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 To say nothing of when and if the lists fall out of date—if a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.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.