Saturday, August 07, 2021

Penny for Your Thoughts

That's not an offer, it's the title for a story that I'm not well-suited to write for many reasons, so anyone who wants it is welcome to it (a mention in the acknowledgements would be cool, but not necessary).

For all I know, someone's already written the story, or one very much like it. And, to be clear, it's not a full-formed story idea, it's an idea for a story milieu that I woke up with this morning.

What I woke up with was the title, a stab at a first line ("James peeled off the paper covering adhesive backing, stuck the patches to his temples, and left for work") , and a fuzzy idea of what that first line portends.

What "caused" the idea to pop into my head (perhaps in REM sleep)? Three things:

  1. After seeing a movie yesterday, I got an email survey from Regal Cinemas asking about my experience;
  2. I also got a notification on my phone from Google concerning the area I'd been in and whether I would be interested in answering some questions about it (the program is related to Google Maps and is called "Local Guides" -- it asks questions like "is there a public restroom here?" and "does this place have handicapped-accessible entrances?"); and
  3. I make a little bit of money each month, in the form of Amazon gift cards, for taking surveys.
The patches in the story contain what amounts to the above, combined with, more or less, mind-reading tech. You wear them wherever you go. They track where you go, what you do, what you see, etc., and pick your brain for information of value (e.g. "experienced a feeling of interest while looking at the Nike billboard at XXX Mulberry Lane" or "briefly fell asleep 47 minutes into the movie").

You earn a little bit of money -- generally small pocket money -- for participating. A penny while watching a movie, a nickel while savoring a restaurant meal, whatever. Obviously the money comes from businesses and advertisers who pay the "patch" company for gathering the data from you, and the company in turn pays you a little bit of the take to get you to wear the damn things.

One angle I could see the story taking, plot-and-theme wise, is this: Suppose the patches can gather a lot of data (for example, visually recreate what you see in high detail, etc.), and James happens to be the only person looking at a particular window when a shot fired from that window takes out a big-league politician? Who all wants that data and why? How much are they willing to pay, and how much of that money should James get? If it's just the cops with a warrant, is there a compensation for "taking" due from them seizing it? Might there be someone out there looking to destroy all copies of the data, including the copy remaining in James's brain (by destroying, um, James)?

Anyway, if you write fiction and find this an interesting premise, enjoy. Even if I could ever get a substantial work of fiction finished, I think this one would be too much for me to bite off simply because of the time I'd have to spend just making the science and technology angles plausible.

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