A World Without Doorbells

November 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Doorbells are already almost obsolete, more like relics from a bygone era than something of daily value. Our friends text us when they leave their house. Then again when they’re getting close. Then again when they’re at the front door. We get text messages when the pizza delivery guys is close, and we get emails when the cab driver is almost to our door. If the doorbell ever rings in my house, we generally ignore it. Someone unannounced is almost always assumed to be someone unwanted. I don’t remember the last time a neighbor spontaneously rang the doorbell just to chat.

It is feasible, even likely, that in the future we will know where our family and friends are at all times. This is no magical Marauder’s Map from a JK Rowling fantasy. In fact, the technology is already in place. Apps like Glympse for the iPhone use a combination of GPS, Google Maps, and text messages to let you track down a friend anywhere in the country (at least anywhere with 3G coverage). As the holes in the GPS and internet coverage maps slowly fill in, it is feasible that you could locate anyone anywhere in the world at anytime. While this raises issues about privacy and safety, security software will undoubtedly keep up, allowing you to be tracked by who you want, when you want.

The implications of such a technology are almost endless. Instead of tracking shipping on a daily basis, business owners will know exactly where their products are every second of every day. Waiting for a bus in the rain will be a thing of the past because riders will know the exact second when the bus will arrive. Instead of going to the airport at a specific time, flyers can simply wait for a notification that their plane will be landing in a half hour. No one will show up at a bar expecting to meet new people because they will already know that their friends are waiting exactly 13.54 feet from the back wall. Almost nothing will ever happen unexpectedly because you will see everything coming hours in advance. Nothing will be a surprise.

While this huge flux of information would undoubtedly make life more convenient and make people exponentially more efficient, the social ramifications would be just as large. As communication becomes more automated, there will be almost no reason to interact with people you don’t already know. If you get a text message that your flight is delayed, why would you ever talk to anyone at the airline desk? If you know exactly when your dog is at the front door, why would you ever go outside and talk to the neighbors while your pet does its business? If you know exactly where your friends are at the bar, what reason do you have to talk to the cute girl by the door?

There is a lot to be said for serendipity. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of being surprised by the doorbell and answering it to find a spontaneous football game in my front yard. It wouldn’t have been half as fun if I had gotten ten text messages notifying me that my friends were leaving their houses, then coming down the street, then in the driveway, and then at the door.

I wouldn’t want to live in a world without doorbells.

– Joey


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