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HARDWARE

Keeping Up with the Wuppies

A lighthearted look at just how hooked many middle-class people have become on technology.
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Time was, if you were a committed utopian you were obliged to repair to some rural commune and verse yourself in the art of legume cookery and the vagaries of composting. These days, all that's really required is a boundless faith in the wiring of America. Where once the good life meant getting back to the garden, now it seems Eden is only a modem away.

Microcircuitry, like nature itself, evidently abhors a vacuum. Consider, if you will, the latest electronic gizmo for the cutting-edge pet owner. That's "cutting" in the clinical sense: the Infopet Systems chip is designed to be implanted in your pooch, thus activating a scannable registration number to ensure infallible identification in case Fido goes AWOL. So much for merrily jingling dog tags, which are clearly destined to go the way of happily chattering typewriters. Lassie, meet Robocop.

Then there are the true believers at a Boston-area mall, where a kindred high-tech concept is now being deployed to let shoppers keep tabs on their toddlers. Kids dropped off at a new child-care center are identified by digitized photos, and parents pack a beeper that allows them to both look in on and talk to Junior from closed-circuit monitors stationed at reassuring intervals within the mall proper. It's only a matter of time, I suppose, before ballparks and multiplexes get into the virtual baby-sitting business too.

Welcome to the blinking, pulsating new frontier of the Wuppies, the wired upwardly mobile professionals, who never met a cybergadget they didn't like. Digital is their gospel. If it's got a microchip in it, they gotta have it.

Yes, the Wuppies have seen the future, and it scans. It's three parts George Jetson, two parts James Bond, and nary a trace element of Aldous Huxley or Stanley Kubrick. It's hyperactively interactive and evangelically interfacing. It's all-cellular and remote-accessible, and it upgrades in a snap.

Still, one has to hope that they're not putting all their chips on, well, chips. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and mere anarchy isn't about to be intimidated by a few sensors and surge protectors. Rover's still going to come down with his fleas, who'll be more than happy to warm their toes by his subcutaneous microtag. Junior's still going to skin his knees (while roughhousing with Rover, naturally), beeper or no beeper. No matter how far-flung the Net and how well spun the Web, the ties that bind will snarl and fray and stretch out of shape. There's no hardwiring happenstance.

Utopia, after all, translates into "no place." Come to think of it, isn't that a pretty fair working definition for cyberspace itself?

-- David Barber

Last updated: Sep 15, 1995




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