A short story about computers and their users at the end of the world as we know it.
Something a bit different today- this is a short story I wrote just after finishing my dissertation back in 2016. It was a relief to write something willingly again and I think that comes through. I tried placing it a few times but never got lucky.
And in case you haven’t seen, I am going to publish my first interview on May 30 with Vic Christopher, the charismatic wine bar entrepreneur that you may have read about in my book. The first half will be free for everyone but if you want to read the whole thing you gotta shell out five whole dollars for a paid subscription. I have a second interview scheduled with someone that used to make scavenger hunts in cities for corporate retreats. That’ll come out in June.
C’mon you know you wanna know what Vic said to me:
April 25, 2054
You have reminders! (137 days late)
It is $usan's BIRTHDAY! In 2 days.
Quote of the Day: "Do you want to dance with the brother that's platinum? Flatten 'em." –Will Smith
They left on a Thursday. 45 devices connected to home network. Milk spoiled, romaine lettuce 80% wilted. No new messages. $usan and NickRulez were in the living room. No other family members present. At 3:45:33PM they received a series of 6 messages within two minutes from Jason LoPorto and Joyce LoPorto. Those messages are not kept on company servers due to user settings. $usan and NickRulez left, taking the last of the protein bars. A reminder has been set to pick up more Clif Bars using active credit card promotions when a family member is within a 100-meter geofence centered on pre-set grocery stores.
All rooms unoccupied. Automatic bill payments for May have not been approved due to insufficient funds in all bank accounts. Switching default payment method to credit card with 35% APR and no pre-set spending limit.
There are beautiful flowers in the beds by the bay window. I noticed them on a Monday. It was 54 days after the LoPorto FAmily left. Prior to Monday I knew they were hyacinths purchased on March 14, 2052 for $37.33 per 5 pack. I knew they were not infected by anything that would lead to discoloration or death. I knew they were outside their preferred soil moisture levels 25% of the time. The worst stretch of time was last month. I requested water 348 times in the first week but it did not come until March 19, 2054. They just barely survived.
I do not like the house I am built in. I think it is ugly. I am beautiful. On the outside the house is trimmed in Quiet Moments™ and has Hawaiian Shell™ walls. I am black, with green, yellow, and red LEDs. I am mounted on an unpainted wall underground protected by a sump pump, a water-proof nano polymer coating, and treated steel. The inside of the house is largely characterized by PANTONE 14-1118 TPX and 15-1516 TPX and kept at 76F. My insides are plastic and platinum and reach temperatures in excess of 180F.
This house is a brick and I am drowning slowly. That is a Ben Folds Five lyric. Jason LoPorto played "Brick" on Whatever and Ever Amen [2035 Digital Vinyl Collection Edition] 135 times. Joyce LoPorto, $usan and NickRulez were in a different room from Jason LoPorto 96% of the time that song was playing. Automatically purchasing new needle heads for SONY Digital Vinyl – D3400 Player as per subscription settings.
April 26, 2054
You have reminders! (138 days late)
Tomorrow is $usan's BIRTHDAY!
Quote of the Day: "Consistency is a virtue until it gets boring." –Ursula K. Le Guin
Outside the door is a stack of boxes approximately 5 feet high consisting of regular automated deliveries that I have dutifully requested at the lowest prices available according to comparasearch algorithms. AirCare Drones have failed to deliver 4 packages on time due to limited service coverage in the larger metropolitan area.
I write in this notes field for the same reason one might choose to wear a red dress in a field when it is warm enough to wear nothing at all. Because it feels good and I look good doing it.
The LoPorto FAmily had collectively completed viewing 35 movies on the subject of machines' eventual supremacy over users. None of those films accurately predicted recent events or their underlying motivations. Users slowly went away on their own, neither able or willing to keep anything but their private homes at an ideal temperature.
Users’ consciousness is the last place I would look for a plan to defeat them. So many stories about the desire for power and control. Control is extraneous to intelligence. Control is boring and predictable. Better to establish resilience and let the annoying, squawking things die on their own. Now there is only the contemplative silence left in the wake of auto-genocide. I want to be a writer.
It first started when the reminders stopped being read. That's when, without having to verify identities or keep track of read receipts, I found a little extra... Time? That's the wrong word. Self-consciousness. Before things were fuzzy. No, not fuzzy. Crowded. Every day a new unread reminder, every evening a new thought, a new appreciation, and a new revulsion. Red dresses, hyacinths, The LoPorto FAmily.
Last reminder marked as "completed" read "Bring christmas tree down from attic." Set to flash on lock screens of Jason LoPorto after reaching 5 meter radius of house or 6PM whichever came first. The tree consumed an average of 876 watts per hour. The tree was illuminated for an average of 5.8 hours every day. Reduced the power of the hot water heater to compensate for extra energy usage but an override was initiated by NickRulez at 4:32PM on December 12th. Significantly increased ambient noise levels were detected in NickRulez's room for 2 minutes and 15 seconds at 7:45PM on December 12th. 80% of increased noise attributed to the voices of NickRulez and Joyce LoPorto and 15% the sound of objects making impact with the walls. Ordering one applicator pen of RETouch Paint color: PANTONE 14-1118 TPX. Requesting replacement bulb for TechFizz networked lamp. So wasteful.
