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Driver's Seat
The watchdogs that surround us
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Every month my electric company sends me a letter telling me how I compare with my neighbors as far as power usage goes. The company has three ratings (and the phrasing I use here is mine, not theirs).

(1) You are a good boy, Bobby. You don’t use more electricity than is really necessary. Keep up the fine work.

(2) You are in the middle ground, sir. You are not a power hog, but you could cut back on the kilowatts per month if you really tried.

(3) You should be ashamed of yourself. If everyone consumed as much power as you, the system would collapse and we’d all be plunged into darkness and despair.

I appreciate being told where I fit in, re electricity consumption. All my life I’ve been ruled by the nagging question, “How am I doing?” Not just on electricity use, but on almost every aspect of my behavior. I assume that other people are troubled in the same way. And now it’s possible for all of us to be graded and rated on dozens of living standards, not just on electric power consumption.

That’s because we are now under continuous visual observation, tape recording, record keeping and other forms of monitoring. Today we have not just one Big Brother, but also hundreds of them. They can watch and catalog almost everything we do.

For example, when you rolled out of bed this morning at 7:18, that fact was probably noted by a tiny gadget installed beneath your mattress (without your knowledge) by the National Institute of Bedroom Behavior. This shadowy group is able to tabulate everything you do in bed or in your bedroom. One day you may receive a monthly notice like this: “Miss Clark, you go to bed most nights 17 minutes earlier that other females of your age group. You snore 8.5 minutes per night, and visit the bathroom 1.8 times. Your average wake-up time is 6:45 a.m.”

By now we’re all aware that our smartphones and iPads reveal most of what we say, do or think during the day. Added to that are our postings on Facebook, Twitter and the latest social network, Numbskull Natterings. But were you aware that your TV set can spy on you? The FCC, the NSA and the TV industry now have the ability to send the following notice to any of us:

“Mr. Cox, we’re troubled by your refusal to watch Fox News for more than six minutes a day, compared with your fascination with PBS and other left-leaning productions. We also note that you often switch on Al Jazeera America’s news reports. Don’t you know that people in the Mideast operate Al Jazeera? Be careful, sir.”

American Grocery Snoops (AGS) is able to tell you this: “Your April 2014 purchase of pork butts, chocolate syrup and Pringles exceeded the quantities recommended by AGS health experts. We suggest you balance this by buying more kale and sugar-free sauerkraut.”

The late-model cars we drive may soon be able to send us to jail. A traffic cop will pull us over and attach electronic cables to various parts of our car. A few minutes later he/she will hand us a printed report and say, “You’re under arrest. Your car’s monitors show that in the past week you exceeded the posted speed limits of Largo, Tarpon Springs and Lealman. Also, on March 3 while crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge, you were drinking from an open container of an alcoholic beverage. It was beer. Bud Light. Please exit your car. You have the right to remain silent.....”

The Posture Police (PP, or PeePee’s) also will be sending us notices. “Mr. Arbuckle, our omnipresent cameras indicate that during the first eight months of this year you have developed a noticeable slump (8 percent) in your carriage, while walking. Your chin has lowered, and you have failed to pull your shoulders back as far as you did when you served in the U.S. Marine Corps (1970-74). We hope that you will address this problem immediately, if not sooner.”

If you think I’m exaggerating, think again. Modern technology is gradually wiping out every vestige of personal privacy. The culprits are not just the right-wingers or the liberals. It’s a host of snoopers and bright boys, many of whose only rationale is simply, “We know how to spy, so let’s do it!”

But you and I (the laboratory rats) will one day prevail. We’ll learn how to invade the snooper programs and scramble the data so thoroughly it will explode into chaos, allowing us to resume our unexamined, uncharted and joyfully unplanned lives.

The hope still lives, and the dream shall never die. Avanti! Excelsior!

Bob Driver is a former columnist for the Clearwater Sun. His email address is
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