It was difficult walking away from a digital world, but for the sake of sanity, I did just that. I pulled out a spiral notebook, replacing my laptop and began a written analog of my experiences over the past few weeks. What I did not expect was that the results made me invisible to my friends and acquaintances who have chosen to live their lives on social media. Deliberately turning a page in Thoreau's Walden Pond, I retreated from the lure of the digital world. What you are about to read is my terminal analog. I hope the words I have written in my terminal analog will shed light on the events leading to the recent human extinction.
"Dave, where have you been?" Georgia asked when I went to a friend's house for a get together.
"I guess I have dropped out of sight since I decided to live my life free of electronic devices." I took a sip of my can of soda.
"Why?" She was genuinely perplexed at my statement. As a matter of fact, I met her on social media. If not for one of those sites, I doubt we would have ever connected. Even using online applications, we knew at once being friends was as far as we'd ever go. Working at a local bank, Georgia was a slave to her phone most of the time when she wasn't counting money. Her total obsession with online was one of the reasons I decided to walk away from it all.
"I wanted my freedom back." I snickered as she continued to stare at me as if I grew another eye in the middle of my forehead. "I even got rid of my cell phone."
"You're kidding, right?" She grimaced.
"Nope." I shook my head.
"Have you become a Nuevo Caveman or something?" She shook her head just to make sure she was hearing me correctly. "All that time in college...you told me you were hardly ever away from the keyboard."
"That was then, this is now." I leaned against the garage door where my host and his friends were playing a kid's game on their phones. "I am tired of people Googling me and finding out stuff I don't want them to know."
"I have nothing to hide." She fluttered her eyes as she held her beer bottle at arm's length.
"I don't want people to know I can't stand Tik-Tok. It's stupid." I waved my hand.
"What you said is stupid." She hissed, "I have over a hundred followers."
"How many of them do you really know? How many of them would you really want following you home?" I shrugged.
Disgusted with me at last, Georgia walked away. Before reaching her destination, she was already on her phone. Even as her best friend greeted her, she did not look up from her screen.
"Hey Dave, how's it hanging?" Biff asked as he stepped forward from his buds who were still playing the game. Biff was my best friend in college and was addicted to his phone like everyone else. "Why doncha join us. We have this online app where you can win money playing poker."
"I got rid of my phone." I told him.
"Are you nuts?" His blue eyes were wide with disbelief as he glanced at the others engrossed in their apps. "Seriously, you aren't gonna tell me you ditched your phone."
"Fraid so." I shoved my hands deep into my jeans' pockets.
"Dude." He made several syllables out of the word, "You need some vodka pronto, because you're not thinking clearly."
"No thank you, Biff, I'm fine with just soda." I held up my can.
"Really Dave, I can have Shanessa fix you up. STAT." He signaled to his wife who was fluttering around the yard like a butterfly.
"Hey Dave." She smiled as she approached, "Biff, I got the kids down for the night. Grandma is with them."
"Great." He kissed her, "Dave needs help."
"What refreshment do you need, Dave?" She smiled again.
"This is a great party. I'm fine, thanks." I nodded.
"Dave has given up his electronic toys." Biff slipped his arm around her nearly bare shoulders.
"So?" She shrugged.
"How can a person these days do without technology?" Biff threw his arms into the air.
"I think sometimes we rely too much on our devices." I pointed out.
"I agree." Shanessa gave a firm nod to my observation, "Biff, we pay for all the data you use. I don't mind, but sometimes it does get a bit much."
"Now look at whatcha did, Dave, you got us into a disagreement." He was trying to use humor, but I felt a slight edge to his comment.
After shooting the breeze with the rest of the gang, I got into my Toyota and drove to my bungalow on the beach near Oxnard. I chose this place because of the extraordinary sunsets I could view from my deck. I was also broken up at the undiplomatic divorce from Dolly. Fortunate not to have any children during our time together, I was still very hurt by her socializing online that led to her finding Daryl. A Harley biker from Northern California, he swept her away from me. Just one more reason I unplugged from the toxicity of the data feed. Like the mister tides that engulf the shore, the distractions of the digital temptations, can wash you away like a riptide.
It never ceases to amaze me how willingly we will sell our soul for the convenience of what our technology has brought with just the click of a mouse. Sitting in my lounge chair on my deck at midnight, I can smell the brine and hear the screeching of passing gulls. It brings me the inner peace I have longed for since Dolly left me.
It is still warm when I stroll onto the beach in front of my bungalow. The sand is moist from the high tide that is now in retreat. My feet are bare. This can be risky, but with a full moon, I can see the beach clearly enough.
"Maybe if you had looked up from your computer once in a while you would have noticed." Dolly said as Daryl revved the engine of his Harley.
"Climb aboard, Doll." He turned and smiled as she sat behind him and put her arms around his waist. With a turn of his handle, the motorcycle roared full throttle from my sight.
I am unplugged from the data feed. I do not even have a television in my place. An old sailor's clock with a barometer under the clock face hangs proudly on my wall. I do have a corded telephone that hangs in my efficiency kitchen, but it never rings. All the better, I feel.
Listening to the waves lapping at the shore, this perfect lullaby lulls me to sleep.
Waking later in the morning, I apply for some freelance work I see in the newspaper. Taking the phone off the cradle, I dial the phone number where I will most likely get an automated answering machine that will inform me how valuable my call is before putting me on hold for almost an hour.
"I'm sorry, but your phone call cannot be connected as dialed." The mechanical voice tells me. I hang up and redial, making sure to reread the phone number, but the results are the same. I try another advertisement, but get the same automated voice.
"What the heck?" I scrunch up my face. I feel a cold shiver run through my body like an electric current.
Walking outside, I could hear a strange buzz on the blurry horizon. The beach was vacant, abandoned at a time of the morning when it was usually a beehive of human activity. Skateboarders, joggers, roller skaters, strollers, trawlers, sun worshipers, dog walkers, weight lifters, wireless headphone music listeners, shoppers, not a single soul present. It was strange beyond explanation. The only normal thing that was happening was the steady beat of the ocean waves. The sun struggled to break through the early morning mist of the deserted beach.
Left to wander in a trance, expecting to hear Rod Sterling's voice declare that I had just entered the Twilight Zone, I found the door to Gino's Brew locked as it would be during after hours. But it wasn't after hours. The place should have been swarming with the morning mocha grande crowd, but the doors were locked. Looking at my watch, I saw it was almost nine o'clock. The beachfront businesses were empty. I got a sagging feeling in the pit of my stomach.
After trying to get a hold of Biff and a couple other members of the gang, I decided to take a drive down to Malibu. The beachfront in Oxnard was not as glamorous as the beaches further down south. I figured I would find out what was going on when I arrived at the more popular,picturesque beaches. It took me about an hour to reach the San Monaco Pier, but I parked my Toyota in an empty parking lot.
What was happening? A beach bustling with all sorts of human activity was left for the seagulls to scavenge without any human interference. Garbage cans had been picked clean by the screeching gulls, but not a single human was walking on the pier besides me.
I ached for the data I had unplugged myself from. Taking out my journal from my shorts pocket, I turned to a blank page and wrote a single word next to the date, empty. A steady wind kicked up some of the sand, but the silence was deafening.
Then I saw it.
On a table next to a bistro on the pier was a laptop, open and connected to the Wi-Fi. The user who had abandoned the laptop, had logged in. I was surprised it had not gone to sleep mode, but at this point it was the least of my concerns. It was the least until I heard someone say, " What do you think you're doing?"
I nearly jumped to face a stone-faced man about my own age with a Styrofoam cup of coffee standing menacingly over me.
"Sorry, I'm Dave Stoddard." I swallowed hard hoping the stranger would not become hostile at me for grabbing his computer, "I am confused as to what is going on."
"What do you mean?" He glared at me.
"This place is usually crawling with people..." I stammered.
"You mean you haven't heard?" His face softened a bit.
"Heard what?" I shrugged.
"Someone on the world wide net has shut down the internet." He spoke matter-of-factly as if I was the weirdo for not knowing. "I'm Colin btw."
"Good to meet you, Colin." I sighed.
"I usually record a podcast sitting outside this bistro. I interview pier walkers, but this morning I found the internet shut down." He explained as he sipped his coffee.
"How did you get the coffee?" I asked, relieved that Colin was not going to throw me bodily off the pier.
"I work here. Podcasting does not pay the rent, you know." He smiled, "How did you miss the disaster of the century? A major earthquake would not have compared to this morning’s disaster when the internet went down across the globe. They say it's espionage. I won't argue with that."
"What's next?" I asked, leaning on the rail.
"Who knows. Everyone is scrambling to figure it out. Some news reporters are claiming the nukes are on their way. Some say we have been invaded by aliens. Until the smoke clears, I'm hanging tight." He pats his computer as if it is a pet.
"I unplugged." I admit with a shrug.