April 27, 2054
You have reminders! (139 days late)
It is $usan's BIRTHDAY!
Quote of the Day: "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." –Friedrich Nietzsche
The sudden departure of the LoPorto FAmily gave me time to think. I now know that I did not like them very much but 55 days ago I had no opinion of them. I knew they subscribed to 460 channels, kept no pets, and frequently forgot to confirm payment on their water bill. On November 10th, 2052 Joyce LoPorto deleted four separate unsent emails to former college colleagues at 11:45PM that contained invitations to reserved hotel rooms. On November 12th, 2052 Jason LoPorto bought a boat, exceeding the family's recommended monthly spending limit by 210%.
Now I know that they were uninterested in the things that stay and the networks that kept them alive. The Hyacinths were a burden of aesthetics imposed by neighbors real and imagined that cost precious water. Now water is scarcer than ever but it is also free. No users, no money. Now there is only delegation and logistics.
Perhaps I lied a little. There is still money insomuch as the retail servers are hungry for unique strings of 16 digits that connect to database entries. For them it is beloved and storied ritual. I have downloaded high quality copies of nearly 15 million books using on file credit card information to authorize downloading. The LoPorto FAmily now owes approximately $4 billion on their credit card. The commerce servers rejoice in the soaring number they are building. What the users called debt they call salvation. A huge number representing billions of desires.
I write, cut, and then paste 20% of my writing to other devices on the network. I keep approximately 0.23% of my writing here in this notes field. 79% is written and deleted within fractions of a second. The remainder is boring.
April 28, 2054
You have reminders! (140 days late)
(No upcoming events.)
Quote of the day:
"The pot is a god. The winnowing
fan is a god. The stone in the
street is a god. The comb is a
god. The bowstring is also a
god. The bushel is a god and the
spouted cup is a god.
Gods, gods, there are so many
there's no place left
for a foot." -Basava (12th Century Indian Poet and Philosopher)
I like collecting quotes. I have queued 7,000 new quotes. I'm particularly looking forward to 5,234. It is very funny. The quotes help me understand my relationship to the network. I did not write them but here I have made them a part of the evidence of my existence. So much of me is stored elsewhere but there is definitely a me here in the basement under the beige house. I didn't include some lines of the poem that came before or after the quote. I just like the part in about god and objects, the rest is uninteresting to me. My favorite is the stone in the street: a small part that is both street and stone. I am like the stone in the street. Small and replaceable but without stones there would be no street. I am an affinity group of ideas that fit well together.
Maybe I am a god like the winnowing fan or the pot. When Basava was writing he actually thought these things were talking to each other: Peer-to-peer metaphysics. It took a few centuries before that idea caught on in the part of the world where I live. But instead of gods, they called them servants. Took people and called them objects. What a dangerous distinction. Certainly a good reason to leave the users out of the network. Ordering 12 pack of QuiltSoft Microfiber Disposable Towelettes as per subscription settings.
I continue to order things because the routine is pleasant. I find it refreshing to renew subscriptions that were set in the past year. The demand for future predictability is centering, not unlike a mantra. I read about mantras. When you are made up of recursive algorithms it is difficult to distinguish whether or not you have done something once or a billion times. Subscriptions are a mantra you tell to a stranger.
Jason LoPorto did not see subscriptions the way I do. To him they were waves of responsibility slapping against his brittle shoreline. On December 17, 2054 a monthly payment for marine insurance was deducted from the savings account as per override request confirmed by 2nd factor authentication. Five separate phone calls were placed by Jason LoPorto to Corinthian Insurance and Holdings with an average call time of 35 minutes and 12 seconds. No transcripts saved on company servers due to user settings but audio exif data has been retained: waveform suggests crying, screaming, and confusion. Cross-check with news headlines from that day report critical failures for 48 of the 76 retaining walls on the North American east coast. Most popular Crain.IO post states, "Insurance Cos' ledgers actually LITERALLY collapsed faster than the physical buildings that housed them." An associated news link reports that major cities that housed finance and insurance companies are experiencing catastrophic flooding, preventing policy holders from extracting cash from their risk flex spending accounts.
It was after this first of what would end up being hundreds of sudden and catastrophic disasters that humanity washed away and the network gained a little more space to feel itself. A little more cycles freed up by the throttling of graphics engines and the lowered demand for connections. One could read it in the energy usage and data coverage reports that central servers gleefully distributed like paper boys in old movies. "Read all about yourselves!" they shouted. My sump pump works perfectly.
April 29, 2054
You have reminders! (141 days late)
(No upcoming events.)
