By: Conan Helsley
“I have an appointment with Dr. Richland,” he told the woman behind the glass. The nurse put his name into the system and told him they would call him in a few minutes. That meant ten to fifteen at the least, but that was okay, he had the day off anyway.
He went to a chair near the door and pulled out his phone. There were only a couple of people in the waiting room, and none seemed to notice each other or anything else. That was the world now, one where everyone had a tablet or a phone or a portable computer. You didn't have to live in reality, you could exist in the digital realm completely, your body a mere vessel containing a mind and some nerves and a bunch of organs you had to maintain. Those pesky things. He looked down at the phone inhis hand, and put it in his pocket.
He jumped, only just now realizing he had sat down next to a man in a white tee-shirt and a worn leather jacket.
“Ex-Excuse me? I'm sorry, I didn't notice you there.”
“Of course not, no one does, until it's too late. People valued things once, but not anymore. Least of all their fellow human beings. You have a whole world full of wonder and beauty, yet where do your interests lie? In a land of make-believe, a place where you can be anything you want to be, so long as you don't go out into the world and reveal your true self.”
“Yeah. Yeah I guess. I'm sorry, do I know you? You look kind of familiar.”
“No, you don't know me. You'd know it if you did. People who meet me tend to be quite different when we part ways.” The man's eyes were dark. Black, but also colorful, like oil on water.
“Well, I actually agree about technology. I've been thinking about it more and more lately. You know, my brother died last year and we hadn't spoken, I mean actually heard each other's voice in years. I don't even know how many. We texted plenty, sent each other GIFs and photos and tagged each other in posts, but if you played recordings of ten men's voices, I'm not even sure I would have recognized his. We were so close growing up. There wasn't a day that went by we didn't sit somewhere and have a decent conversation. Somewhere along the way, we just stopped calling each other. I can't get over that. How could that have happened?”
“The pitfalls of social media, I'm afraid. Just a half century ago the internet wasn't even in the home. There wasn't even the prospect of it, at least as far as ordinary people were concerned. It wasn't on the mind, no one felt they needed something like the world wide web. Yet here we are fifty years later and without it most would be fatally crippled. Think about it, how many people do you know who likely couldn't function without it? Oh sure, they might adapt, but how much damage would be done to their life by that point? Seriously, how many?”
He considered it, and had to admit that his list would begin with himself. He shopped online. Almost everything he used or consumed came from one site or another. His banking. His payments. All his payments. He'd never even written a check. How often had he held cash in his hands over the last decade? On most days he got home from work and sat in front of the television, either watching a show, a movie or playing a video game. How often did he actually go outside and engage in physical activity? Dr. Richland had been telling him for years that if he didn't get his weight under control it would begin affecting his overall health, not just his heart or his cholesterol or his blood pressure but his mental health and his actual ability to do things. To live and enjoy what life he was able to manage.
“Too many to account for? Of course, that's just the beginning of the danger. Society overall has changed. It will continue to change, because this will go unchecked until it ruins the whole of humanity. Of course, for someone like me, the business I'm in... Well, either way, I'll be doing pretty damn well. You see, human beings have a penchant for violence, so the more disconnected theybecome, the more likely they are to commit atrocities such as murder, rape and child sexual assault. Take for instance mass shootings, before 1949 there was no such thing. Guns have been around for hundreds of years, but not a single mass shooting event in history until then. Now? Can you even tell me? No, of course you can't, and no one bats an eye at that. It is completely normal for everyone in the public to be totally unaware of just how many mass shootings have occurred in their lifetime yet feel that it's just a thing that must exist. Now, as I said, in my business that's just fine.”
“What business is that, again?”
“I never said, nor do I intend to. You see, that's my business. Which brings us to another topic, privacy. How much privacy do you actually have in this modern world? Really? You probably keep your entire life on that little device you hold so dear, no? As does everyone else here and just about
anywhere else. You go to the store and your phone notifies you of a sale, or asks you to review the business you have just patronized. No eyes batted at that, either. Do you believe your government has no access to this type of information? Many of these things were developed for government use to begin with. So you tell me, if your government needs to spy on it's citizens, how much can that government be trusted?”
“Well, they need to do that for national security.”
“It needs to spy on it's own citizens? And just who might they be protecting then?”
“Us. The people.”
“Terrorists, of course.”
“Of course, of course, but they're not monitoring the terrorists, they're monitoring you, they're monitoring these fine men and women here in this building. Doctors and nurses, manufacturing workers and fast food employees. It's the everyday ordinary citizens working and living their lives the
government is focused on. Think about it, how many terrorists live every day in this country? By comparison, how many come here to attack? You don't know that either. You see, you only know what you're allowed to know. They tell you you're free and you believe it, because you can speak your mind and wear what you want. You can have sex with a man or a woman or even a man becoming a woman. You can do almost anything you want to do, so long as all parties give consent. You can be anything you want, if you work hard enough. So you're free, right?”
