When Steve Jobs introduced the 3G iPhone last week, there were grumbles. A built-in GPS, that’s it? Where was the video conferencing? The jet-pack?
But people get ready, because GPS is about to screw everything up, for one simple reason: It knows where your sweaty little body is. Wasn’t technology supposed to free us from our bodies? That’s certainly the way it seemed when we were first popped into the pleasantly icy limbo of cyberspace, that text-based universe where nobody knew we were dogs, Swedes, or redheads, unless we wanted them to, and whether or not we actually were. Then came photos, and video, and, most alarming, social networking (as the Grinch once put it, such a wonderful awful idea). And the tether got tighter—especially recently, when we began releasing hints of our whereabouts and activities on programs like Twitter and Dodgeball. But still, these status statements were deliberate; they could be allusive and coy. The corporeal you in the immediate moment could slip free.
Technology was certainly not supposed to know you were at the laundromat. Or the Yankees game. Or your co-worker’s apartment when you were supposed to be working late. But now when you’re at the laundromat, everyone will know. Because you’ll be letting them know. Maybe not yet; you’re still shy, and think the laundromat is boring. But in a year or two, when everyone is doing it, that shyness will start to seem stupid. It will begin to seem rude not to tell—I mean, what’s wrong with the laundromat? Afraid of someone seeing your socks? Maybe a friend will stop by and lend you a quarter.
The initial etiquette screwups are going to be exquisite: not just the stalking, but the brand-new form or snubbing where you can see your friends gathering without you. You’ll feel wildly self-conscious for about six months. But soon it’s all going to seem normal and automatic. You’ll pick your laundry up and head home, letting your every zig and zag be inscribed, Koyaanisqatsi-ishly, into the bigger map of the world. Because after all, that’s where you’ll live.