Friday, November 6, 2015

You Could Do That Then

At the last meeting of the neighborhood book club, we discussed Stoner. This week, I happened to think of the episode in which Stoner and his mistress manage an idyll in the Ozarks. It occurred to me that the privacy in which they spent their week would be hard to manage now. Ignoring the whole question of identification, and police (as they do in some places) checking motel ledgers, think of the ubiquity of cameras. Should a professor in 2015 spend a quiet week with his mistress, how long would it be before they showed up in the background of someone's Instagram picture?

That led to the thought of other things hard to manage now.

For example, I worked with a young man with many good qualities, but with a habit of disregarding the traffic laws. The habit brought him many traffic tickets, enough to get a license suspended. However, his family was all from around Washington, and there were enough grandparents and uncles with addresses in other jurisdictions that he could manage three driver's licenses, District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, and always have at least one not suspended.  I last worked with him in the middle 1990s. I'm sure that shortly after 2001 this became much harder to manage.

For another example, one weekend in 1999 I left my driver's license in Pennsylvania. I discovered this some hours before we were to get on a flight overseas. It would almost have been practical for me to drive up to Pennsylvania and retrieve the license. However, it was then possible for me to drive up to a Motor Vehicle Administration station in Glenmont, fill out a form, get a new license, and be home in forty minutes rather than four hours. On my next visit to the Maryland MVA a few years later, the lines were long and slow; the MVA had learned, I suppose at the federal government's teaching, that more documentation is better, and that every applicant is a suspect.

I have no desire to run off to the Ozarks with a mistress. I drive too little to pile up the traffic tickets that would make three licenses useful. And the household where I left my driver's license is gone. But I do miss the world in which it was easier to live unnoticed or unsuspected.

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