I wrote this piece in April 2010, after a bitter experience with someone who blogged. I won’t go into the details – now or ever – but this started as my own personal rant, which then became a piece of short fiction. Please comment – I’m looking for feedback on my ability to create different ‘voices’ for each character. Did I achieve that here?
I have had the scariest thought: what if – in our over-networked society, where online presence is king of all things – those who are confident or self-obsessed enough to blog constantly and consistently are the single biggest influence in our world’s history? What if those of us who choose NOT to live a publicly examined life end up losing our voices in the mental flotsam and jetsam of bloggers, Tweeters and vloggers who pollute the ether with “OMG”s and multiple examples of incorrect punctuation and spelling?
The mind boggles at the distinct possibility that society as we know it is degrading… and that by even entering this status, I am potentially feeding that degradation. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it needed to be said/written/posted/blogged. Just once. To put that thought out there.
Is it possible that those who blog loudest and blog longest will be the ones who control the world?
Status updated, I settle back in my chair and rest my eyes. This is the part of the day I hate: the obligatory networking. Everyone tries so hard to be pithy or witty, or a bit of both, because everyone knows that everyone is watching. Reading. Judging. Liking. Or even … commenting.
When CyLabour came into power, social networking sites became the voice of the people; it was a novel idea – using modern technology to update and invigorate the old ideal of democracy. Many people embraced it, though inevitably many began to abuse it whenever and however they could. CyLabour knew that multiple-avatar abuse would pervert their own directives and thus positioned many fail-safes, safeguards, firewalls and filters throughout the UKEthernet. They even employed scores of the most notorious hackers, giving them legitimate purpose to infiltrate, and hack out avatar abusers, and to develop new technology to locate, and even anticipate, new methods of avatar abuse. All done in the name of NewDemocracy. Technocracy. Network-ocracy.
All I knew was that the world had gone crazy.
Facebook status updates were now mandatory; all citizens had to update a minimum of three times a day, with at least two hours in-between updates. Statuses must be a minimum of 140 characters, and could not be repeated within a week; so no getting away with merely typing: “had grapefruit for breakfast”, followed by “wheatgerm toast for lunch with grapes”. All members of UKEthernet over the age of 16 had to update statuses, demonstrating Personal Learning and Thinking Skills, focusing on being Reflective and Insightful. Failure to do so was unheard of. No one had ever met someone who didn’t update pithily and on-time; the NetRumour was that punishment was swift and final. But it was never any clearer than a *shudder* in someone’s IM box, or a L in a message; no one was talking. But everyone was updating. It was the CyLabour way. Keep everyone out in the open, and keep all the information in the dark.
I crushed my eyes shut, trying to blot out the light from the screen and alleviate some of the grainy tiredness from them before getting back to work. As I opened them, a comment had already appeared on my status; I flinched, until I realised that the name belonged to one of my voluntary friends.
Morgan Steele: has created a new headspace for herself, in which she may play and frolic. Open house on Saturday!
Nina Richardsons: Can I come? Would love to see how you’ve decorated the loft “headspace”! Chintz or Gothic? 😉
Exhaling, I realised how stupid I had been with my choice of words; “headspace” – what was I thinking? That kind of insular and isolating vocabulary is a neon warning flare to CyLabour’s watchdogs. Thankfully Nina caught it before I did, and her comment redefined it clearly, heading the watchdogs off before they came a-sniffin’, ready to pounce and imprison for a “lack of community spirit”. I did not dare delete the whole thing either, since that would be flagged up as unusual behaviour and I would be investigated anyways.
It was all a bit too Big Brother original recipe; paranoia fits my personality too well, and I am constantly in danger of spiralling out of control. I closed my eyes again, and began my own controlled breathing exercise to tamp down the paranoia and swelling panic. Soon, I was under control again, and reached for the keyboard to express my thanks to Nina for saving me from myself.
Morgan Steele: :P@Nina. You know that Gothic is so not my thing, and Chintz makes me vomit. Look forward to a NewRomantic/Minimalist style – clean lines with lots of roses…
My hands were shaking, and my forehead was slimed with sweat; the fear and relief were too close to the surface, too much the same emotion. I really had to get myself under control, and soon; I didn’t want to emulate Christian Bale in Equilibrium and open up fire on anything and everything that moved. Two problems with that scenario: couldn’t fire a gun to save my life, and that was a movie.
The bell went, and I had to teach my class. I minimised my Facebook page, and opened up the i-Classroom window, and greeted the mosaic of faces of my students as their log-windows opened up around the screen.
Balancing coffee and tablet screen, I nudged my way out the door to enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine. My eyes watered as sunbeams shot between the early leaves on the trees, and I stumbled, nearly losing my grip on everything. Coffee sloshed out of the cup, but missed the computer cradled in my other arm; I had to grit my teeth against the discomfort of coffee-soaked jeans until I could empty my load on the patio table. As I shook off the excess, I peered into the cup: still a good two-thirds full, so that was a small grace.
With tablet screen in front of me, and coffee within arm’s reach – though not within splash radius of the computer – I settled in to update Facebook for the last mandatory time today. I maximised the window and had to blink twice as the multiple comments from my “headspace” status unrolled across the screen.
James Songter: “headspace” – what a brilliant concept! Decorating your own mind, away from everyone else. Very individual and daring!
I always hated that guy; his ‘comment’ will only exacerbate the potential problems, if CyLabour Hacks see this. I groaned as I realised that Jim did that on purpose, to get me into trouble, to get revenge on me for a years’ old insult that has faded into a jumbled mess. I can’t even delete comments or updates; there is no “undo” function anymore. A mistake made is a mistake scrutinised for years.
Carly Simons: Oooh! Didn’t know you redecorated! What time on Saturday? Bring your own housewarming gift?
Clarise Johns: New Romantic/Minimalist? How terribly gauche of you, darling! I thought I’d taught you better than that.
At least these two were trying to help, to minimise the potential damage, as were the majority of other comments from other online friends. There were other vitriolic comments from people who were revelling in my stupidity, and they were doing their best to hammer the final nail in. As I scanned and scrolled down the page, the last comment left no doubt that the damage was done. And was irreversible:
CyLabour Hack213DP7: Your status update has been flagged for further
investigation. Please await the imminent arrival of a government official.
This account is now locked down, and mandatory status updates are
temporarily suspended, pending decision.
My eyes and hands had frozen in place, poised above the tabletscreen and unable to move anywhere else. That dreaded comment – rumoured, though never seen; whispered about, though never read. There it was, attached to my account, and I had no idea what was coming next. Other than the knock on the door.
When it did come, my heart leapt high in my throat, and my body jumped with it, to contain it within my body for another few seconds at least. My coffee was cold, and the sun had nearly hidden itself behind the houses across the garden. The tabletscreen had switched itself off, and for the first time in years, I felt completely alone and cut off. And I decided that I didn’t like that feeling at all.
Numb, I rose from my chair and forced my legs to walk to the gate in the garden wall; numb, I asked myself how they knew I was outside? I peered through the slats in the gate to see who was on the other side. An eye peered back at me and blinked.
“I haven’t got the gate key with me,” I stated, wondering how I was keeping my personal panic at bay. “Can you come round to the front door?”
The eye blinked again, and a voice answered, “That’s fine, Ms Steele.” The eye disappeared and a dark figure moved away from the gate towards the front of the house.
I breathed out unsteadily, and headed inside through the conservatory, leaving cold coffee and cold computer on the table in the darkening twilight.