Satellites are so powerful they can now read license plate numbers on the ground. Soon they will be reading lips. The ultimate voice recognition.

On this first day of summer, this has given me an idea.

You know how, in The World According to Garp, John Irving warns his young son to be wary of The Undertoad whenever he goes swimming? His parents have told him to watch out for the undertow and, mishearing, he has come to imagine it as a giant, slimy menace.

The undertow is real! Ocean currents are real!

One minute, you’re in shallow water by the shore, the next minute you’re floating just beneath the horizon, toward the Galapagos. With enough food and water — none — for maybe a day and a half. Your cell phone, even if it were not back on your towel along with your summer reading, is even more useless than it is in that blind spot on the Triborough Bridge.

But imagine a system of satellites so numerous and powerful a decade or two from now that they form the Geodesic Oversight Dome (G.O.D.).

There you are, in terrible trouble, knowing nothing of computers and satellites, thinking only of sharks and thirst and sunburn. (“I told you to put on sunscreen,” are the first words you can hear your mother saying if you ever actually somehow make it back to shore.) You have tried paddling with your hands, kicking with your feet. But the current is too strong, and you are now entirely alone, bobbing out of sight of land.

Done for.

You look up to the sky and mouth, silently, “Oh, please, God. Help me.” You make all sorts of promises to be good (“no more day trading, I promise!”). Only this time, where it would once have been touch and go whether help would arrive, the Geodesic Oversight Dome efficiently reads your lips, sends a signal to a Coast Guard computer, and forty minutes later you are back on the beach calling your broker.

Could this be the secret plan Craig McCaw has in mind?


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