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Through a Scanner, Lightheartedly

The only events I am routinely early for are airplane flights, so here I sit like an idiot, spending the first 2 hours of my vacation sitting in an airport terminal. BART to SFO was a breeze—I know opponents of the Oakland Airport Connector point to it as an illustration of how BART always underestimates costs and overestimates ridership projections, but at least the SFO extension actually gets you to a terminal, and doesn’t charge anything for the airport shuttle. I might still oppose the OAC if it resembled SFO, but it would be a tougher call.

This post isn’t about the OAC, however. In addition to breezing here on BART, I also breezed through security, because there were no lines. I also got to go through a “millimeter wave imaging technology unit” for the first time—popularly referred to as a full body scanner. It’s a pretty amusing experience. You walk into a clear tube, and then are told to stand on some yellow footprints and clasp your hands above your head.

Given this posture, I worried that the next instruction would be to do a pirhouette or a plie, neither of which I have proper safety training for, but in fact all that happened is that a scanner swept across the surface of the tube. I half expected to find myself beamed onto the Starship Enterprise, but instead I was merely told to leave the tube and stand on some green footprint until I was given the all clear.

Like most people who travel by plane, I’ve grown accustomed to the somewhat arbitrary security apparatus that we are obligated to pass through before we get on a plane, and the body scanner is just the next rung on the ladder. Richard Reid tried to ignite his shoe, so now all of us are obliged to plod through the machines in our stocking feet. A Nigerian set himself on fire while wearing serious explosives, so body scanners will probably soon be de rigeur as well.

Fair enough; I have serious doubts about how much we gain by constantly chasing our tails by defending against the last security breach, but I can’t say that I really have any better ideas. So along we go, slowly disrobing article by article (belts, now, are a no-no in the body scanners). Give us a few more years, and we’ll all be naked as we march in single file through a gauntlet of beeping, whirring machines, like mass-produced dolls being sent through an assembly line.

I personally don’t feel very bothered or invaded by having an image of my body show up on some computer screen, or in a hard drive in some TSA computer. In fact, I wonder if there’s a potential deficit reduction scheme in this technology. After I passed through the scanner, I was kind of curious about what I looked like in the image. Maybe they should offer to sell you prints of your scan before you walk to the gate, just as they take your photo before you get on the ferry to Alcatraz, then try to sell you pictures of yourself after you disembark on the return trip. I might pay good money for a self-portrait taken by a millimeter wave imaging technology unit, if it had an artistic eye.

Almost time to board! I won’t have time to proofread this, so I apologize in advance for any qwerty mis-hits, solecisms, or orthographical errors. And thanks for allowing me to kill some time with you like this…