Opinion » John Rember

Rember: The Scary Go-Pro

When the going gets scary


A few Halloweens from now, Apple introduces the Bat, a tiny plutonium-powered drone carrying a high-definition camera. It can follow you anywhere, even in a crowd of 10,000 people, by nesting it a few minutes in your armpit. Once tuned to your olfactory signature, it flutters above you for the rest of your life, photographing your every move, recording your every word, relaying that information through a 5G network to a 10-yottabyte hard drive in your home.

The hard drive contains your identity, your life, your record of friendships and children and jobs. It's the 21st century equivalent of the photo album that used to accompany old folks to nursing homes. With a few button-pushes you can replay, on your wall-size TV, larger-than-life weddings, trips to Yellowstone and Yosemite, moments of great sex, first drives in new cars, first days on jobs and the births of children. If you're in a darker mood, you can replay divorces, your children's divorces, tow trucks towing your rusted-out cars away, disastrous first dates, awful exit interviews, stints in rehab, slow drives past fatal car wrecks--it's all in there, along with hour-long commutes, corporate bonding retreats, tearful moments in therapists' offices, moments of not-so-great sex, annual check-ups, moments when you wanted to declare love but didn't.

When you die, your hard drive is archived with billions of other life-inscribed hard drives. After a tasteful period of mourning--during which you are in digital limbo--people are able to check them out and spend their lives watching your life. Editing software allows for the collection of clips from many lives. Collectors become connoisseurs of football concussions, prom dress atrocities, virginity losses and avalanche deaths.

Aside from a few privacy complaints, few folks object to the technology. It becomes popular to bestow a Bat, along with a name, at christening ceremonies. Apple's ads feature the slogan, "What have you got to hide? Nothing. What have you got that's interesting? Everything."

Wired magazine predicts the emergence of "Bat Natives," people who never have known an unrecorded moment. Wired further asserts that the unarchived life isn't worth living. Academics begin writing Ph.D. theses on the digital self, and philosophers claim that human identity lies in the personal hard drive, with its incontrovertible evidence of existence. "If it's not digitized," the argument goes, "you can't prove it."

Ordinary people embrace the Bat. "I like being the star of my own movie," the refrain goes. "Before I got my Bat, my life was like an unwritten screenplay. Now I get to produce and direct and act, outtakes and bloopers and everything. And it really is interesting. To me, anyway."

Apple's market share hovers at 50 percent, even after Samsung and Lenovo introduce ridiculously cheap 3-D-printed competitors to the Bat. The number of "personal drones," as they come to be called, surpasses the number of humans on the planet, especially after China decrees that its citizens have not one, but three personal drones buzzing about their heads, their data relayed directly to a newly constructed "cloud citadel" in the province of Tibet. Wired calculates that watching drone recordings is taking up 30 percent of the nation's work time, not counting the people whose job it is to watch them.

Then everything changes. Google Corporation, after extensive field-tests in North Korea, introduces the Cyborg Eye, a bioelectric-powered retinal implant that records visual and aural experience from inside the skull. Inserted by pneumatic injection, the device relays point-of-view data to a variety of destinations, and is advertised with the slogan, "Everything you can see, Eye can see better." Cyborg Eyes become universal as a free public health service in the United States after they are marketed as a "vaccine of vigilance" against religious terrorism, newly designated by the CDC as a fatal contagious virus.

Complaints about the devices come not from privacy advocates but from the users themselves. From an early adopter: "I realize that intelligence agencies need this data, but I've gone from being the star of my own movie to being a stupid camera. I never realized my life was so boring."

Philosophers again weigh in with their questions: "Once the camera starts recording, does its person exist anymore? Is there room for a self when point of view is squeezed to a point? Does experience itself matter, once it's digitized?"

Psychotherapists' offices across the country echo with a single agonized complaint: "Doctor, I'm not sure anyone is in me. I don't even know that there's a me to be in. I can't see it on TV."

A self-help book, titled Who's There? Who Cares? I Sure As Hell Don't hits the New York Times best-seller list. Viewing other people's experience becomes passé, even when it involves sex or death, even when giant eight-screened public viewing kiosks are erected in city squares. People start hauling their Bat drives out of the closet and hooking them up, just to see themselves again.

The president intervenes. "The entire country is experiencing a loss of self," he says. "That's why I'm ordering Homeland Security to turn off all subcutaneous cameras and listening devices. Go back to your Bats, people. Get out there and take some Selfies. Lots of Selfies. It's time to get real again."