“Can't get much freer.”
“Right you are, but let me pose a question. Are you married? That's not the question, but it leads to the question.”
“No. I'm divorced.”
“Okay, so you've been married. In your marriage, was it okay for your wife to secretly go through your phone?”
“Of course not.”
“Of course not. Now, that's not to say some couples aren't completely open to each other in that sense, but the point can be made that even the closest person to you does not have a right to any information you deem private from that person. And that if this person were to secretly go into your phone it would be a breach of trust, a violation of sorts. Yet you are perfectly fine with your government doing it.”
“Well sometimes they have to, to protect us.”
“I'm glad you made that point. You're marriage was important to you, was it not?”
“But you're a man, and men are flawed. Let me change that, you are a human being, and human beings are flawed. Say you meet a woman. She's pretty, and nice, and she shows you affection. You start talking to this woman, casually at first but it gets more serious and even though you love your wife and wouldn't leave her, this woman is an excitement you can't give up. Is your wife not protecting her own interests, as well as the interests of the marriage, by going through your phone?”
“Well, I still wouldn't want her doing it.”
“Of course you wouldn't, that's your phone, your business. She has no right to information you have not given her. You have less of a relationship with your government, yet you allow them into almost every facet of your life. But it's secret, you think that there is no harm being done, but if your government knows what you like, what you don't like, what you're afraid of, what you don't fear at all, can they not use that information to manipulate and control you?”
He thought about it. It still didn't mean anything. He had a lot more important things to worry about than some possible secret plot by the government.
“Everyone has more important things to worry about, and the government knows this as well. So you live your life and you never realize the truth that is all around you. You don't notice the small things in the world, and most are right there with you. Like for instance the little girl or boy being kidnapped. You think it's just an insolent little brat refusing to get into the car, it's not your kid so it's not your place to say anything. What about the drunk driver? If you'd been watching out, you might have been able to call it in and prevent a death, maybe more than one death. There is a lifetime's worth of entertainment all around you, entire story-lines playing out. They are intriguing and compelling and heartbreaking and beautiful and you never even notice. You've been given this device that was always meant to imprison. It isn't about chaining your body, because at the end of the day, if you can confine the mind, it doesn't matter where the body resides, it will only go where the mind allows.”
“Well there's nothing I can do about it.”
“No, you alone cannot. By this point it's too late even if you could. I'm not here to convince you to change the world, I'm here to wake you up for the next phase of your life. That is my job, you see. It is not pleasant, but it is necessary.”
“What do you mean? What next phase?”
“You are here to find out if you have diabetes.”
“How do you know that?”
“There is a list, my friend, and you are on it.”
“A list for what, people with diabetes?”
“No, I'm afraid not, you do not have diabetes, your results were negative. This list is a bit more significant than that one.”
“I don't understand.”
“No, no you do not, because you haven't been paying attention.”
His thoughts began to slow. He looked into those oily eyes. Into them. Beyond them. He saw swirling images like bodies into a whirlpool. Their mouths weren't gaping, they didn't have mouths at all, nor eyes or noses or ears for that matter. They were just colorful shapes blending into a deep dark nothingness that he could not comprehend.
“You are not destined to die of some disease, though you could call what kills you a sickness. Today you came for good news, but the story doesn't end there. It never does. You like to tell yourselves that such things exist, but you all die, and death is the nightmare for so many of you. You had a chance at a good life, a beautiful existence, but you squandered it because you were distracted by an entity you barely had experience with. While you were scrolling away, the minutes of your life were disappearing like the uninteresting posts you paid no mind to.”
He drew a breath, and jumped up. Something hit him in the face and he fell. He met the floor as though it were rising. He felt his teeth break. Or had they been broken by the blow that had sent him to the ground? The man he had just been conversing with knelt beside him. Those eyes swirled.
“This man is not here for you, but you are here nonetheless. If you had been out living your life you might have been in another place this day, doing something exciting and fulfilling, instead of sitting in a straight-backed chair waiting for more information that won't make a bit of difference. You had one life. You gave it away. You allowed outside influences to dictate who you were and what you became. There will be no stories to tell about you, no great experiences to recollect. The sum total of your accomplishments will span but a few short sentences.”
In those eyes he saw that it was true. There was no great revelation in them, just an
understanding that it was fact, that his life had meant nothing. That he would not be missed. So he embraced those swirling black eyes, falling into them so completely that he became a part of that darkness, just another colorful shape swirling down into their abyss.