This entry is for the weekly WordPress writer’s challenge on a Dystopian world. Given where we are headed with social media, I envision a world where we can interact with anyone any time, but are deprived of sustained, meaningful social connections, and thus are profoundly lonely.
Reg switched on sunglasses mode against the harsh glare of the cloudless spring sky. The brilliant sun-warmed blue visible between towers of concrete and glass belied the cold atmosphere below of distant strangers shouldering past one another, their focus directed on a variety of headgear that obscured their eyes.
Last night’s Grave Dance left Reg tired and hungover. As usual, she’d stayed up too late, leaving coffee to the task of keeping up her energy level. She queued up at the curbside kiosk of Jake Bean like she did every morning just after 10:00 a.m., speaking to no one, impatiently waiting for her turn at the machine.
Reg hastily browsed an assortment of media and social rooms on her glasses-like uGear as she waited. Koop, Fawkes, and DrHug’s feeds were live. Reg watched their chatter disappear into the thread of thousands of feeds, doing her best to grab the comments of people she liked, dashing out shorthand, 120 character or fewer audible responses where she could. Lately Reg felt like she had a harder time absorbing the feeds. She would lose track and lag to respond. As often as not, the conversation topic shifted before she could speak up, and her words drifted unheard into the ether.
“Big, coffee, black, spiked,” Reg placed her hand on a print reader, and recited her usual order for coffee spiked with Adderall into the machine.
“Good morning, Reg, here is your coffee,” the machine responded in a smooth, mellow woman’s voice, “Ten global yuans will be automatically deducted from your account.”
A Quickcycle cup filled with hot brew eased forward, clutched in a robotic hand. Reg grabbed it obligingly, taking a few gulps as she merged back into the sidewalk throngs. The rough-textured Quickcycle cups started decomposing within three hours. The vigilant coffee drinker could not linger too long over her beverage. Spilling coffee from a dissolved cup resulted in a 2,000 GY fine that most human residents could ill afford.
Employees at Aroma1, as with most companies these days, were required to store any and all uGear with the securitybots before proceeding to their cubicles. Smart employers realized human workers, though dwindling in number, were spending too much time absorbed in social outlets, and took to providing them with cGear for corporate and work related access only. Sophisticated as bots were, able to take over even complex jobs like human primary care physician, they were unable to successfully replicate certain basic functions, such as creating scents appealing to the human nose. That is where Reg found her niche, creating uScents, designed to be applied and experienced electronically between users of Global Social.
Like every human she knew, Reg spent nearly all but her working and sleeping hours linked to Global Social. One thousand and twenty-five uScents available in Global Social were her creations. Reg contemplated the progression of her new scent as she donned her cGear. The corporate bots frequently sent “motivational” messages to her through cGear regarding her programming techniques and production speed. Reg gulped down the last of her coffee, a task she accomplished every day in roughly the 10 minutes it took her to walk from Jake Bean to her work cubicle, hurrying to refine the latest scent before the message bots could inform her that failure to produce would result in a 5% GY pay reduction. In about 20 minutes, once the Adderall kicked in, Reg would stay focused on work for the remainder of her shift.
Reg had long ago granted her compliance to the bot-controlled work environment. What choice did she have? It was either work obediently under the stringent bot rule, or sacrifice the income that was vital to setting up life in Global Social. Programming high-use add-ons to GS was comparatively lucrative, skilled work that enabled Reg to buy some of the best accessories and features available. Most people hooked into GS gave up their street names in favor of full time use of their avatar identities. She vaguely recalled a time when people called her Lily, but she spent so little time interacting in the physical world that the name eventually became an inconvenience, like having to remember an alternate identity.
Reg looked forward to the evenings she would spend “going 3D” as she had the night before at the Grave Dance. Several nights a month, GSers would create their best zombie profiles and pop out of graves into a zombie-filled dance party. With minimal exertion in the physical world, dancers would intermingle, drinking, talking and treating one another to wild gravity defying dance moves. Different nights brought different themes, and Reg picked up an event nearly every night. Like most GC partygoers, Reg ‘s body in the physical world sipped Race 8, a fermented, caffeinated liquid, from a long straw inserted into a canteen as she partied. This usually resulted in a morning hangover, but to Reg the social events were worth it.
The more drunk she was at the end of a party, the less dark and lonely the physical world seemed when she was forced to leave GS behind to bathe, sleep, and handle other basic bodily requirements. Reg’s sleep was usually restless, filled with fragmented images of GS activities.
An uncomfortable feeling caused Reg to shudder as she emerged from her workplace that afternoon, her uGear already firmly in place. A few days before the last Grave Dance, Reg had fallen ill. Although most diseases had been eradicated, Reg must have eaten some food substance that upset her stomach. The chills, fever, and vomiting she’d experienced kept her off of GS for 24 hours. Those were 24 of the darkest, loneliest hours in Reg’s recollection. Forced to confront her physical body, Reg despised the pale, weak, lumpy being she inhabited outside of GS. Like most people in GS, inhabitants of bodies of their own making, her form was sure, strong and beautiful. She felt no affinity or connection to this palid physical being once called Lily, and looked at it as little as possible.
A darker, more frightening thought chewed at the edges of Reg’s mind, distracting her from the GS feed. Something else happened during the 24 hours she was away. Or it was more like everything happened, just the same as it always had. Reg’s absence was neither noticed nor missed. A million interactions had passed, thousands of topics had come and gone, and Reg picked up more or less where she left GS, if a little out of step at first. Reg thought of the feeling of lying on a rock, plunging her arm into a swiftly moving river, something she had done once as child Lily. The river never slowed nor strayed from its forceful rush. Her arm bobbed along, as incidental and inconsequential as a leaf.
That was the feeling Reg had as she turned her focus back into GS. Her life in the physical world was a dark barren, wasteland compared to the vibrant, colorful world of GS, but how meaningful was her existence in the fake world she honed for herself? It was a world so full of swiftly moving interactions that her existence there seemed devoid of any deep, meaningful connections. She merely immersed herself in various snippets as they raced past her. No one missed her or thought of her when she was absent any more than a river thinks of a leaf carried away on its current. Reg deliberately pushed the disturbing thought from her mind as she shouted, “Heyyy, dude!” to DrHugs.