Christopherson Column - With my savings can I buy some privacy?

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    At some point in time, somewhere someone said something about someone "doing anything for a buck" or someone being "willing" to do anything for a buck.

    Including selling your soul to the "big brother" machine? Because that's pretty much where I'm at right now, and it's jarring to me how little I'm worked up over all of it.

    We've all sold our souls somewhat, though, haven't we? We might not want to admit it or maybe we're afraid to even consider the lack of personal privacy that we enjoy, but we are being tracked. If your phone is with you, there are countless people or bots or logarithms or whatever that know precisely where you are, and probably what you're doing as well. It's the tradeoff; if we want the convenience of this miniature, mobile computer with us at all times, then we have to be willing to live with the fact that we're never truly alone.

    So my wife has this thing about saving money on insurance, whether it be for our vehicles or our home and other belongings. That's the funny thing about insurance; in the best-case scenario, other than paying your premiums, you barely even know that you have coverage on the things that matter to you. If you have a lot of interaction with your insurance provider, that's rarely a good scenario because it probably means something has gone amok and you've had to make a claim or two.

    Or, you do what my wife does every couple of years. She shops around for better rates. And wouldn't you know it, when she does this and our current insurance providers get wind of her activities, all of a sudden they can find us better deals and more savings, too.

    We've saved hundreds of dollars as a result of her efforts. But also as a result of her efforts, "big brother" has been our passenger, "big brother" has been monitoring our every driving behavior, and "big brother" has been tabulating those behaviors for "the man" to judge.

    And that’s the trade-off.

    It's changed me as a person, and I’m still contemplating if I’m entirely OK with, when it comes to my autonomy, so eagerly waving my white flag.

    A couple years ago when my wife moved our vehicle insurance to a new provider, the two of us and our two sons for a period of 30 days had to succumb to a little device about the size of a book of matches being plugged into our vehicles under the dash. You barely even knew it was there, but that little gadget that you could hide in the palm of your hand was busy, busy, busy. After the month passed, we were notified that we'd performed well and had saved a few more bucks. Yippee!

    But the big brother beat-down of who I once was as a human being was just beginning.

    She switched us again this spring. We're saving more money. And to save EVEN MORE MONEY! this time there's no device to attach to our vehicles, it's an app on our phones. And it's not for a mere month; for a whopping 90 days every single time we go somewhere in our vehicles, it's all being logged. It’s all being mapped and the distances are being calculated. Day trips, night trips. Every turn. Every time we apply the brakes. Every time we accelerate. Every time we stop at a red light, or a stop sign. All logged, and all evaluated.

    When we open the app to "confirm" our latest trips, we're graded with emojis. My most recent handful of trips all garnered me the super-happy emoji. You know what I mean; it's not just a smiley-face, the mouth on the perfectly round-headed little face is gaping in some kind of laugh action because he's so darn euphoric. The other day my app greeted me with "Good morning, Michael. You have a projected yearly savings of $188. You're trending UP!"

    Then, for some unknown reason, for a few hours the next day I was trending down. I was only projected to save something like $125 a year. Why? Who knows? It’s not like I willfully crunched a turtle trying to cross the highway.

    Saving a few bucks aside, knowing your every driving behavior is being monitored, tabulated and, finally, judged, certainly makes one hyper-sensitive to how one drives. I'm only casually speeding on the highways. In town, I'm braking gently, and accelerating slowly. No more rolling stops. At intersections, I’m looking left, looking right, looking left again and then right again. And one final time left, and one final time right.

    And the Right Track app loves it all. As of this moment, I’m on track to save $193 a year. And it says I’m in “first place,” whatever that means.

    I haven’t been this stoked since I took first place in all of Cub Scout Pack 44 in the Pinewood Derby. My violently accelerating, blazing-fast little wooden car certainly would have been graded in frighteningly poor fashion by Right Track.