Fingering out life's problems


In my perfect world, wars will be fought by having leaders face-off in one-on-one fights to the death in steel cage matches on pay-per-view television, and schools across the world would be thought of as safe havens for our students to learn without fear of violence or oppression. There would be food and shelter for all, and people would take responsibility — and be accountable — for their own actions.

In my perfect world, Spandex and bikinis could only be worn in public by people approved by a special board of discerning individuals and “24” would come on every night instead of once a week, allowing this pulsating ulcer in my stomach to stop beating like a trained monkey on a set of drums after six cups of coffee ...

But I digress.

In my perfect world, parents would never outlive their children, children would never outlive their parents and it would be completely acceptable to give the finger to a cashier at the store after waiting in line behind some knucklehead in the mood to discuss the alien impregnation headlines on the tabloids.

A-ha!

According to an article on CNNMoney.com, that last fantasy could soon be a reality. A report by an analyst with Sanford Bernstein suggested that some major retailers could begin using biometrics to get people through lines with less cost and more safety from identity theft. Basically, a consumer would register his or her name with the store, provide bank information and get a scan of his or her fingerprint into the system.

The advantages are pretty intriguing. By supplying checking account information, the retailers would incur less fees than the credit card companies would charge. For a “low-margin” business, like a grocery store or Wal-Mart, the net cost of a transaction could reduce anywhere from 40 to 70 cents, according to AMR Research’s Scott Langdoc, as cited in the CNNMoney article. That could be substantial growth in profits for these businesses.

Also, vendors of the biometric products said in the story that the fingerprints can not be reproduced, thanks to the technology. Afraid of having someone chop off your finger to go buy 750 pounds of sliced pears at Costco? Don’t be. Consumers would also have to supply secondary information at the register, such as a telephone number. Besides, the bloody stump might be a a sign for the cashier to question the validity of the sale.

Oh, this does present possibilities doesn’t it?

One could present a (green) thumb for payment when purchasing items at a nursery, or the ring finger when at the jewelry store. The old extended pinky would do the trick at a tea house, and the index finger would seem to be the proper choice at the “point” of sale. As for the middle phalange, I would reserve use of that particular form of payment for paying traffic tickets or filling my car with gas.

My little way of “sticking it to the man,” you know?

It would certainly seem the “electronic wallet” concept that I first heard mentioned by Bill Gates in an early ’90s interview could actually be coming to fruition. As I recall, Gates spoke of a single card we would carry that would replace the need for credit cards, cash, drivers licenses, etc. He even explained that he could legitimately see the card face rotate images of our loved ones, meaning my father could toss that wrinkled photo of me on my 11th birthday that he currently keeps in his wallet.

Don’t ask how I know it’s still in there. I swear, I was just looking for a stick of gum when I was visiting my parents over Christmas.

But doesn’t all our information being held at the tip of our fingers seem like an even cooler idea? The possibilities are endless. Pulled over for a ticket? Place your finger in a portable scanner police would carry and let them access your driving and insurance information without the possibility of being shot while reaching in your glove compartment for the insurance card buried under your car’s manual. Trying to get a drink in a bar while under 21? Sorry, pal, you’re not faking that ID.

Employment history, emergency medical information, references from past girlfriends or wives ... yikes, scratch that last one. But the possibilities are indeed endless. Shoot, add a silicone chip and a few alterations to the equation and our hands could be used as cell phones, MP3 players and laser guns that fire off burning rays of mayhem at reporters who can’t meet deadlines and ...

Sorry, got in a bit of a techno-digression there.

My point is that we could be on the verge of tackling efficiency issues while increasing safety from identity predators.

I tip my finger to that.