It was easy to fall for the sales talk (as it usually is). Wouldn’t I want to know if my neighbour was ill and might pass on the illness to me, I was asked. Also, what if you planned to meet an ageing relative in another part of town, wouldn’t you want to know if he is safe or surrounded by viruses to the right and left of him volleying and thundering? That last is my addition, but the tone was Tennyson-like.

And so I downloaded the App. And now I get phone calls regularly. Not inquiring after any viruses I might be hosting, but asking where I lost marks in my maths paper in the fourth grade in school, or how come I prefer blue shirts to red.

There is no way we can trace personal information or even track your movements, the salesperson had assured me, but here was someone asking why I missed my mother’s birthday in 1984. I realised anyone wishing to write my biography has only to download one of these apps and take up residence near my house. He will be supplied with so much information, he might have to write a nine or ten-volume biography, a virtual minute-by-minute story of my life from birth till just now. Like something out of a Borges story.

Not surprisingly, it is a two-way street. I know from the App that my neighbour once paid someone to write an exam for him (or was that something I read in a book about a President?). And that his wife is a terrible cook who gets home delivery of chicken dishes and passes them off as her own efforts. But I can’t call him up and make fun of all this because he knows that I once threw up at a party and had to be carried home on someone’s shoulders.

We will soon become a people without secrets – and that will be one more difference between us and the lower animals. “I have never done this,” as a statement will drop out of the language. As will “the dog ate my homework.” What doesn’t kill you, as the man nearly said, will make you more truthful. Politicians and straying spouses might fool the people, but not the App.

The App, like the virus it was meant to track, is the great leveller. You know terrible things about your neighbour and he knows terrible things about you. Multiply that by a significant number that covers the whole population, and we have what strategists call a dynamic balance, a Mexican standoff. You can’t complain because I can’t complain. One man’s bad fish is another man’s stolen pen, or something like that.

Read more