Blown To Bits

The Refrigerator Is Watching You

Saturday, June 28th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

At a hotel in San Francisco where I stayed a few days ago, taking a can of Coke out of the fridge automatically puts that item on your room bill. Same if you take a candy bar from the case nearby or a nip from the liquor cabinet. Each item is on top of a sensor which fires when the item is removed. There are no “did you have anything from the minibar this morning” questions at checkout. Instead you are presented with a bill showing, along with the charges for the room and taxes, all the particulars of your in-room eating and drinking self-indulgences.

I asked if I would have been charged if I removed a can of Coke and then decided to put it back (I actually drink only Diet Coke, and can imagine making that mistake with an under the counter fridge). The answer was no — as long as I put it back quickly.

How should I think about the fact that the bits stating that Harry Lewis consumed a can of Diet Coke at exactly 9:22:02 PM on June 24, 2008, will likely be preserved forever, mixed into some data aggregate for analysis purposes, but also retrievable as an individual factoid if there were some reason to do so?

The granularity of the digital explosion is astonishing. Ordinary life is being blown not just to bits, but into microscopic digital dust.

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