The more technology seems to advance, the harder it is to get away from its watchful eye.  We cannot escape.  We cannot hide.  Every time you make a transaction at an ATM, the machine records that your account was accessed, at the exact time, at the exact place, with uncanny precision.  At a bank 100 years ago, do you imagine for a moment that the tellers were keeping track of every single transaction down to the second?  The New York City subway advertisements remind us that by buying a 30-day MetroCard, we are effectively paying less for using the subway now than we did in 1986.

If you are paying for your metro card with a credit card, or if it is paid for with transit checks, the purchase ultimately gets tied back to you. Every time you swipe your card at the turnstile you get another arrow pointed right to you with an exact location and time.

The same technology that made it easier for us to pay for turnpike fees
without rooting around the car for change makes it easier to pinpoint
the location of our cars.

Similarly, the technology that allows us to press an On Star button in our cars
and cry out for help is not only active in times of distress.  On Star is always “listening” for signs of a crash to self-report us to the authorities for assistance if we are incapacitated.  If we are lawbreakers, how quickly might On Star incapacitate our cars with a request from the police?

When you call for technical support and there is a recording that says
that your call will be monitored for “quality assurance” — do you really believe that is the reason your call is being recorded?

Even the simple mobile phone can be used as a tracking device.

Where will we turn for a quiet spot to be alone?

Do such places still exist?


  1. Pretty scary stuff, Gordon!
    Your pharmacy discount card tracks your purchases and places and times.
    Your Starbucks card tracks what you eat when and where.
    Your Gas card marks your distance, travel time, and payment plan.
    Your Path train card also marks and maps you day.
    I certainly believe all that information is being aggregated and watched and plugged into surveillance software.
    I don’t think we have any places left to hide — except to disconnect everything electronic and head for the Amazon jungle.

  2. A friend of my brother’s lives a pretty simple existence. She lives on a remote island near Japan and has a farm with her husband. No technology involved whatsoever, as far as I know.

  3. Gordon —
    The fact that you just identified where she lives and how she survives now puts her directly in the Panopticonic eye. I’m certain someone is already looking her up on Google Earth!

  4. I think I am “off the grid” as much as I can be.
    I have to pay taxes, register to vote, which means they know where I live and where my bank account is.
    I don’t have a credit card – I do not travel out of this area much and as you know I do not have a mobile phone. I usually get paid half and half so I do not need a bank card for cash.
    I do use a computer though and use a passport when I travel …..
    Big Brother is watching your every move ……..

  5. I quite fancy vanishing into thin air though ….. I wonder if there is anywhere that you can truly do that now?

  6. I reckon that in a lot of ways, the hasidim in various insulated communities have it right. They are largely off the radar.

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