The other day I noticed that a post of mine showed up on Facebook complete with a geotag that put my location down to an area of Muscat. Now that’s where home is, but on the other hand that incident reminded me that we are increasingly leaving a digital trail of our lives as we interact with one another. In effect a timeline is building up where people outside your immediate circle are able to look into your life and see you as you age, by the series of selfies you post, see your haunts and professions and even retrace you r steps around the world.
What do you do? As soon as you get your latest mobile phone, do you stick in the SIM and then promptly turn off location information? Or do we leave it switched on so that apps and services can let us know where we are, communicate our location to the cloud and in turn offer us deals and services that are just around the corner or in the same building? After all it makes sense to communicate a flash sale to a person standing on the pavement rather than someone a thousand kilometres away.
By nature, I am a private person, so I tend to default to a secure sense of staying hidden. My chat interfaces stay hidden; I try to keep geolocation off and at the risk of missing that to-die-for offer I even stay out of active Bluetooth pinging. But that’s me. Perhaps it’s driven by the fact that I have a spouse who begins her phone calls with “where are you?” rather than “how are you?’ Perhaps it’s because I travel so much and so often that my contacts too seem to increasingly ask “are you in Oman or travelling?”
But is that true of the public at large? Everyone knows by now that you can be located to within a couple of metres through your mobile phone’s signal. Add to that the rest of the chip enabled devices we carry around, including bankcards, ID cards, licences and so and almost any RFID sensor can tag you. And don’t forget the cameras that are almost everywhere, from your laptop to security units around your office.
It is almost impossible to fall off the grid without divesting yourself of technology. The day isn’t very far when every car manufactured will have to be enabled with a geolocator. Hopefully that will also include every aeroplane – something that we would recognise as necessary and timely considering the missing MH370 flight and an almost identical window of not knowing surrounding the Air Asia disaster till they finally found it at the bottom of the sea.
Of course, the technology exists. We have all heard of how the engines of MH370 kept communicating with a remote server though the airplane itself didn’t. Satellites, receiving stations on the ground and in fact the spread of cell phone towers all over the world make for a rather interconnected one. A whole business exists around providing IVMS solutions for vehicle fleet owners and this allows businesses to track, prioritise and streamline processes. They also let you know exactly where your stolen vehicle is headed to – even convicts on parole can be tracked.
So, does it remain a moral question or one of need? Do we need to be located? An elderly relative with memory issues may actually convince you that it’s better to be locatable than off the grid. A tag is a tag, whether it’s a phone number carried on a bracelet or a GPS location tag.
Ask yourself then, do you want to be found? Would you like your caller to know where you are as soon as the call is put through? Are you out playing hooky from school, work or your marriage and would rather lie through your eyeteeth than let anyone know? Or would you rather be in the shoes of a Lebanese journalist on a visit to Jordan’s Dead Sea resort who found that his lovely selfie showed up to his friends as being in Israel?