The Rockwood Files: Every step you take…

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I saw something the other day, and I’m still trying to decide if it’s cool or creepy – or both. Perhaps you can be the judge.

But first, here’s the backstory. Every three weeks, I go to a meeting in a town about 25 minutes away from my house. Sometimes the meeting falls toward the end of the month or near the beginning or somewhere in the middle. The only constant thing about the meeting is that it’s always on a Thursday, and it’s always at the same place.

After the meeting, my business partner and I typically have lunch. Lately, we’ve been in a soup and sandwich mood, so we’ve been going to McAlister’s Deli, which is just a few miles from our meeting spot. We don’t go there every time, but most of the time we do.

Last week, after the meeting, we didn’t have time to grab lunch because both of us had other appointments. We waved goodbye and climbed into our respective cars. As I buckled up, I glanced down at my phone to see what time it was. That’s when I saw it – this possibly cool, possibly creepy thing that still has me baffled.

The phone screen was showing a notification that said this: “7 minutes to McAlister’s”

I did a double-take and then picked up the phone for a closer look. Then I glanced around the car, just to make sure I was alone because suddenly I felt “watched.”

It was the first time I had the feeling that perhaps the phone knows too much. It knows all my friends’ and family’s phone numbers better than I do. It knows what my schedule looks like two months from now. It knows how many steps I took yesterday. It knows when I go to sleep, when I get up and how many times I hit snooze. And thanks to a sleep app, it even knows how well I slept or if I snored.

But that notification made me realize that the phone is not only watching me, it’s “learning” my life as I live it. It’s now able to anticipate my next move. How does the phone know where I’m going to lunch? Either I’ve become far too predictable or my phone is paying way too much attention to me.

Even more unnerving is what might be on the horizon for smartphone ESP. After all, many phones already have fingerprint identification, or they’re able to unlock simply by scanning the owner’s face. With all this personal information, I wonder if my phone will soon start texting my lunch order to the restaurant while I’m driving there. Does it already know I like the BLT sandwich and a cup of broccoli cheese soup? I bet it does. I bet my calorie tracking app has already told it exactly what I eat on any given day.

If the phone has access to all the info in the apps I use on my phone, then it also knows my shopping list, what news I’ve read, the podcasts I listen to, how much I’ve spent this month, the books I’m reading, and how much time I’ve wasted on Candy Crush. It even knows about the paranoid Google searches I’ve done in the middle of the night.

This relationship feels unbalanced. The phone knows all these personal details about me, yet I know very little about it – other than its price tag and how often it needs to be charged. Half the time, I don’t even know where it is! If the phone is so smart, why can’t it find me when I misplace it?

While I’m sure the phone already knows what kind of music I listen to, I have a feeling I can figure out the phone’s favorite song, too. It’s a 1983 hit by a band called The Police who predicted our smartphone future when Sting sang these words: “Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.

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