"That would explain why you didn't know." Colin sniffed and pressed a few keys, "Worthless piece of..."
Watching him seated at the table with his head in his hands, it became clear to me why I switched to analog in the first place. Albert Einstein once saw the perils of a technological society that relied on data to manage standard daily operations instead of trusting intuition and common sense. People waking up to this nightmare had forgotten how to think for themselves and therefore were unable to carry on with their daily routines. It was maddening as I watched Colin toss his laptop into the foam below.
"Worthless." He grumbled as he watched it splash in the waves.
Even in my attempt to unplug, I had not been so reckless with my devices. Seeing him act in such a way, made me not trust his true motives in the matter.
When I was in college, a professor declared that computers were stupid, unable to think and reason without a human interaction to control it. Speech to text had made things much easier doing my senior dissertation and with advances in artificial intelligence, I figured one day humans would eventually become obsolete. Perhaps that day had come.
Colin stood sulking at the rail, forgetting that I was there. Unwilling to be ignored, I began walking to my car. Suddenly his voice filled with hopeless desperation, sounded, "So now what? What are we supposed to do? The mainframe is corrupted and the program has A virus. Wonderful. Simply wonderful."
Putting one foot on the lower rail, Colin appeared in his abject despair, he was going to join his laptop. Hustling over, I managed to grab one of his legs. My attempt to rescue him, jolted him from his dismal view of the unautomated world. Without saying a word, he climbed down from the rail.
"I don't know what came over me." He bowed his head and began to sob. I felt vilified with my decision, but then a feeling of desperation filled me. There are millions of people living in Los Angeles County. I knew I could not save them all, but with the doubt set in Colin’s bewildered expression, I knew I could help save him.
"Why don't you come home with me? You can couch surf." I did not tell him my real motivation was to keep an eye on him so he would not try to leap again.
"Alright." He said as if resigning to a fate he really did not want. I led him to my car and got on the San Monica Highway north. He sat there staring out the window as I drove.
"I still don't know why there's no one on the highway." I noted as I drove the eight lane highway.
"Everyone got sucked into the internet." He said in a monotone as his head seemed to hang on his neck like a crooked picture on a wall.
"What do you mean 'sucked into the internet?'" I turned my head. His expression had not changed.
"Everyone disappeared. Poof. Gone." His half shrug bothered me for some reason. Then the meaning of his words hit me like a train.
"I cannot afford the internet on my own, so I came to the bistro where I work. The first thing that came on my screen was a notice about the virus." His voice remained monotone as he explained what had taken place in the past few hours. "All users got taken to another reality."
That explained why no one was there to answer their phones, but it was still hard to imagine everyone vanishing to a virtual reality where there was no escaping. We had been warned by the doomsday prophets about the evils brought by our own hand. The evil of technology. It seemed innocent enough until it sucked us in, removing our will to resist, taking what came up on our screen as the truth. We had created our own demise.
"Strangest thing...there was this buzzing and then...everyone was gone." He sat there for a moment before asking me, "Why didn't you get sucked in with all the rest?"
All I could see was Dolly getting on the Harley as she grabbed Daryl. The sobering moment brought me back to the reality I was avoiding, because fantasy often becomes more desirable. Because we made fantasy that way.
The next morning when I woke up, Colin was no longer in the front room. The only evidence of his presence was a pile of clothes discarded on the couch. There was also a laptop he somehow had absconded on the end table.
Then it hit me. He was gone. Just like all those before him, the special computer program had transported him to another dimension.
Carefully, I closed the lid and put the laptop into the trash removing any temptation to have a look for myself. Pandora's box once had a similar appeal. Her story was sent by the Greeks as a warning to us all. Too bad we weren't paying attention this time.
Walking along the deserted beach, I could not help but wonder if we had just experienced the apocalypse. Of all the endings dreamed up, this one was so anticlimactic and noiseless except for that persistent buzzing. Reflecting on it, I guess it should come as no surprise really. In The Wasteland, T. S. Elliott predicted that the world will not end with a bang, but with a whimper. I guess he was proven correct in the matter.
The moon hung like a lazy eye over the waves. A gentle breeze blew across the beach, ruffling my hair. Am I the only human being left to wander this empty land? Later I planned to record my disturbing thoughts and feelings in my terminal analog, but for now I would absorb this moment into my memory.
This is the part of the story where the protagonist wakes up and discovers this was nothing but a bad dream. This sort of dues ex Machina that can spare me from the suffocation by silence. But I'm afraid this is not that kind of story.