Freedom of Movement

January 20, 2017

This is not (yet another) Brexit moan – I do that on my own time (though even I am getting bored with the twitterati in my timeline who seem to do little but indulge in petty arguments about this big issue). It is about a much pettier approach to an even bigger issue. A fundamental freedom, especially cherished by teenagers and anyone married for more than 10 minutes: the freedom to lie.

I realised this week that I have shackled myself to truth – and it is a tight and uncomfortable grip. I wonder what I and all the many people like me were thinking when offering their hands to the bracelets.

I am one of many who found a fitness monitor in their Christmas stocking. Thrilled by the thought that my family were concerned for my welfare when previously appearing to be concerned mainly about the size of any payment due on my death, I was quick to charge the battery and have been loyally monitoring my every step ever since. Other than the realisation that 10,000 steps really isn’t much if you keep remotely active – and that some days I only did 4,000 – I was quite happy with my new toy. Happy that is until I realised how the plastic slave bracelet might tighten its grip.

Let’s take a purely hypothetical example. Suppose a married man, {i}for the first time in many years of marriage{/i}, lied to his wife about having completed a domestic chore, involving many steps and some back-breaking labour, when he had in fact got someone else to do it. Suppose that, when the weekly fitness report was available, he was stupid enough to share the figures with his wife, with some short-lived pride. She might then realise that the steps taken could not fit with the claimed completion of the chore. The husband – let’s call him Leonard – might claim that the device had been temporarily inoperational, that he had taken exceptionally long strides (good luck with that) or that a magic wind had moved the leaves into piles (in my hypothetical example, the task involved leaves). Or he might be forced to spill the beans and admit that he had actually spent the time, hypothetically, reading endless online articles about Donald J Trump and Brexit.

You have to feel sorry for Leonard. Or at least I did when I realised that Leonard’s situation might have parallels to my own.

For when I considered Leonard’s (purely hypothetical) tale, I found myself thinking about parents who are so technologically aware that they know where their children are {i}all the time{/i} because their children cannot move without their phone. And I think of spouses whose phones ding as their loved one leaves work. It reflects no credit on me but my heart sinks as I contemplate an era of enforced honesty.

This is tricky stuff. I write this as the latest crime statistics are revealed showing the supposed explosion in online fraud. The need for technological evidence of all kinds necessarily explodes to match it. Although {Alexa as a witness to murder is hypothetical:}, the monitoring of suspects’ movements by the tracking of mobile phones is facile reality (at least when the law enforcement authorities can be bothered). Allied to big data and its analysis, we are only moments away from a world where somebody knows where you are and, given the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and its siblings, what you are doing, all the time. In the context of crime, especially serious crime, no problem arises with that. But shift the context to personal relationships or, even more terrifying, an employer/employee relationship and only the haloed minority can fail to see a problem.

Idlers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your phones, and Fitbit. Let’s all join in a chorus of ‘If I had a Hammer’.

I guarantee that most of us will see that as too high a price to pay for freedom. After all, I {i}have{/i} a hammer and I haven’t used it.