A few days ago I read a story about a dystopian society where everyone was being watched by thousands of cameras, and the government had all these people in a big room where they watched all the video and, using high-speed computers, interpreted all the data so they could identify certain behaviors. The story was in the New York Times, and the name of the place was Ecuador. They bought the system from China, and they justified it to the populace by saying that the it would be a deterrent to crime. Instead, it has been alleged that the system has been used by the government to keep track of political rivals.
It’s just like Big Brother from the novel “1984.” But I have to admit, a matrix of cameras sounds like fun. I’m thinking of getting it myself. The deal is, the Chinese buy it for you! They loaned Ecuador the money, and Ecuador is paying it back by giving them oil. If I had known that you could pay back a loan with oil, I would have bought a much bigger house. Old man Jed in the “Beverly Hillbillies” found oil right on his property by shooting at some food. I still have my Dad’s Winchester 94 (“The Gun That Won the West,” he always used to say), and I might just take it out to the back yard and give it a try. First I’m going to pick off all the mushrooms in the refrigerator as long as I’m shooting at food. I hate mushrooms. If you are food, and you’re hiding from people with guns, don’t hide behind the Swiss cheese or the doughnuts, a word to the wise.
If I get my own video system, I want built-in speakers on mine so that I can talk directly to the citizens. “HEY! Why are you standing there blocking the doorway of my train when it’s not your stop? Two feet away from you on the other side is the door that DOESN’T open. Why don’t you go stand over there? THIS is your fearless leader speaking.” It will be much easier to express my opinions. “HEY, yeah YOU! What’s with that nose ring that goes from one nostril to the other? You look like a bull I saw in a cartoon once. What happens when you forget you already took it off and then you blow your nose?” Maybe I can test out some new material, tell a joke and check out the reaction: “Why do mice have small balls? Because so few of them dance well! Hahahahaha! THIS is your fearless leader speaking.” I like to tell that one to kids right in front of their parents, and watch Mom & Dad get angry with me when it turns out that it’s not a dirty joke like they thought it was.
I’m going to have a lot of fun with my new camera system, but I’m going to need to hire people to sit in the media room and analyze the footage. But what if they’re not doing it right? I’ll need to set up some cameras in the media room to keep an eye on them. But what if I’m not keeping an eye on them correctly? I’ll need a camera trained on myself at all times to make sure I’ve got everything covered. I’ll be right back, I’ve got to get into hair and makeup on the double. I heard the camera adds ten pounds.
I thought when I read this story that it sounded familiar. Where have I heard of something so diabolical as recording a person’s every move on camera? Then I remembered: It was my sister. When her first kid was born she had the camcorder out for every single move the kid made. “Was that her first yawn? Let me get the camera! Damn I missed it!” No that wasn’t her first one, I was just telling that story again of how I got kicked out of my high school math class for not baking enough cookies. I bet I could coax another one out of her, because I got kicked out of a lot of classes. My sister still reaches for that camera every time something happens- it’s a reflex action. “Look! her first divorce! It’s adorable! Let me get the camera!” By the way, if you videotape every single waking moment of your kids first five years, won’t you need every waking moment of another five years to play it back? That may be the first binge-watch followed by a purge-watch.
I just realized- I can also use the system to spy on my wife. Do you know what she does when I’m not there? She “tidies up” by throwing away things that I’m “not using.” “Honey, where are you going with those empty Amazon boxes? Don’t you understand that I’m saving those in case I need to send something back? Yes, I know that they keep sending things in a new box, but you know how it works, they send a toenail clipper in a refrigerator box.” “And where are you going with all my paperback books? I was just about to re-read those.” She wants to bring everything I own to the Goodwill box, and then we have a fight about it. I ask the people at Goodwill, what’s so good about THAT?
If you go to Ecuador you should be aware that the software is going to have facial recognition capability, which I consider a personal challenge. Because I am the Man of a Thousand Faces. I can make a face that looks like I sucked on a lemon and stubbed my toe at the same time. Or I can make a face that looks like a catcher’s mitt from the 1940s, and I can also make a face that looks like an opossum if it just ate a chocolate chip cookie. So stick that in your algorithm and smoke it.
So far, the most notable conclusion that has been reached since the system has been in use is that Ecuadorians are BOR-ING with a capital B. Dull Ecuadorians make for dull television, and nobody is going to put up with that for too long. So I expect to see a change soon. I expect to see muggers breaking into song, maybe something by the Police, if they have any sense of irony. Ecuadorians are going to be wearing a lot more bikinis and performing a lot more well-choreographed dance numbers. I might travel to Ecuador myself and try to go viral. I can either go viral down there, or stay here and wait until I catch the measles. So if you see a person on the streets of Ecuador tap dancing and reciting Shakespeare, and it looks like they sucked on a lemon and stubbed their toe at the same time, that was me. But I won’t know how all this comes out because my wife gave my copy of “1984” to Goodwill.
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