Thursday, 19 August 2010
I love my satnav but does she love me?
I've just finished reading a novel by Jonathan Coe called 'The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim', in which the central character is having a mental breakdown. Among his several symptoms is his attraction to/infatuation with the voice of the woman in his satnav. I don't think I'm having a mental breakdown (cue a version of the old line from Dorothy Parker, when they told her Calvin Coolidge was dead: 'How can they tell?') but I do appreciate the nice woman inside my satnav. She's got a north of Ireland accent and yesterday she led us unerringly from Barcelona airport to our place in Perpignan. At the back of my mind as we obeyed her every prompting and took the second-left out of the roundabout and bore left and took a right turn and after two hundred yards took a sharp right, and anytime we screwed up the satnav voice was there again, as patient as ever, - at the back of my mind, I say, was the thought that if my every turn can be pinpointed by satellites from hundreds of miles up in the sky, via this soft-voiced satnav, to lead me to my holiday destination, the same satellites could be used to report where I'm going year-round and whose house I'm calling into and maybe even what I say when I'm there? That's the thing with modern technology - there's a side to it that's a constant, practical delight and a part that's nightmarish.
Is it worth it? Does the world of GPS or whatever it's called come out as a boon or a bane to our lives? The trouble is we'll never know, or at least not until it's too late. The people who operate these systems are unlikely to tell us they're spying on us: the whole point of surveillance systems is not to let those surveyed know what's going on. But a quarter-century-plus after George Orwell's 1984, our every move every day is trackable in ways that make his Big Brother look like a dim-sighted house-bound geriatric.