Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I caught a fun episode of The Outer Limits the other night about a murder at a secret military base and a highly classified device called O.B.I.T. (which also served as the episode’s title). Originally broadcast in November of 1963, the stars included Peter Breck (later of The Big Valley) as Senator Orville whose committee oversees the base and is investigating the murder and Jeff Corey (star of a BUNCH of stuff, and also a respected acting teacher for many years) as Mr. Lomax, the lead scientist on the project.

As the senator starts interrogating the people at the base he finds them a very paranoid and suspicious group. It turns out they have good reason. O.B.I.T. (for Outer Band Individuated Teletracer - BOOYAH!) is able to lock on to a person’s specific brain wave pattern and “see” what that person is doing and saying, anywhere and anytime. The device’s operator then dutifully records EVERY transgression, offense, grumble, and slip of the tongue, no matter how small or benign. Be careful: everything you say could be used against you some day.

THIS is why I love science fiction, folks. This four decade old episode of a cheap little TV show had some mighty big ideas. Ideas that are still relevant today. This exchange mirrors similar dialogue that has been said concerning the Patriot Act:

Lomax: People with nothing to hide have nothing to fear from O.B.I.T.
Orville: Are you that perfect, Mr. Lomax?

This being The Outer Limits, there has to be a monster, and Lomax, with his funky Dexter’s Laboratory specs and freakishly hairy hand fits the bill (that, and the fact he IS an alien). Senator Orville orders the privacy-invading O.B.I.T.s be dismantled, but Lomax predicts new O.B.I.T.s will soon be created to take their place. He believes the dark side of human nature, the voyeur, will always get the best of us; we can’t resist the urge to peek over the backyard fence, peer through the neighbor’s window, rummage through our families’ and friends’ personal lives.

How many people - those in important positions and just regular folks - have had that “private” email, IM, voice mail message, phone picture, text, or video leaked out to the world? Perhaps we don’t need an O.B.I.T. because we ARE O.B.I.T.

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