I have just gone on a run around Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I’m sweating and thirsty as I walk home. I think of getting some water at a store but figure I’ll wait. Then a voice gurgles, “Diana! Wouldn’t you like some juice? We have your favorite juice, pomegranate juice.” I look around to see who’s talking but spot no one.
Last week, the doctor gave me a galvanic skin response bracelet for my running. Since then, various buildings have been calling out to me. At first I thought it was someone addressing another Diana, or perhaps myself going mad, but then I realized it happened only when I was wearing the bracelet.
I refuse the offer with a shake of the head and walk on. The next few stores don’t say a word. But just when I’m about a block away from home, another store whispers, “Diana! You’re almost home now. Wouldn’t you like to get some juice and cat food? We’ll give you a discount.”
“No,” I say, “no! And stop bothering me.”
When I get home, though, the phone rings. It’s a customer service representative from the bracelet company. “I’m calling you to offer you emotional support with your bracelet experience,” he tells me. “We offer free robot therapy to customers who are having difficulty according to the data. This phone call is scripted and monitored for quality assurance.”
“I want out of this plan,” I tell him. “The doctor said this would be used to measure my temperature and heart rate while I’m running. I don’t want robots or talking stores.”
“Your bracelet has multiple purposes,” he says with drilled pleasantness.
“Why didn’t anyone inform me of this?”
“It’s explained on one of the consent forms you signed.”
“Who has access to my data?”
“Anyone, unless you request one of the restriction plans.”
“What can I do to turn it off entirely?”
“You are entitled to bring it back to your doctor and opt out of the benefits. However, you might want to consider Data Plan 1, which gives you the highest level of control over the data. It’s only 59 dollars a month and comes with free cable, mobile phone, robot therapy, and a vacation package.”
“I don’t watch TV.”
“I suggest you try it. There’s a whole channel devoted to News for You. That’s a state-of-the-art program compiled from all the existing news shows and commercials and customized to your interests.”
“Sorry, not interested,” I say. “I think I’ll just have to throw the bracelet out.”
“Throwing it out is a federal offense,” he replies, “due to the sensitivity of the data. If you really want to opt out of the plan, you’ll need to return it to your doctor. However, we can offer you Data Plan 1A, which has internet service instead of TV. That’s only ten dollars more per month.”
“Thank you, but I’d rather return it to my doctor.”
As soon as I hang up, the phone rings again. It’s my doctor. “I see on my screen that you aren’t happy with the bracelet,” he says. “Could I persuade you to keep using it for another month?” He explains that he has agreed to meet a data quota. “I don’t like it, you don’t like it, but one day we’ll all be wearing these things.”
I tell him that whatever the future holds, I’d rather not wear this when I don’t have to. “I’ll stop by on my way to class,” I say. I head over to the office immediately.
“We’re so sorry it didn’t work for you,” the receptionist says when I hand her the bracelet.
“I’m not,” I reply. “But thank you anyway.”
I make my way to baroque architecture class. I start when I see the professor handing out bracelets at the door. “Even here?” I ask, but she only smiles at me.
Once we’ve donned our devices and taken our seats, she displays Longhena’s Church of the Scalzi, a ghastly edifice. She looks at her monitor. “I see high energy levels from most of you,” she says, “so we’ll be focusing on this church for a while. This is how we’re teaching now. Instead of a one-size-fits-all curriculum based on outmoded ideas, we’re looking at what really excites you.”
I slip out of the room, leaving the bracelet behind, dash down the stairs, and make a run through campus to the street. Then I hear a voice coming from an old brick wall: “Diana! Consider turning back. You have rejected the future and failed the course!”
“The future!” I retort. “We’re talking bad Baroque!”
“It’s the future, because it’s you,” says the wall. “The data show it’s you.”
But I make my way past the wall, and no more walls address me.
I tell one of these walls how grateful I am for its noble lack of words. “Keep it up,” I say. “Stay mum, no matter what the pressure.”
I doubt the wall was listening, but it was worth a try.