Digital Repo

Last night’s evening news presented a segment on an ignition control device
installed in cars sold on credit to “high-risk” consumers. The
device was dubbed “digital repo man” in the news clip (which included
lots of footage of one-handed fumbling with a phone line connection under the
steering wheel). Basically, it works like this:
Car-buyer-with-no-credit needs a set of wheels. Salesperson wants
desperately to serve the consumer by closing the deal. Line of cars have
Digi-repo pre-installed. Deal is settled. Now, each time the
consumer starts the car, a keypad-entered code is required, which tells the car
that the driver is paid up. With each on-time monthly payment, the car
buyer gets a new code–good for the next 30 days. No late payments.
While I haven’t fully mulled over the consequences of such devices, my first
impression is that it adds a layer of complication to common understandings of
ownership for products bought on credit. The role of technology in this
process interests me, too. The electronic gadget becomes a strict,
unwavering control (not unlike in-dash breathalyzers), but the control is tied
to economic status, like an ever-present credit report.

I went online looking for more information about the device, the
company–Pastime–that makes it, and what other surveillance-like mechanisms, if any, they make. I still haven’t found much, even when I search for the company rep cited in the article, Stan Schwarz. Our local news station’s
web site had a word-for-word copy of this brief piece from Car Not Working? Check To See If You Paid Your Bills.
It’s some kind of thinly attributed article in “Ask Asa,” which, as
fully as I can tell, is a team-written advice column on financial matters.
The WNBC site posted the article in early December. Here, in the deep,
deep recesses of the Midwest, our local news station aired it last night.
Which gives me hope that Lord of the Rings: Return of the King will be in local theaters soon!

My searching wasn’t without a fruitful discovery. I found this link for
a visual thesaurus. I’m not a big thesaurus user, but the visual thesaurus, driven by Thinkmap, is kind of like a fish tank populated by words. The associational glide is oddly seductive, relaxing. Useful, perhaps, for
visualizing the fray of connotations detached from contexts.