We’re living in a wonderful world of numbers

The subliminal power that a random combination of numbers has on us has never been more consequential. The top-secret codes we all hold in this highly secured part of our memory: Social security number, credit card number, PIN numbers, ID numbers (and the list goes on), have become essential to our very existence. The recent information technology explosion has summarized the stories of our lives in four or nine simple digits so we can all be meticulously sorted in an immense electronic file cabinet that appears to be infallible. I call it the System. It contains volumes about our identity and proves to be a much more explicit reference to us than our first and last names which are starting to look more like mere formalities.

The trouble with that is the occasional complication with the System, the vicious glitch that can crumble our wonderful world of numbers. I bet Sen. Ted Kennedy can tell us about that, since the illustrious political icon that he is has been pulled aside for secondary screening and told he wouldn’t be able to board onto his plane because he had a “name likeliness with someone of concern.” I’m sure he would’ve never imagined, being a renowned senator, that he would ever be living a terrorist’s nightmare, but it happened. The System made it happen. The Secretary of Homeland Security apologized but his name couldn’t be automatically taken off the list: steps needed to be taken. Even with his high connections he had to suffer the aggravation imposed by the System.

So if a high political figure of the world’s greatest nation can be held up as suspicious in his own country, what would happen if they made a mistake about some common college girl named Marli Lalanne who somehow got listed among the unwelcome? I predict I would be getting neither apology from Tom Ridge or even a chance to ask for one. The moral of this story is that we all need to be aware of the limits and casualties of the system and make sure we control its decisions, not the other way around, especially in sensitive sectors like homeland security.

Marli Lalanne can be contacted at m.lalanne@umiami.edu.