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  • You know how I worry about the online world like a Jewish mother, but I only nag you about it because I love you. So put down that cell phone and look at me when I'm talking to you, bubbala. I just want you should not be a schnook and watch out for golems.

    OK, social media and mobile devices are not all bad—after all, checking in with acquaintances and calling your mother have never been so easy (so why don't you call?), and studies show that having social connections has survival value. But Sheldon, stop making them when you are driving! You want I should have a heart attack?

    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? 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.

    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. Here, read this article that nice mister Entropy sent me that shows what kind of tsoriss you are in for by schlepping that gadget around. Just this part; it's like it was written just for you, boychik.
  • . . . Take that fitness monitor wristband you just got, which you have to use through an app that reports your footsteps, workouts, and vital stats to its cloud base, where health privacy laws do not apply. Your stats are only marginally useful to you, but could be invaluable to medical device makers, drug companies, and insurers the next time you get sick. But that's OK, because they will only use it in your best interests.

    When you eventually do get sick, by then you might be processed through a robo-clinic without ever encountering an actual human being. Its software will obtain vital signs from your bracelet and read your medical history from the cloud. A 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 and the pod rotates to lay you on your back. 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." When the processing is over, you are pronounced good to go.

    A robot cashier speaks from behind a screen. In dulcet tones, it asks you to submit your Google ID and password. (The clinic is a Google enterprise.) You say "Cancel." A new screen appears. The voice reads, "OK, then, enter your social security number or Medicare ID." You again decline, and get the first screen again, only now it has a checkbox labeled "I authorize you to collect my medical bills from my bank and revolving credit accounts." As claustrophobia wells up, you mutter "OK." The voice chirps "Thank you for visiting Google Health. It has been a pleasure to cure you. Have a nice day."
  • A door just past your feet opens, the pod tilts downward and you gently slide out onto a sidewalk bench, narrowly missing a pregnant woman sitting there.

    "Wasn't that a trip!" she exclaims. "I never had a robot touch me like that."
    You don't know how to respond. All you can say is "Are you OK?"
    "I was, until the ejection seat fired. I don't think my uterus is happy with that many G's."
    "Oh gosh," you say, searching for words. "Do you mind me asking a kind of a personal question?"
    "Depends," she shoots. "I may answer or not."
    "All I want to know is which payment option you used," you blurt out.
    She sighed and says, "If you must know, I used my mother's gmail login."
    You aren't ready for that. All you can wonder out loud is "Are you gonna tell her?"
    "That would be hard," the woman replies. "She passed on three months ago. Google doesn't know."
    You think but don't say, "That's the ticket. Medicare for the deceased." What you say as you slowly raise yourself to leave is "I am sorry for your loss. May all her tests come out OK."

    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 OK, because at least you have your health.


    So that's what you can look forward to. A long time ago in Internet years an infamous techno-savant wrote:

    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. Oy Vey!


    Image courtesy of Clemenceau Medical Center in Beirut. Arlo Guthrie quote from Alice's Restaurant. See Yiddish Words Used in English for translation help.
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