Twenty years ago you could pass freely in and out of the country with a paper passport. The police could be there to arrest you if you were wanted for a major crime, but as they had no means of knowing when you would leave, or by what means, it was possible to slip out under an assumed name, a disguise, a mates’s passport, a sailing boat or hidden in the boot of car.
Now electronic gates equipped with facial recognition software await us all at ports with lists of people, guilty and innocent, the police would like to interview. In the next few years new cars will have a compulsory ‘spy in the cab’that can regulate your speed, and stop your car if necessary.
And what is that sound we can hear overhead, that distant buzzing? Ah yes, the drones. Good angels keeping watch above for murderers but more often illegal lockdown barbecues or meetings of more than two people in the street, far more of the latter two than the former.
It is hard to argue with such practical solutions to crime, but you can feel the prison walls, and they say if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear.
But what do we mean by wrong? Wrong the authorities say, is anything we say it is or anything we have the means to prevent. The internet gives us the power to fight more and more wrongs. Murder is wrong but, if we have the means to prevent it at almost no cost, so is not making a tax return or dodging a parking fine. So why not arrest both murderer and parking fine dodger if they try to leave the country?
Machines are also important in defending the public health from those who flout the Covid regulations. If a drone with infrared sensors can catch you sneaking from your lover’s house at four in the morning, you deserve a £10,000 fine. As Stalin said, ‘If we did not arrest the innocent, how would the guilty fear us?’
Have the machines helped in the fight against Covid? No, they are the cause. Without the net governments would never have been able to give a pandemic on this scale. They would not have been able to count all the cases, the rate of spread, or frighten everyone hourly with fresh death rates and send everybody scurrying into their houses for months on end.
Without the internet they would not have been able to wreck whole economies at the flick of a switch. Covid would have come and gone and people would have remarked on how many old people died last winter and then talked about something else. It might come back for a second year but by then most of us would be immune.
This is the price of falling in love with a monster. The internet was love at first sight, a whole world of knowledge and convenience opened up for all which got bigger and better every day. Press an underlined word on your computer screen and it connects you to anything from the archives of the Library of Congress to tonight’s menu at your local curry shop.
You can learn in seconds things which would have taken you days or weeks to find out the old paper way such as the correct treatment for a disease, and attend lectures by some of the world’s finest minds.
But even in the quiet of our homes, the internet is a lover who neither forgives or forgets, a stalker always at your heels. Nothing typed into the net is ever destroyed; thousands of people have had their careers ruined by something they wrote years ago, and if you own a mobile phone the authorities know where you are within ten feet twenty-four hours a day.
But it is a lover we cannot say goodbye to. Without a mobile or a computer, unless you are prepared for a great deal of inconvenience you can’t function. And there are many things that just won’t work with cash. If you want to fly toAmerica, find a wife or new job you do it on the net.
Is it too late? Has the key been turned in the lock of our electronic cell? We can still escape. Our jailers have left the key, our mobile phone, hanging in the lock of each of our cell doors. We only have to walk through the door and throw it away to be free. They say the devil has to offer his victim one last chance of grace, before she signs over her soul….