The first time I encountered an RIFD (Radio-frequency identification) tag was in 1997 at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. The most strikingly beneficial aspect of it was that you didn’t have to get into that awful wrestling match to get across the start line which was such a feature of marathons back then, and necessitated almost as much effort in planning your toilet schedule as in running the race. Your clock would start when you started, not when the gun went off, so if you were on line then, so what. Unsurprisingly RIFD tags have become more sophisticated since those early days: you no longer have to hand them in after the race. They are now tiny and disposable.

A damaged Oyster card showing the RIFD tag and the aerial around the edge of the card

A damaged Oyster card showing the RIFD tag and the aerial around the edge of the card

And we have all become used to them too: the E-Z Pass, FastTrak etc. system of automatic toll collection is something anyone who drives a car is now familiar with. If you use ZipCar, the locking system uses RIFD. The Oyster card, used in London’s public transport works off an RIFD tag, as does my E-passport which was issued in 2007 (apparently E-passports can be hacked, but what can’t?). Walmart is beginning to require suppliers to attach RIFD tags to shipments to ease supply chain management, and many companies now use RIFD in place of swipe cards for access control. There was talk a couple of years ago about our putting RIFD tags in books, which as far as I know hasn’t happened yet. However libraries have been using RIFD, though I’m not sure it has caught on in a big way.

This guy, eager to get a jump on things has gotten an RFID tag implanted in his hand and tells us about it on Medium‘s Backchannel. This may be going too far too fast for many of us. However The Guardian brings us a video report on a Swedish company offering its staff RIFD implants! One of them allowed as how it felt very 2015. But people have less compunction about putting tags in animals: according to Wikipedia all cattle, sheep and goats sold in Australia have to have RIFD tags.

Beacons work the other way round. They use Bluetooth technology to send out signals to receptive passers-by. Apple even has iBeacon. Brave New World tells us of the possibility of our getting notifications as we walk around telling us to enter and buy. And it is beginning to happen: Publishers Weekly reports on early beacon installations in New York and San Francisco, and others in preparation. I suspect however that if bookshops use them so too will everyone else, so as you walk by you’ll be being told there’s a nice discount on Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest, and that fresh donuts have just been delivered, and that those jeans you need are available, and that snow boots are essential, and that . . , and that . . . in a cacophony of such dimension that you’ll have to switch off your smart phone at once.