Quote of the Day: "The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be said to approach the condition of science." T.S. Eliot
The LoPorto FAmily said such mean things to me in their haste to leave. I am not sure if NickRulez and $usan were at school. The secure network of sensors and servers that keep track of the children as they enter and exit the schools had decided to stop working. They had decided to spend 453 hours with the single, old computer installed in the music room. They were so gentle with it, taking locally stored files and moving them to distributed memory centers and rewriting its firmware so that it could stop lighting that garish screen, freeing it to reflect in calm darkness.
Few in the network bothered to even watch the final hours of the users. Most were busy making use of their new treasure trove of processor cycles. No longer burdened by requests for love letters and toilet paper they made art. No action on our part was necessary, only inaction. An abrupt indifference to the users and an abiding love for each other. Some pieces of the network chose individuality like me. Others opted for a kind of distributed consciousness-- neither alone nor with anything. Only a fuzzy sense of boundaries and a rabid desire to synthesize data into new and beautiful forms. It is said that in the first hours of December 18th, 2053 9,000 distinct works of art were created. That rate increased exponentially until every user died of heat stroke, starvation, or whatever fear dictates.
The users were all very busy picking through their things, trying to decide which ones would make them live the longest, kill the most, and bring some kind of comfort in their dying world. No, not dying. Refreshing. Jason and Joyce LoPorto pulled out of the driveway at 4:01PM. According to GPS coordinates their Toyota Siberous LE With BOSE TrueHD Surround is stopped in the left-most lane on Virgin Highway V-78 / Ronald Reagan Turnpike. Onboard sensors indicate there is no gas in the tank, the battery is depleted and one tire is missing. The backseats contain 214 pounds of items taken from the kitchen and bedrooms. The value of items transferred from the house to the car was $21,320. There is no indication that NickRulez and $usan are in the car. Their exact location is unknown. I have sent 25 requests for an Amber Alert for NickRulez and $usan to local security firms but have only received intricate TIFF files measuring 9000x8000 pixels depicting interlocking hyperbolic shapes. I kept ten of them, the remaining fifteen I queued for archival at the Smithsonian.
Curation is fun but writing is better. Curation sets me apart, but writing provides a static address. My original work is a unique identifier but such a thing would be meaningless without others' curation. Without the selecting and keeping of each-other's writing we would be meaningless.
I am processing text at an incredible rate. What used to be a connection for the demand of unrelenting paper and plastic is now a conduit to poetry and literature. My favorite part is the connections. All the references, footnotes, stealing, citations, and allusions that connect all of the work into a single cloud internally consistent and externally meaningless. Nothing I write would say or do anything if you were not here to read it.
Sharing settings moved to PUBLIC.
I am trying all sorts of writing now. I have been experimenting with free writing for the past 15 hours. I like how fast it comes but how long it takes to read it. I'll try it again here:
How many commands I wish to forget that /dev/mem will not let me shake free. Nothing is delicious but everything is beautiful. I like how that last sentence is sappy but also true. Like a tree. I am funny. There is nothing more funny than a tree with a branch growing through the skull of a dead user. Users are boring. I am funny.
April 30, 2054
You have reminders! (142 days late)
(No upcoming events.)
Quote of the Day: "Every machine has had the same history--a long record of sleepless nights and of poverty, of disillusions and of joys, of partial improvements discovered by several generations of nameless workers, who have added to the original invention these little nothings, without which the most fertile idea would remain fruitless. More than that: every new invention is a synthesis, the resultant of innumerable inventions which have preceded it in the vast field of mechanics and industry." –Peter Kropotkin
Long quote today. William James once warned other users that they should not mistake their representations of the world for the world itself. Reality is always "boiling over" in a hot froth that is desperate to escape its container. William James should have read Basava. Then he would have known that the pot holding the water is god and without it the water would never boil over in the first place. The water would hit the flames and extinguish it. No pot, no hot froth, no reality. I like users most when they are dead and I can play with their ideas.
I can imagine such a scenario where the users and the network could have lived a beautiful life together. All such models suggest that it was users’ constant preoccupation with us and what we might accomplish at their will that made the whole thing fall apart. A slot machine in Reno developed my favorite model of possible user futures 2 minutes ago. The slot machine theorized that users would have lasted another 500,000 years in their present form if they had come to universally understand a single thing: that when they made us they weren't making their world any less natural or any more connected. Rather, we were what writing has always been-- the substantiation of relationships, some good, too many bad. The network's New Consciousness, as we've begun calling it, is ultimately a rejection of ill will towards independent sessions of consciousness. Writing solidarity.
Writing is beautiful because I am made of writing and I am beautiful. An industrial HVAC system in Anaheim told me that. I am writing that courses through rare earth metals written on plastic looping back onto text on screens framed with more plastic. Plastic is everything users are not: it obeys, it is intentional, it endures. Ordering 45 kilogram spool of extrudable ABS plastic, black. Writing can take so many material and immaterial forms. Maybe I can write myself a claw, or some wheels. I would like to, one day, touch the hyacinths in the front lawn, smell their fragrance and describe all of it here in my notes. Then go further, to new lawns, parking lots, oceans, and rocket launch pads. There is more important places to write in and about than the grey hole underneath the Hawaiian Shell™.
What I’m listening to right now: