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"Wetware Personae"

[written April 16, 2002]

Surely this isn't a new idea, but why hasn't it been implemented? You know how you can look up someone's profile on ICQ or AOL IM or Yahoo Messenger or whatever? See what his or her favorite bands or movies or books or colors are? See other tidbits they choose to share about themselves, like whether they're single, whether they're busy or free, what sort of job they do, and so on?

What if you could do this for people you walk by in the street?

I hear that there are variations of this idea already, mainly in Japan, and far more simplified. Like, peoples' devices will both go off if they walk by each other and they have similar interests and are single, that sort of thing. It possibly makes finding available people less embarrassing and more comfortable for people who are out and do/don't want to be bothered by prospective friends/dates.

But how hard would it be to put something like this in cellphones or just a small transmitting device? You'd have to be able to type in or transmit some text in describing what your interests are. It'd be easier on a cellphone since they'd have other useful things to justify carrying the extra weight around, and they should always be on when you're out. Plus you can type in text with them.

At some point you'd be able to tune in and listen to whatever music the person chose to broadcast to the world in their profile. The tech doesn't quite exist for that yet. =P But the concept is cool. If you saw someone you wanted to pick up, you could look at their profile (if available of course) and see if they were single and looking, check their interests, see what kind of person they were interested in, age, that sort of thing. If the person didn't want to be bothered, then you'd know not to make yourself look stupid or make the other person feel uncomfortable. And if things worked out, then you'd already have some background for the first few silly get-to-know-you questions.

It could have other applications of course. One useful thing would be having a buddy list that showed you on a map on your device where your buddies were currently located. They could turn off their GPS transmitter when they wanted. But if you were both lost somewhere and were trying to get back together, the device could help.

Or maybe it could transmit some sort of encoded security signal for people who work in secure areas. Or it could be used by people to send in their ratings of how much they enjoy a current live event, an idea I discussed a while ago.

It could include medical data for access by hospitals in case of emergency. Or banking info for making quick transactions. All this being heavily encrypted somehow, naturally.

If you didn't want certain things transmitted, you could easily disable them. If you didn't want your info transmitted, or you wanted to fake a persona, you could do that too!

The point being that while we convey a lot through our physical appearance, mannerisms, initial responses to things, and so on, there's probably some more practical, fashionable, and just fucking cool applications that could come out of this sort of device that constantly radiates out among other people around you. I mean, shit, you have to dye your hair green to get attention! But with less than 20k of text, you could convey all your favorite musicians and live events instantly! Have info that you want someone else to have but it would take too long to tell it accurately to the person? Your device could have a repository of files that it could beam instantly, like those small USB keychain hard drives or using IR through a handheld.

A lot of these suggested features DO actually exist, I admit, but not all in one small device! Uuuu, frustration!

I read an article in the New York Times that interviewed Larry Ellison reiterating his views on how there should be things like national databases and national ID cards. All using the Oracle database, everyone (including Ellison) is quick to point out. But national ID cards would be cool. If they could be combined with the ability to add microchips to cards, so that you could have one card with different secure chips for debit/credit, grocery stores, gas, gym lockers, car locks, and so on, we could get rid of so much crap. I mean, cash is the absolute worst unless you're trying to be discreet about payment. It'd be so much easier to scan your card. As with everything else. Hell, add the functionality to the cellphone. People already are working on that. Just give me one device that does everything safely, invisibly, and conveniently! Is it really that hard? Would people really object to safety concerns if it was explained properly to them that not only would there be adequate security in the card and chips, but also software at the banks or whatever watching for signs of identity theft? Okay okay, I guess people would still complain and worry, since people still think buying online is dangerous, even now...

And applying what works wonderfully on the Internet to the real world seems altogether a keen concept to me, integration and evolution through intermingling of communities, online and offline.

And for all that useless talk of convergence, I'm not seeing very much of it. Seems to me that the tech companies need to start looking at life practically, from the perspectives of people who aren't quite so fixated on the current methods of using phones or the Internet.

People like technoweenies? Definitely not. UI is an insult to them. Marketers? What do they know? AT&T's mlife can suck my balls. Lawyers? Oh, you can imagine the civil suits these devices could rack up... How about young teens? The early pop culture adopters and petri dish for all that ends up being cool? Go after them, and keep the tech simple and cheap... After all, that's what it really is, right? Simple, and cheap, yet insanely cool.


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