Computerized name tags and ID cards may tell more than we want to know about each other.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

May 6, 2004

3 Min Read

Am I underage yet?

We're fearful of revealing personal information to strangers, yet think nothing of striding into a convention with nametags blazing. Now the time-honored tradition of "Hi! My Name Is..." has entered the Millennium.

An outfit called nTAG Interactive markets a tag that "provides a complete event communications system for forward-thinking business and social gatherings."

Being forward thinking myself, if not a social gatherer, I became curious.

Getting to Know You

Googling around, I found a Food & Wine article (April 2004), where I learned that "When guests wear nTAG Interactive's LCD nametags, they can beam their names to each other and swap contact information." (This was in a section of the magazine, by the way, called "Party Technology," which conjured up mildly frightening images for me — robot pinatas, talking birthday cakes, or bad white wine that opens itself.)

Meetings & Conventions Online (February 2004) told me that nTAG can "... monitor attendance, do paperless polling, instant messaging, and a bevy of team-building activities...."

Last year, New Scientist's technology correspondent, David Appell, concurred, discovering that "each delegate's device was preprogrammed with ... personal information supplied earlier to the organizers. This included the wearer's contact details, employment history, their professional interests and personal hobbies...." ("Hello, Will You Be My Friend?" Nov. 15, 2003.)

To my mind, this was going a bit too far. I'm not sure I want conventioneers to see my checkered employment history blinking on my puny chest. Certainly, many may enjoy announcing, "I like cats!" "I collect license plates!" or "I'd rather be fishing!" as they walk across a crowded multipurpose room. Personally, I'm not much for sharing enthusiasms. It's only led to grief for me.

All About You

In the larger world, such tags may soon be compulsory, at least if you want to take a plane anywhere. According to the CBC News online (April 2, 2004), it's already being considered in Canada. An identity card would contain "basic information including name and address, as well as a photo and an electronic copy of the bearer's thumbprint, retina, or palm." Can hobbies and personal interests be far behind?

Here in the United States, Oracle's Larry Ellison has proposed a similar idea. According to Reuters, Ellison said, "We need a national ID card with our photograph and thumbprint digitized and embedded in the ID card ... so when you're walking into an airport and you say that you are Larry Ellison, you take that card and put it in a reader and you put your thumb down and that system confirms that this is Larry Ellison.'' I believe, however, that Mr. Ellison has his own private jet, so I don't know how that would work. Would he card himself?

And what about driving? New cars won't card you, but many of them will have new technology to warn you if you drift into another lane and even alcohol-sniffing programs that stop a car from starting if the smell of alcohol is detected. That's right. Punked by your own vehicle.

Too Much Information!

If these trends continue, computerized nametags, in addition to team-building information, might alert others if you're somebody they should avoid. Things such as, "Warning! Keep me away from margaritas!" "I'm boring!" or "I have intimacy issues!" could be trumpeted to your fellow conventioneers.

But don't worry. If they card you at the airport on the way to the convention, chances are good they won't let you on the plane anyway. Then you can just get in your car, which will yell at you for being a loser, and go home. If it lets you in the door.

Ian Shoales lives in San Francisco, where everybody knows way too much about him already.

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