The Drive

Gary worked quite a ways from the church where he met Alice, and he had no choice but to navigate an Interstate to drive to her home. We, meanwhile, might imagine a camera on a miniature helicopter chasing him along the asphalt stream, rolling first left then right, as it showed the car from various angles: a bathetic, outdated, fume-spewing wreck, with film-covered window panes and bald tires and a bad shimmy on the rear right wheel. He believed himself alone on this quest, accompanied only in chance configuration by a wave of individuals, each alone.

No one moving through this network of purposes is alone. Imagine electromagnetic snooping equipment strategically placed throughout this corner of the world — perhaps on every corner — that bounds up and down the EM spectrum, picking up pieces of data all along the way, and that feeds this flood of commingled data across a broad fiber optic pipe to a supercharged computer or two, and that they sort and concatenate and realign and decrypt and interpret, until voices and data reemerge. Another computer jumps up and down these streams and picks out a word here, a bit of data there. If Gary were to say the word “bomb” into his digital phone — which he deemed to be encrypted and safe — or if he were to send the characters C4 in an encrypted email, these real-time marvels might have tried and convicted him before he had even hung up, before he had even quit his application.

All information, all the time: the opportunity and the curse of the digital age. Gary is both visible and transparent, a cipher for something at once predictable and unknown. At this time, his actions are pure “citizen-tolerable” — beneath a threshold for which citizens should be apprehended and taught a penal lesson — and insofar he is invisible.

But imagine that you could shift the information lens ten hours, ten days, ten months, 10 years into his alien-friendly future — if you are responsible for understanding and maintaining order, you might evaluate the options differently. You might, for instance, feel the need to declare this an in-the-field emergency and put that highflying drone into interdiction mode and authorize the firing of a supersonic missile — kaboom! — into his blue heap right here, before he reaches city blocks where collateral damage would be greater. Or you might conjure up a US felony warrant, to be served that very evening, on a dangerous, mentally unstable and heavily armed criminal. Or schedule a single-car accident for that night. Or do you believe you would choose to ignore the intelligence, watch with resignation as he bounded up the freeway, like any citizen drone on an incomprehensible mission? — It is a calculus of faith, that though each mission bears scant results enough of them are the positive side of the social equation, an equation that is unsolvable, for which even the computational approximation would take your lifetime.