When Even Your Name Is Secret

I went to renew my driver’s licence early this morning at the new Futamatagawa licence center. Digression time: When I first got my licence, I recall my Korean class classmates asked where I got it. When I told them Futamatagawa, they kept insisting it’s Futakotamagawa because they’ve never heard of Futamatagawa.

Anyhow, the new center looks really beautiful and bright, unlike the old depressing-looking place. This new center is also very efficient as all the areas are marked very clearly and are located within a visible open space where the old place was just huge and confusing like a maze, even though a couple of guys did queue at the wrong line despite very clear instructions.

In Japan, every time you renew your licence, you’ll have to attend a seminar, whose content and duration depends on the status of your licence. The first would be the green licence, followed by blue, and if you haven’t been summoned for flouting any rules, you would finally get the gold licence. In the past, after going through all the complicated application and the seminar, everyone will have to wait and collect their licences at the same counter. This means, you’ll have to wait for about an hour before you finally get the licence.

Now, the licences are given out at each seminar room, which cuts the time down by over 80% as our room today only had about 30 people and it ended in about 5 minutes. Here’s where things get interesting. When the staff comes in to give out driving licences, we were told they will not call our names due to privacy issues. Wow, so now even your name is private information.

If I try, it’s not hard to imagine the possibility of someone learning about a girl’s name there and then later tries to hit on her. But still, that seems to be carrying things a little too far. How they gave out the licence though, was by the last digit of your birthday date, regardless of the year or month. So, if your birthday ends with 1 (i.e 1, 11, 21, 31), you will get your licences first, followed by 2, 3, 4 and so on. For each number called, all those whose birthdate ends with the same number will have their cards laid out in front for you to collect.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: if the cards are laid out in front, then where’s the privacy? The Japanese are not dumb either. They have special slots to insert your cards where only your photograph and family name is visible. Everything else is hidden from view until you pull it out.

But if people keep taking privacy more and more radically, I shudder to imagine what the world would be like in the future. Probably one with no human interaction at all since everything is private information. Perhaps people won’t even tell friends their names at school and attendance is taken via machines. And then you realize, robot uprising isn’t really about robots coming alive to take over the world, but humans dying inside and becoming robots.


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