Contributed by Ron Baecker, an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).
My family is widely separated. I live in Canada. My brother-in-law, niece, nephew, and their families are in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; my cousins, their children, and their families are in Argentina, Spain, England, and on both coasts of the USA. Typically, I visit my niece and nephew once or twice a year; I manage a trip to Buenos Aires or Bilbao, Spain, about every 3 years. But not recently. I therefore Facetime with either my nephew or my niece almost every week. We also are about to have our fourth global family Zoom. This started out to celebrate individual birthdays, with great spirit and feeling of bringing the family closer together. The next event will celebrate 3 birthdays — ages 78, 41, and 9 — and a recent birth in the family in London. The 9-year-old birthday event will see us participating in a day-long scavenger hunt. What fun!
Nosedive was the first episode of the third season of the British science fiction television anthology Black Mirror. In this episode, everyone has a mobile phone which, when pointed at another person, reveals his or her name and rating. Everyone has a rating, which ranges from 0 to 5. The following happens continually as you are walking down a street or along the corridor of a building. You give a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to each person you pass, based on your instantaneous impression of that person and the nature of the encounter, no matter how trivial or quick the encounter is. A ‘thumps up’ raises that person’s rating a tiny bit; a ‘thumbs down’ lowers it. The other person concurrently rates you. Ratings determine one’s status in life, and the ability to get perks such as housing and travel. Therefore, people are on a never-ending, stressful, and soul-destroying quest to raise their online ratings for real-life rewards. Heroine Lacie desires a better apartment; she has a meltdown as she deals with unsurmountable pressure in the context of her childhood best friend’s wedding.
My cell phone is malfunctioning in many ways. Top four problems: it no longer recognizes my fingerprint; I seem to have misplaced my AppleID, which together with the fingerprint recognition problem, makes it impossible to do many things; it does not sync properly with my laptop; and I have to retype my password many more times a day then is sensible.
So today I tried calling the main downtown Apple store, in the Toronto Eaton Centre, to make an appointment with a “genius”. In the past, I have reached someone there, or perhaps in Toronto, or at least in Canada, who had some idea of the geography. Today I first had to fill out a form on my cell phone, which wanted me to choose one its options with a canned support answer on the site.
Approximately two months ago, I had brunch with a friend and colleague — Fred, not his real name — who I had known for over 40 years. I had not seen him in six months. Over the space of an hour, he received at least six calls on his cell phone from family members. Based on what I could hear of his responses, no interruption dealt with an urgent matter.
Several times a year, I have dinner with dear friends of over 30 years, a vigorous professional couple in their 70s with accomplishments in the arts, the sciences, and public service. Ann — also not her real name — is constantly using her phone to google for facts that will contribute to the conversation. Her fact-checking is typically interesting, but is there a cost?