Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Silence - Failing


They said the world was ending. Actually they said, “OMG TWE WTF!!!”. The tweet rolled in on a Google Wave through a Chinese satellite, just seconds before the satellite Death Star-ed in its geostationary orbit hundreds of miles above. Connor was admiring the moon as the half-billion-dollar fireworks display went off, flaming bits of satellite dancing away like lost colonies of dust motes, slowly flickering out. He imagined these granules of light were the untold myriads of text messages, queries, business correspondences, love letters, cyberwar volleys, World War II MMOG sim bullets, illegally downloaded music files, and other bits of digitized humana, bursting out into the ocean like mail spilling into the sea from a crashed Fed Ex plane. From Connor’s vantage point, the detonation occurred over the constellation Cetus, the whale, as though that relatively third-string grouping of stars was briefly promoted, outshining the rest for its fifteen minutes of fame.

The sight reminded Connor of a video someone once tweeted to him, of a beached whale somewhere in Oregon which was exploded. Literally, exploded, with high explosives. It had been so long since a whale had washed up in the area that no one could remember how to dispose of one, and they eventually decided to “disintegrate” it with a half ton of TNT. Seconds after the huge explosion, everyone within a half mile was sent running for their lives as they were covered in hunks of rotting whale flesh crashing back to Earth. Several cars had their roofs smashed in by larger pieces, but by sheer luck, no one was seriously injured.

The last kilobytes downloaded to Connor’s Mind Ware before his tether to the plane of the digital was most extravagantly severed was 4/5ths of a JPEG of a cartoon whale being carried by a team of Zipadeedoodah birds. The image was subtitled, “Oops! We b0rked something, but Twitter will be back soon!”

But Connor was quite certain that despite this endearing automated token reassurance, Twitter wouldn’t be back soon. Nothing would be back soon. With The Cloud platform evaporated out from under, everything from transportation to food to plumbing would come crashing down like an over-leveraged quasi-bank entity without DC connections. No, this was a truly epic fail. Greek epic epic. Over-produced disaster movie epic. Invention of the combustion engine epic. Death of print epic. Bigger, maybe.

This was the beginning of the long sleep in the land of the 404. Dreamtime in the physical.


“Karen.” A crowfooted smile, the scent of washed woman’s hair, warm hotel sheets, kissing a computer screen, trying and failing to reach through the looking glass. The images flickered like archaic analog film, coalesced into a shape that was her. Connor felt an avalanche of heartache stirring on that particular snow covered peak.

He’d met Karen at a Boing Boing tech conference, during a talk by Cory Doctorow. As Cory passionately elaborated on the virtues of “free” and collective intelligence, on the Twitter feed scrolling behind him, a crackling discussion emerged between two particular participants, “Augmentia” and “Neuroanswer”.

“Neuroanswer: @Augmentia Information wants to be free, and so do physical goods. Self-repoducing 3d printers?”

“Augmentia: @Neuroanswer I worked on one of those! Soon it’ll be Lucky Dragons all the way down. =)”

“Neuroanswer: @Augmentia Freeconomics FTW. Only a couple quant leaps to The Culture! Where u work btw?”

“Augmentia: @Neuroanswer Peace Love and Connectivity! I’m @ Google rite now.”

After the talk, Connor immediately switched on his augmented reality ‘Twitterer locator’ on his e-Eyes, circling around through cloud of overlayed aliases, sifting for this “Augmentia”. It turned out she was literally as well as figuratively on his wavelength, as he spotted an Asian-something girl with random tri-colored highlights in an AR headset spinning around like an effect light at a rave. After an enthusiastic if geekily awkward introduction, exchanging RL names, they tried to figure out whether they’d technically met online or in person. They debated for a good minute over the best web 3.0 neologism, “interreal meet, interspace, tweating, loco-chat,” finally settling on “augmeat”.

Connor missed neologisms. Everything now was a paleogism. (He’d coined paleogism to himself years ago.)

They were inseparable for the rest of the conference, talking constantly, Connor almost felt like they needed a condom and a room for the frenzied brain-sex. The last day of the conference, things got weird. After the final talk, they both stayed to help fold up chairs, sweep floors, neither wanting to leave, not knowing how to leave. Eventually they agreed to keep in touch and meet at the next conference. That night, Connor scoured the net for the soonest, remotely relevant event.

They did keep in touch. Karen was integrating new AR tech into universal social networking and conferencing apps, Connor was working on a crowd-sourced “universal answer engine”. The pitchline for which he’d rehearsed in front of a mirror a hundred times was, “no question should be answered twice.” They spent many a long night idea-bouncing and brainstorming, among other passionate video-call interactions. Conference trips became intermittent and intense honeymoons in hotel suites, the conferences themselves shared fangasms in geek-Disneyland, in the presence of their heroes. At night, long dead channels came alive, months of emotion exploding through the brief broadband physical connectivity beneath high thread count sheets. Deeply analog, ambient tides of consciousness drawn along continuums of brilliant sunset and solemn moonlight. Each time, leaving became more and more difficult. There was always something that didn't come back. That didn't return once the haze of jet lag and vacation headspace cleared, that you can't beam across on Facebook or Flickr, that isn’t misplaced on a lamp stand and UPSed up a week later.

One evening in a London Sheraton, as they were packing their suitcases, searching the hotel room for the spare keycard, Karen offered to quit her job at Google and move to Vancouver. The question snuck up on him. Something fantastic and beautiful but somehow still distant and abstract as The Future in his mind had crossed a thin neon boundary without him noticing and entered the “real” world of mortgages and toothaches. Like a character in an SF novel who discovers that that really awesome counter-terrorism flight sim where you had to bomb insurgents in an impossibly realistic Bagdad was not a sim at all but a Predator Drone mission control, and those peoples’ lives you were saving or destroying were real humans with real families. The look in her eyes, serious as a financial crisis, told him that his response would greatly affect real human lives, including his own, and he knew he had to aim very, very carefully with his next words.

“Maybe that’s not such a good idea.”

Connor would perhaps never know exactly why he’d said that. Certainly he was nervous and caught off guard, but that was a lame excuse and wasn’t it. He felt best telling himself that it was because he didn’t want to rush things, do something they would regret, but he knew deep down that wasn’t right either because he did love Karen and wanted very much to be with her. It was probably something more like, he was selfish, scared and stupid. He wanted to have her around more, but not so much that he might become tied down. He was scared that their fire as tech innovators surfing the cusp would somehow die if they entered “marriage world,” and that he wouldn’t like these new people they’d become. And a good dose of normal independent male fear of commitment. The topic never really came up again, and six months later, The Great Silence happened, and Connor lost all contact with Karen.

Mountain Man

They were after him again, the aliens.

They wanted to bone him in the ass with their long glowing tentacles, take his bodily fluids. Something. Something worse, probably. All Connor knew was that he had to get away from them whatever the cost. He’d save an extra .454 Casull round for his frontal lobe as insurance if it came to self-Kevork or abduction. But food was scarce, he was down to his last few slabs of rancid bear jerky. Damn he was sick of that putrid shit. Connor wasn’t sure whether he’d die of hunger or be eaten from the inside out by that bio-cyanide first.

“Don’t even think about thinking about hunting,” Pal said, “They’ll hear it, and they’ll come for you, and then you’re fucked.” Pal was his only friend, also served as an advisor. Sometimes lover.

God, what he wouldn’t give for a fat sizzling porterhouse, marinated for a whole day, with some fall-apart-on your fork oily potatoes, something cold and Belgian. He might even let those damn Cthulu thingies check his prostate if it meant an honest-to-Michael Jackson meal.

“You won’t be eating anything but deluxe servings of interdimensional calamari. That is, if they don’t lock your head in a vice and dissect you to death first.”

“You’re right, Pal. As always. Fuck.”

Connor lifted the Taurus hand cannon, gazed long at the ten-inch stainless steel barrel, cloudy sterling encoded with a network of scars, like streets on a GPS grid. With dirt and dried blood encrusted nails the color of bad piss, he tried to trace out whatever this was that passed for his life. This scrape here, a near-fatal encounter with a bull elk after a poorly placed shot. There, a cluster of scratches imbued by the cranium of an ambushed cannibal. Connor had caught him slow-roasting the quads of a vegan neohippy cyclist he’d passed a day earlier. The blood was a bitch to clean off but he hadn’t wanted to waste bullets.

And somewhere far yet constant in the background, like a pristine, snow-covered peak that always seems within arms-reach, yet you never seem to reach, was a life before The Great Silence. Connor had shown up in San Francisco, a bright-eyed, mirrorshaded geeklet after having college-hopped a couple years on both coasts, much to his parents’ chagrin. He blew the leftover money on a pair of e-Eyes and a ten-month startup that crashed and burned out thanks to constant partying with his stoner employees and key investors pulling out at the last minute during a big economic downturn. He eventually moved to Vancouver and a more stable company. He was having the time of his life. But if, by some sci-fi magic, The Cloud could be resurrected for just ten seconds and Connor could do just one Google search, it would be for Karen.

“Karen. Where are you?” Connor held the gun, lengthwise, against his forehead.

“No use worrying about her now.” Pal said.

All the days since The Great Silence began to fog together, one day’s encounters the same as the next, the way all that time you spend riding in a maglev car or taking a piss just blends together into one infinite platonic continuum of “pisstime”.

Maybe this was what they meant by “Geological Time”. Geological Time, they’d always said in documentaries and Al Gore power point presentations. Made you feel small, insectile. Like a little incessantly tweeting bird, flitting and flaking about breakfast or the hottest new gadget pr0n or the latest pop star’s death with your other insignificant birdie friends. Whole empires of hyperactive nonsense coming and going within a single heartbeat of a tectonic plate, a single breath of a north Atlantic current, swatted into nonexistence like a greedy mosquito, out-drinking its welcome.

3G-less, vista upon snow capped vista, endless arrays of Paramount intros unencumbered by the following human drama, all melded together into “vistatime”. He thought perhaps this was geological time, this was what it felt like to be a mountain, to be that deeply physical ur-thing. A mountain man.

A mountain man freezing his ass off at night and eating rotten bear meat, being chased by fucking aliens. Fuck that noise. He was still just a Cloud Cowboy, a Web 3.0 app programmer playing a hyperrealistic live-action “Into The Wild” / War of the Worlds” RPG, wishing he could find the safe-word, quit button, alt-tab, anything. But what if that *was* the case? What if everyone else was playing with him? He reached to check his backpack for twenty-sided die.

“I’m losing my mind,” he murmured, grasping handfuls of densely matted hair, which, alarmingly, felt like the texture of brain jerky.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Pal replied. “It’s just been a long day. A long year.”

“Thanks, Pal. You always know how to cheer me up.”

Connor slipped Pal back into the side-pocket of his backpack, whipped out his hand-axe and started looking for firewood.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home