A Good Thing Never Dies: The Apple Biometric Earbud Hoax

If you were paying attention to tech news last week, you might have heard something incredibly revolutionary: Apple was designing a new biometric EarBud that wouldn’t just play music. It would also listen to your heartrate and monitor your health. Not only that, but they would have iBeacons in them to prevent you from getting lost. The iBeacon thing is cool, but the ability to put biometrics inside of earbuds is nothing short of astonishing: indeed, it portends great strides forward in the areas of medicine, mobile tech, and the Internet of Things, as well as our future with wearable technolog.

A beautiful dream

Needless to say, the news jumped on this, and it spread from blog to blog at the speed of the Internet, even landing on real news. There was just one problem: it wasn’t true. In fact, it was “sourced” from the Secret app, a new forum allowing people to post with absolute anonymity. This can be a good thing for leaking information, or your terrible, terrible, poetry, but the problem is that there is no way to tell when it is someone leaking something important and true or someone just chaffing. In this case, we got the chaff.

There’s a lot to be said about this story on a non-story, and not the least of which is the absolute shoddy journalism by anyone who click-baited with a headline that came from absolutely nowhere credible – real news sources should be ashamed for trying to ape what is destroying them (and they should read this article about their future). Journalism is trying to adapt to new climates, but running with whatever seems cool does a disservice to what I believe can still be a noble profession.

However, it is the “seems cool” that is really catchy here. There is a reason that stories go viral – whether they are cute, weird, disgusting, shocking, or some combination of those. But this is one that briefly captured a lot of people’s imaginations, because it was so cool and seemed so revolutionary. But why? After all, we have EarBuds, and we have biometrics- what’s the big deal about mashing them together like so many hamburger earmuffs?

Everything’s mobile, everything’s cool

What the earbud hoax (or joke) triggered was the idea that everything could be mobile and could be seamlessly integrated into technology that we already have. You already always have your phone on you, whether you are walking or jogging or sitting on the bus, and chances are your earbuds are in, unless you are being directly spoken to by no less than a Cabinet-level member of the Executive branch. If that can also read your heart rate and tell you if your blood pressure is bad, it would be doing an enormous service to your health.

But that is just where it would start. We’ve had such an explosion in technology in the last decade that we are trained to think about what is next. We already know that nanotechnology is making huge advancements in both diagnosing and curing diseases, failures, sicknesses, breakdowns, and other conditions that, along with curiosity and hope, are an inherent part of being human.

Earbuds Controlling Nanobots

So then we extrapolate: what if our earbuds, that vital part of the new millenium, can communicate and and even control nanobots already hanging out, ready to do work on clots and clogs and torn linings, pouncing like gleaming white blood cells, an army of efficiency working unknown in your body? What if our smartphones can diagnose and cure, all while we’re on our normal morning walk? The ability of our devices to communicate with each other will exponentially multiply their speed and their ability to work independent of any more input or guidance. It is the Internet of Things, and our body is one of them.

So that’s why it spread (and partially because, cooly, Apple has been working on such a thing). Some people find the idea of our devices communicating independently exhilarating and liberating, and some find it frightening and confining. Both could be right. But the thrill of this story is that we intuitively believed that such a rumor was possible, and we know now once a barrier is breached, there is no going back. The story may have been false – for now – but the emotions it engendered are just a warmup for the real thing.  

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