Sunday, January 23, 2011

Walmart Special

I was reading in the news where Walmart, the world's largest retailer, will be using its new inventory-tracking program to better help its numerous stores keep track of inventory. And no I'm not talking about migrant workers. This newest technology for tracking inventory involves using Radio Frequency Identification technology, or simply put, RFID.

Walmart plans to use this to replace their old outdated method which requires much needed manpower and involves painstakingly taking long hours going up and down the aisles counting each and every item. Walmart plans to have all of its store products tagged with micro-chips to make them user-friendly to the new RFID system. This could potentially make it as easy as looking at a computer screen to monitor not only what is actually leaving the shelves but at what rate. This valuable technology would be useful in keeping track of inventory, allowing the immediate reordering of products as they leave the shelves, and the marketing of certain products - not to mention the obvious benefit in the prevention of shoplifting.

Brilliant idea, right? Not so fast. While many see the usefulness of such technology there are many groups protesting the idea of big box stores such as Walmart, Target, and even Home Depot from using it. These groups say that essentially it will be yet one more step towards a "big brother is watching" society. Many people feel that the stores and thus the government will be able to keep track of them through the microchips found in these products as they leave the store shelves and are taken into the homes of the people who buy them. For example, as one article hypothesized, if you were to buy underwear from Walmart and they have a RFID chip embedded in them, someone - whether that someone is Walmart or The Government or your actual Big Brother - could potentially be used to track you whenever you are wearing those underwear. It is at this point in my story I feel I must ask...boxers or briefs?

Potential problem? Many would say yes, me however, I say meh. I mean what's the big deal? If you have a problem with this technology, you are obviously missing the bigger picture. I see much more of an upside to these chips than a downside. Let me explain.

Let's just say, hypothetically, that the technology was advanced enough to the point where it was possible to track a pair of underwear that has been embedded with a "Big Brother" chip through the vast satellite systems above us. So at any point we could pin point exactly where on the earth that particular pair of underwear was, and for the purpose of this story let's just imagine that the underwear in question was a pair of white boxers with red hearts on them.

If this technology existed then surely the technology would exist for my underwear to send me an email if I were to, say, have a accident in them. The email would be sent immediately upon detection of the incident alerting me of the potentially embarrassing situation, and may even go as far as suggesting what stain remover and laundry detergent to use to remove it. An email that would inform me of the proper laundering techniques for a pair of soiled underwear as soon as it happened would be absolutely helpful. If I have a smart phone on me - which, who doesn't these days? - maybe the microchip could direct me to the nearest laundromat and the quickest route to get there. Taking this a step further, maybe the chips could also be placed in babies' diapers, and a phone call could be made to the parents as soon as the diaper was full and needed to be changed, thus eliminating the embarrassing but preferred method most widely used by parents, the "lift-and-sniff" (see earlier post on this blog entitled "The Lift-and-Sniff").

Such underwear would be useful in other ways as well. I could imagine having the underwear on and if I ever were in a car accident, hearing a sweet and lovely voice emanating from my skivvies, "Mr. Palenske, I see that you have been in an accident. Are you all right? Stay calm. I have help on the way." Or maybe an older person who has fallen would simply have to touch the microchip in their underwear and yell, "Help, I've fallen and can't get up!" The underwear could immediately send this message to the proper authorities.

Or could you imagine driving in a new city and getting lost, but being able to just ask your underwear for directions? "Mr. Palenske you will need to take a right in a quarter of a mile. Oh, and you might want to lay off the Mexican food next time." Or what if I got lost while camping and had no phone reception? All I would have to do is remove my underwear and place them on a stick and wave them above my head, sending an immediate distress call to alert the search and rescue in that area.

Really, the possibilities for this technology are limitless. And think about this: in today's economy jobs are important. Think about the infrastructure and manpower that would be required to run this system. People to track these satellite signals, people to track valuable inventory, sweet-voiced ladies to inform me of accidents in my underpants - that's a lot of jobs! Walmart, already one of the biggest employers in the world, could singlehandedly turn around America's fragile economy. Well, unless they decided to outsource those jobs to India.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we shouldn't be afraid of this technology, we should embrace it. There could be great benefits for the RFID chips, even if it is in everything, including our underwear.

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Life is just too funny to be taken so seriously