Finger

We have frequently considered sports RFID implementations here at sportsBabel, and have described these fluid, location-based tracking technologies as possessing a tactile quality.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that one of the first locational protocols built pre-internet was called Finger. Les Earnest, author of the protocol, writes:

I created Finger around 1971 to meet a local need at the Stanford Artifical Intelligence Lab. People generally worked long hours there, often with unpredictable schedules. When you wanted to meet with some group, it was important to know who was there and when the others would likely reappear. It also was important to be able to locate potential volleyball players when you wanted to play, Chinese food freaks when you wanted to eat, and antisocial computer users when it appeared that something strange was happening on the system.

The only tool then available for seeing who was running on our DEC-10 computer was a WHO program that showed IDs and terminal line numbers for people who were logged in. There was no information available on people who were not logged in. I frequently saw people running their fingers down the WHO display saying things like "There's Don and that's Pattie but I don't know when Tom was last seen." or "Who in hell is VVK and where does line 63 go?"

I wrote Finger and developed the supporting database to provide this information in traditional human terms — real names and places. Because I preferred to talk face to face rather than through the computer or telephone, I put in the feature that tells how long the terminal had been idle, so that I could assess the likelihood that I would find them there if I walked down the hall.

The program was an instant hit. Some people asked for the Plan file feature so that they could explain their absence or how they could be reached at odd times, so I added it. I found it interesting that this feature evolved into a forum for social commentary and amusing observations.

Finger was picked up by a number of other groups with DEC-10 computers that were connected to Arpanet — software flowed in all directions around the net in those days. It later migrated to Un*x, probably via U.C. Berkeley. Somewhere along the line the idea arose to provide a network Finger service. I don't remember who suggested that but it seemed like a good idea at the time so I stuck it in.

ChampionChipThe user would literally be touching the screen, scanning through the other users time-sharing the mainframe, essentially reaching through the wires of the local network and touching the other person — what we have described earlier as vision without sight. Of course, the finger protocol only located a particular fixed terminal on the network and registered the presence or absence of a user at said terminal.

As the gap between computer and body narrows, however, the ability of the computer to shed its fixity and become mobile allows for a more pervasive tracking and control system that may be deployed over more fluid geographies while retaining the tactility of the original Finger protocol.

While the purpose of the application has mutated over time along several dimensions and the role of agency has changed as well, this is essentially what we are describing in the sporting RFID implementation.

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