I went to fill out one of those online forms the other day and when I got to about the second page of it, I found out that it had been pre-populated.
Yes. There was a note there saying that as a convenience to me, parts of the form had been pre-populated. The room, all of a sudden, felt crowded.
But what it meant was that parts of the form had already been filled in with information that the website already knew about me. That wasn’t very much, as it turned out, just my name and not even my phone number. You can imagine, however, how alarming it would be to be subject to more extensive pre-population.
This, in a way, is what all the concern about online privacy is about. People put stuff about themselves up there and it hangs around and hangs around. There are probably a lot more people than you think who know where you live, your telephone number and email address. And there are others who know things about your buying habits.
If you are worried about your personal pre-population exceeding that, you have to be careful. For example, I would never tell put it online that the other day I decided to use Baseline and Heron as a quicker way to get from west to east.
Nobody does that, right? Well, the Queensway looked really slow, so I made one of those instant decisions that took me right to the Idiot Drivers Hall of Fame. Mind you, it took quite a while to get there. There were all the stoplights, and then the 25 minutes it took to get from the Heron Road Bridge to the corner of Riverside.
The first 20 minutes on Heron Road were spent wondering why nobody was moving, especially me. The next three minutes were spent wondering why nobody bothered to put up a CONSTRUCTION sign until we were almost at the construction and the two minutes after that were spent wondering why somebody couldn’t have let us all know 25 minutes ago that the left lane was the one that was going to end.
All the information available in the world, all the ultra-modern means of transmitting it and we sit there on Heron Road, motionless and clueless.
Surely this information could have been pre-populated somewhere. The radio didn’t have anything and it’s against the law to fiddle with your phone to find out. A caveman sitting where Heron Road is now would have had just as much information as we did.
All of which leads to a profound conclusion: We have all kinds of information available to us, more than ever before. Your phone probably has more information in it than all the world’s libraries in 1912, for all I know. So yes, we have all kinds of information available to us. We just don’t have the right kind.
Some day soon all this will be fixed. We will have the equivalent of smartphones implanted in us, perhaps. They will tell us which lane to be in, which roads to avoid, when the snowplow is coming, which parking lots are not full, which stores still have the toy we wanted to buy for Christmas.
We will be pre-populated like crazy.
But will this make us happy? Probably not. We will be distracted by too much information, confused over having too many choices. You can see it happening now and it can only get worse.
It is possible that we will long for the good old days when there was only one thing at a time we needed to now and we knew how to find it. Strange as it may seem, we may one day look nostalgically back on being stuck in traffic, on Heron Road, blissful in our ignorance on the way to the Idiot Drivers Hall of Fame.