but could be invaluable to medical device makers, drug companies, and insurers the next time you get sick.
And in that not-so-distant day when you inevitably do get sick, you and your complaint might be processed by a robo-clinic without ever having to encounter an actual human being. A disembodied voice tells you to step into a diagnostic pod that looks a little like the transporters in Star Trek. After you enter, the door slides shut. The pod rotates to lay you on your back while it sucks vital signs from your bracelet and your medical record from the cloud. An unseen force shuttles the pod to a whirring and humming chamber where you are, in Arlo Guthrie's words, “injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.” After a decent interval, during which you fail to kick your way out, the voice pronounces you good to go, but that’s hard to do when you’re stuffed into a tube.
Your exit is interrupted by a dulcet female voice speaking from behind a screen. “We really hate to see you go, but would you totally mind settling your account first? Today’s charges come to two hundred thirty dollars or nine point seven three in bitcoin.” Before you can answer, it solicits your Google ID. Suspicious, you say “Cancel,” which begets a new screen with the voice saying “If you don’t have a Google login, then enter your private insurance or Medicare ID.” You again decline, only to have the tube you’re stuck in spin you around three times, after which comes the prompt “Please insert a credit or debit card in the slot to your right.” As dizziness and claustrophobia well up, you mutter “Oh all right” and somehow manage to extract your wallet to comply. The voice chirps “Please take your receipt. Thank you for visiting Google Health. It has been a pleasure to cure you. Have a nice day.”
A door just beyond your feet opens, the pod tilts downward, and you gently slide out onto an overstuffed couch, narrowly missing a pregnant woman already sitting there.
“Wasn't that a trip!” she exclaim as you plop down. “I never had a robot touch me like that.”
You don't know how to respond. All you can say is “Are you okay?”
“I was, until the ejection seat fired. I don't think my fetus is happy with that many G's.”
“Oh gosh,” you say, searching for words. “Do you mind me asking a personal question?”
“Depends,” she shoots back. “I may answer or not.”
“All I want to know is which payment option you used.”
She sighs and says, “If you must know, I used my mother's gmail login.”
All you can do is wonder out loud “Are you gonna tell her?”
“That would be hard,” she replies. “Mums passed on two months ago. Google doesn't know.”
You think but don't say “That's the ticket. Medicare for the deceased.” What you do say as you slowly raise yourself to leave is “I am sorry for your loss. May all her tests come out clear.”
Walking to the bus stop, you realize that this was the only face-to-face conversation you will probably have all day and you forgot to capture it on video. It would have been a great feature on your blog that only robots read. But that's okay, because at least you have your health.
So that's what you can look forward to—It seems quite similar to what an infamous techno-savant predicted a long time ago, at least in Internet years:
As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decision for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better result than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won't be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.
~ Theodore Kaczynski, Industrial Society and its Future , 1995.
Sooner or later there will be an app for suicide and it will surely come with a prepaid final expense insurance policy. Probably from Google. So listen to your mother and