Six hundred threescore and six.

When you travel abroad, sometime the most interesting people you meet are compatriots. They speak your language, they know your culture, and for some reason they opted to travel to the exact same place you did.

So it was with me when as a callow youth I managed to get myself into a junior year abroad program. I spent nine months in Spain. Then I accidentally stayed another nine months, teaching English and otherwise scrabbling out a living. Girls were involved.

One day, I was hanging out with a high school acquaintance named Larry. He was a friend of a friend of mine, Joe Illick Jr who has since become a professional pianist. Joe lived in London then, attending the Royal College of Music. Larry came to hang out and traveled to Madrid for reasons that remain unclear to me. I don’t think it involved girls. We had little in common; he was a musician like Joe but more closed off, shy and introspective. I was a soccer aficionado without the physical skills to make a mark as a player.

Larry and I were hanging out one day and we met this “old guy” which is to say he was 30 or maybe 40. He said his name was Wil Stiles, or something like that, but who knows if that was even his real name. I looked it up and it is an anagram for “I sell wit”. He was borderline creepy but he had money and we didn’t. He purported to be an economist, some sort of professor or consultant. We’d go to restaurants I normally would look into and keep walking, like O’Xeito, the Galician seafood place near the Intercontinental Hotel. Wil would tell stories of commerce and shipping. One of the stories he’d tell us is how money would slowly become outmoded. He’d lower his voice and adopt a conspiratorial tone, explaining how we would instead have a sort of microprocessor chip embedded in our skin. (This was in 1976 for those of you following along). And he went on to say that when this happened, it would be proof of the Apocalypse. We would be bearing the biblical Mark of the Beast.

Of course Larry and I hesitated to tell this creepy chicken hawk that he was spouting nonsense, especially between bites of paella and langosta. As maybe you can tell, I didn’t believe it but I never forgot it.

Fast forward to the other day. Paypal announces a cool trial, Paypal Here. Although not the first, it is another mobile payment system that facilitates moneyless financial transactions.As explained here, “Online payment giant PayPal has begun rolling out its new mobile payment device and app “PayPal Here” to select merchants in the US, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong. An announcement was made on Thursday at an event in San Francisco that the eBay-owned company would be introducing an encrypted card reader that connects to a smartphone using the device’s headphone jack.”

And people who read the Bible are noticing:

“What makes this really different is the concept of being able to walk into a retail store without a wallet or even a smart phone and make a purchase.  A future phase of this system would likely be a fingerprint or retina scan.”

Which takes us to Revelation 13:16-18 (King James Version)

“16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: 17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Thank you for taking the time to read this

Once the stuff of science fiction stories (like last year) the idea of a digital device tracking our movements and purchases is so near I think we may as well say it is here. This site lists a number of articles on the concept of biochip implants and their sociological implications, including an article from ZDnet.UK which explains the concerns many have:

“There is nothing you can do with embedded chips that you can’t do with wearable ones, and I can’t imagine there will be queues of people lining up to get chips embedded,” he says. He predicts the idea of wearable identity chips could be implemented within five years. Pearson too is concerned about privacy using implanted chips: “They give an extra capacity for surveillance. We are already living with complete invasion of privacy and I would hate to live in a society that was policed to the extent embedded chips would allow,” he says.”

People may draw the line at embedded chips. Wearable ones seem to engender less paranoia, because we have the freedom to remove them when we want to. As I reflect on my daily activities however, I know I use the following:

  • ID Badges — every time I enter my office I present my badge to a reader. They system records that I have entered and notes the date and time.
  • Clipper cards — when I ride MUNI almost everyone now uses a card that notes the rider and deducts $2 from the card’s balance. A system records that I have ridden a bus, and the date and time
  • FastPass electronic toll collection system — when I cross a toll bridge, yep, they know my name, the bridge, the direction, and date and time.
  • When I go to the gym I gain entry with my fingerprint and a 10-digit code.
  • I don’t perform any retinal scans yet. I wonder whether that will be true in ten years

We all have read 1984 and rightfully fear a totalitarian state that tracks our every movement. If the government were to try and force this on us, the streets would run red with blood. Our government can’t even force free health care on us but that’s a topic for another time. What we are not realizing however, is that we are adopting the same tracking devices willingly because the companies behind them are dangling them in front of us as life-enhancing conveniences. Taking advantage of our own laziness and sloth, Google Wallet and PayPal will soon have us using our cell phones to make our purchases, creating an even more detailed record of our movements and activities. We will be happily unencumbered of the hassle of going to the ATM. And somewhere, Wil Stiles will be having a laugh.

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