Monday, January 31, 2011


The only thing I find more amazing than a technological advance, is how humans can find reasons why we should reject a technological advance. There's nothing new here. People have been leery of new-fangled gadgets ever since Early Man started working with tools and developing ways of recording information. Let's take a trip back in time and visit a couple of cavemen during a technological breakthrough.

Grog: "Hey. What's happening, man?"

Grunk: "Dig it. I'm writing."

Grog: "Say what? Writing? What's that?"

Grunk: "Only the latest, daddy-o. Look, I chisel some marks in this stone, and that's my name in print."

Grog: "Hey man, you start putting your name out there and, like, the Man is gonna start buggin' you. First they get your name, then they want to know what you're doing in your cave. It's the slippery slope."

Grunk: "Aw man, you're harshing my mellow. Hey, forget writing. Let's go watch some Ultimate Fighting."

Grog: "Groovy."

Of course, that's not how people actually talked back in prehistoric times; it just feels that way. Anyway, this constant battle between technology and privacy rages on to this very day. Which brings me to smart meters: electric meters that when attached to your home's wiring can sense the "electronic signature" of various appliances and send information back to the electric company showing more than just your kilowatt per hour usage. Smart meters can show data on how often your refrigerator runs, what kind of TV you own and how often it's on, the amount of power consumed by your washer and dryer, and even whether you go with XBox or PlayStation. The idea behind this is to monitor your usage so that power companies can make more informed decisions about routing power for maximum efficiency, and yes, telling you how to cut your electrical usage. It's a "green" thing. It's meant to help the environment and conserve natural resources.

So naturally there are people who don't want them.

There are two reasons people have sited against the smart meters: first is the charge that since these devices communicate to the power company by means of wireless signals, they must be spewing out electromagnetic radiation, which apparently can cause at least in some people dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sleeplessness, bouts of depression leading to rage-fueled outbursts that sends you to rehab and shuts down production of your sit-com for weeks at a time. I'm not a medical professional, so I'm not qualified to debate the credibility of EHS (Electromagnetic Hyper Sensitivity) or why people who have this affliction don't seem to suffer the aforementioned symptoms on a sunny day when the sun showers us with far more electromagnetic radiation than any device ever created by humans. Nor will I attempt to question the idea that if high amounts of electromagnetic radiation causes cancer, why is it my coworkers and I, or anybody else at a TV or radio broadcasting facility have not morphed into giant walking tumors?

On the second reason I am a little more prepared to debate. This reason sites that data sent back to the power company infringes on our right to privacy. I have studied this theory over and over and while I must admit there is a certain creepiness factor in knowing somebody miles away can tell what my appliances are doing, I remain baffled as to how the power company knowing I left the porch light on is a threat to my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Perhaps Mr. Burns and Smithers have some nefarious scheme afoot and all they're waiting for is Homer to tell them my refrigerator is running. ("Should I try to catch it, Mr. Burns?") And while it's true that it really is nobody's business if I turn on my Sony big screen and put in a Blue Ray of "Dukes of Hazzard: The Director's Cut" the fact is the credit card company already knows I own all of this. They know the second I swiped my Visa when I bought it at Wally World (who has me on multiple security cameras selecting, paying for, and lugging it out to the car) and already is gleefully sharing that information with various other marketing firms and advertising agencies. I could be wrong, but I think by the time a smart meter tells Burns and Smithers what I'm doing it is far, far too late to be worried about privacy.

And besides, I think I'm smart enough to know the difference between a slippery slope and an ant hill.

Big Brother is watching you... or rather he's watching your toaster oven.

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