The Guardian | I’ve got the opening scene of a dystopian thriller all worked out. It’s a hot summer night in a typical suburban flat. A young woman (let’s call her Alison) stands over the body of her boyfriend, who she’s just killed in a fit of madness. A crime of passion. She didn’t mean to do it, but gah – now look at the mess she’s made.
She’s quivering, gazing down at the body like someone staring into a hitherto undiscovered dimension filled with swirling nightmarish tapestries, still clutching the murder weapon in her dismal little fist, breathing through her nose like a cornered church mouse, and somewhere in the background the phone is ringing. Ringing, ringing, ringing. It takes her an age to notice. In a daze she answers it, her eyes still harpooned to the corpse. She presses the receiver to her ear and someone in a call centre greets her by name.
“Hello Alison,” says the voice, which – while friendly – sounds as though it’s reading from a card, for the 50,000th time. “I’m calling from OmniCorps Ltd, and according to our predictive software there’s a 97.8% chance you’ve just murdered your boyfriend. Now, we’re obligated to pass this information on to the authorities, which means the police are already on their way, but before they arrive we’d like to offer you the opportunity to take advantage of an exciting offer. So if you’d like to go to your window and look outside, our escape van should be arriving any moment…”
Alison parts the curtains: it’s already there, impatiently tooting. “Just get in the van,” says the voice. “Get in, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
Still in a trance, she goes downstairs. She gets in. In the back are three other people. All have committed similar crimes within the past hour. Speckled with blood, they stare at each other in crazy silence as the van pulls away.
It turns out that the marketing arm of OmniCorps Ltd has been automatically tracking the entire nation’s internet activity, viewing habits, credit card transactions, use of public transport etc for years, in order to build an exhaustive database of consumer profiles. They’ve become so good at profiling, they’re able to accurately predict whether a given individual will commit a crime, and if so, what time of day they’ll do it. They’re like the “Pre-Cog” department in Minority Report, except that, instead of arresting murderers, they offer them an escape route. But once Alison gets in the van, she’s driven off to a gigantic underground sweatshop, where she and thousands of other murderers are doomed to spend the rest of their lives slaving on a production line, creating bargain-basement products for – you guessed it – OmniCorps Ltd.
That’s the basic idea. It needs work. OmniCorps Ltd needs a better name, obviously. Also the story doesn’t have a second or third act (some sort of prison breakout is in order, I guess). Worst of all, our main protagonist is a murderer, so the average non-murdering audience member might find it hard to empathise with her. Originally, Alison was a man; I made her a woman to sweeten the pill a tad, but maybe her boyfriend needs to have been a serial cheat, or a violent drunk, or at the very least have a taste for plodding indie stadium-rock or something, so we can comfortably forgive her for bashing his skull in with a steak tenderiser or whatever she used.
Anyway, it’d be worth watching, if only because the premise is 23% more plausible now than it was five years ago when I thought of it. Back then, my biggest fear was the mild intrusion of Nectar points. Now I simply assume everything I do is comprehensively probed by the invisible fingers of the central scrutiniser as a matter of course.
In my flat, there’s a full-length balcony window, with no curtains, situated right outside my bedroom. I sleep naked, so if I go for a piss in the middle of the night, I end up flashing the neighbours twice – once on the way to the bathroom, and once on the way back. First time it happened, I vowed to put up an opaque blind. But I haven’t. Partly because after a while I figured, hey, they’ve seen it all before – why deprive them now? But mainly because I live in London, European Graveyard of Privacy.
This place is a joke. Each day I move around carrying a mobile phone (traceable) and an Oyster card (trackable), monitored, on average, by 10 times as many CCTV cameras as there are in the Big Brother house. Wherever I go, a gigantic compound eye peers at the back of my neck. I’m another bustling dot in the ant farm.
Hide indoors? Ha. I’ve got Sky TV. I can’t even draw the curtains and watch Bargain Hunt without some whirring electronic prick making a note of what I’m doing. And forget the internet. Today I blew 20 minutes pointlessly looking up an old kids’ TV show called Animal Kwackers on YouTube. A record of this decision will soon be automatically winging its way to Viacom. I haven’t just wasted my own time; I’ve wasted theirs too. The way things are going, I half-expect to hear a quiet electric “peep” noise each time I flush the toilet; another bowel movement logged by Bumland Security.
But I don’t get angry. I shrug. They won. They won years ago. Like a bear in a zoo, I can rub my head against the wall in despair, or ignore the onlookers and forlornly shuffle around as normal. Past that balcony window. Where each time they get an eyeful, an electric peep sounds somewhere in the dark.
Yeah. Never mind a boot stamping on a human face forever. A smug electric peep each time they catch sight of your bumhole. That’s your future, right there.
· This week Charlie spent an inordinate amount of time playing the Pixies’ Doolittle album – not on a stereo, but actually physically playing it, sort of, courtesy of Rock Band on the X-Box 360: “It’s not tragic, all right, because it’s a multi-player activity, with real, live friends in the room joining in. Even if I am ultimately a man in his mid-30s playing a plastic guitar.”