This being a newspaper, there should be a newsy reason I bring the following to your attention. And there is. Trust me!
Granted, my definition of "news" consists of things like "Bit-O-Honeys seem to have waned in popularity," but trust me.
How's this for a hook on which to hang a slab of freshly rendered news: We're in the summer vacation travel season, and that means many of you will be getting on a plane. If you're a modern-type person, this means beeping your phone over a glass plate. It's so gosh dang cool, no? Oh, how you look down on those low-tech types using a paper boarding pass. "Hey, gramps, do you also hunt for the TV listings in the newspaper to see what's on CBS so you can set your VCR? Ha, ha! You old ...
"Wait! My phone's dead. I forgot to charge it. I can't board. Your primitive way of doing things is actually superior, and has made me, the sophisticated user of technology, shamed by your example."
That never happens. No one misses a plane because their phone is dead, to use a phrase that would have seemed surreal 20 years ago. But there is an unspoken hierarchy of cool when these technological innovations settle into the mainstream. The people who beep! their phones on the reader are at ease in the ways of the new world, and the people with paper are like hunched peasants from the old country spreading out crumpled zlotys to secure a berth on the ship to Ellis Island.
Bad news for the proud moderns: The boarding pass on your phone is so first-quarter 2019.
From now on, you will use your face.
And there it is: the newsy hook. Soon Delta at MSP will let you use facial recognition to board, instead of getting out your phone with your hand and using muscles to put it somewhere, which is so 2018.
How do I get my face to the airline, you ask? Surely this is one of those things for which you sign up in advance, like the Special Persons Line where you breeze right past security, and everyone stares daggers at your back. Even the most devout advocate of the free market looks at these people and thinks, "Come the revolution, comrade, your kind will swing from the streetlamp."
The rest of us are taking off shoes and belts and standing in the scanner looking like we're being robbed at gunpoint, and then we get a gloved hand in the groin because there's a tiny wad of paper, like, one-eighth of a Dentyne gum wrapper, and we have to stand in the line of shame with the idiots who thought they could bring 47 bottles of lotion and shampoo on the plane.
Not you, Mr. Pre-Cleared; you could be a hairy, bearded, wild-eyed anarchist with a clichéd round bomb like you see in cartoons, fuse sparking, and they'd beep you through. "Hold your bomb while you take a glass of Champagne, sir?"
Here's the thing. You don't sign up for the facial recognition. You don't send them your face.
They already have it.
This part is just ... glided over in the news reports, waved away like a minor detail you needn't worry your silly little head about.
The picture they probably have is my passport photo, taken in 2010. Therein lies a problem. It was, to be frank, a fat year. My head is unusually round, and I'm smiling; I look like a pumpkin pretending he got the joke.
You're not supposed to smile for your passport picture, I understand. All women should look like dead-souled international assassins, and all men should look as if the larger version of the photo shows them holding a black board with white numbers.
So I guess I'll have to stuff my cheeks with cotton before I lean into the machine that connects to a database of everyone's mug, and hope it doesn't go off —
"Sorry, sir, the system says you need to look a bit more chagrined."
"That's what I was trying to do."
"No, it was coming up as abashed. We need chagrined for a true match. Also, what were you thinking when you took the passport picture?"
"How I seem to be on that inevitable road to goblinhood while my wife just keeps looking ageless and serene?"
"Hold that thought. That's it. OK, you're good to board."
Many people whose international jaunts are infrequent are sometimes surprised to learn that they can't enter a country with a valid passport if it expires in six months. This makes me wonder if they have computer simulations of your image that will deny you boarding if they don't think you'll have the same face in six months.
I don't know what they do with people who grew a beard, but there's probably the option to shave on the spot. Or use your phone.
Or, heaven forbid, paper. There will be a day when a plane flies almost empty because the facial database was corrupted, the phone app link was down and the only person who got on had a crumpled paper rectangle with the magic squiggle written by a tired TSA agent. Paper always works.
In 10 years we'll be rolling our eyes at people who printed off a picture of their face to use as a boarding pass.
Who am I kidding? Ten years? One.
firstname.lastname@example.org 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks facebook.com/james.lileks