So I take a gander at Futurismic,

and somebody out there has already started down the road to building an

application I dreamt up to use as a plot device in a science fiction

story. The State Machine

is a cute little animated app that visually represents how much money

certain lobby groups have contributed to certain congressional

representatives. Basically, it puts a very tangible face on political


My idea took it about ten steps further. My wife is something of a

closet hippy, and the various enviro charities she supports hand out

lists of enviro-unfriendly companies. She uses the lists to decide what

products we can’t and can buy at the supermarket. Basically, these are

hippy consumer blacklists. Unfortunately, the lists are long and

clumsy, and it’s a little hard to keep track of what subbrand is made

by which corporate monstrosity, so we often accidentally buy an evil

product. To say nothing of when and if the lists fall out of date–if a

company cleans up its act, it could take years for the hippy buyer

block to know it.

So, what if somebody built a device or PDA-add-on that could scan

barcodes (or use appropriated face-recognition tech in conjunction

with a camera phone) to identify products at the supermarket and

“diagnose” their political context via a ratings database. Basically, are those apple bran

muffins cheap because the apples are picked by forced immigrant labor?

Is that t-shirt cheap because it’s a sweatshop product? Is that honey

really organic? Is that mascara tested on animals? What’s that

manufacturer’s position on gay rights? What party does that corporation

donate to, and how much?

Basically, these devices (and their manufacturer’s team of Googlesque

researchers) create political transparency in the marketplace, which

leads to a whole new cottage industry of “optimizing” your firm and

products’ political image, which in turn leads to some interesting

interpersonal battles. I think it will be fun to write, and will let me

play with some socioeconomic ideas I’ve been chewing on. In any case, I

need to write the story before the idea is passe.

Stupid inexorable progress of technology.