As I walk into this ancient facility, I know that I’m treading on dangerous ground. Maybe the reason the place is vacant, except for the customer service robot and a couple of feeders. I don’t need the machine’s help. I came here often enough in my younger days to know exactly where I’m going.
The feeders sit and watch their video streams, barely conscious at this point, even if their eyes are wide open. They still prefer watching on a screen to closing their eyes and letting their implants stream into the imagination. I walk past them, and descend into the belly of the building. Assuming they still exist, that’s where I’ll find the old computers.
The room stinks of moldy residue. Everything is stale. This is what happens when people are so absorbed in the new. They used to clear out old rooms and update them. Now construction bots create a new building, and when they run out of room, another city. I used to come here to study as a child, before the implants, before the social takeover.
As I sit in front of a Global Net interface, the implant in my temple links to it directly. They’ve updated the controls. No keyboards, no palm sensors, just a direct connection to my brain. Kids today will never understand the foundations that led to this magical world. At least the touch screen still works. I can get some taste of the old days. That smooth glass over my fingers feels almost real, but I know even that is a lie. I’ve waited too long for this.
Social messages attack my implant as a single thought slips into my internal dialogue. “What are you doing? Hey, guy, what are you up to? What’s that glowing screen?” I curb my thoughts before my plan escapes onto the network. I’d be dead before I ever got a start. My mind betrays me, and a single thought drifts from my head onto the network. “I want to remember what brought us here.”
My mind is flooded with warnings about content. My younger friends tell me to take care digging, that it can be deadly. Social warnings from strangers I’ve never met fill my head. It’s already started. I try to block the voices by focusing on the content before me. It’s the first time I’ve actually read something in years; letters on a screen decoded by my own eyes into a more personal video feed: one from my own imagination.
“The history of social interaction.” The search string looks innocent enough, but it’s laced with poison. People don’t want to remember. They refuse to risk the threat of an offending thought on the social stream, and with good reason. I try to read without leaking the information, but it’s impossible. The implant reads to me. I can’t even enjoy that simple task anymore. And it immediately broadcasts the whole article, like some kind of long blog post, fighting against the shouts of 10,000 angry voices, soon to be a million, and then a billion.
When social media started, it was fun. The Internet, as they called it, was new. Access required archaic devices to serve as an interaction medium. The need for easier access led to portable devices, then integrated devices. I scroll my finger across the glass, with the hope that skimming will lower my risk, but the voices continue.
“He’s trying to disrupt the network.”
“Burn in hell, non-comformist!”
“If you hate life that much, why don’t you just kill yourself?” That one immediately goes viral, and it’s repeated in my brain hundreds of thousands of times, as if by a chanting mob. I read on.
The spread of the social networks touched every life around the planet. People thought their devices would make a nice pacifier for babies. A whole generation grew up on constant social updates. Then the implants started. They eased the process, connecting people all over the globe in an instant, with no interface. Then it spread deeper, and they couldn’t turn it off. They didn’t want to turn it off.
“Why do you want to turn off the network? Are you some kind of terrorist?”
The spike of translated thought caused a war with no bullets. No bombs. The war raged in our conscious minds, driving people mad with anger about any minute disruption. At first, the taunts and cries attacked those who abused animals. CEOs and millionaires were led to suicide from the nonstop battery of psychological warfare from the network. Eventually, anyone with a different opinion from the group became a target. Instead of turning it all off, it was seen as a way to rid our planet of evil, vial regimes, and we amplified it. Within a few years, there was nowhere left to hide. Implants were buried in the skull, unreachable. Unplugging was no longer an option.
“Terrorist. Fascist. Murderer. Rapist!” They loved to exaggerate after the hate chants started. I’d seen it before, and the cruel effects of it.
The more facts leak from my mind, the less the attacks make sense. It doesn’t matter what I think at this point. I’ve been labeled by the collective. I’m a target. A tear wells in my eye, but I wipe it away and keep reading. It’s too late anyway. My former friends have become my enemies. If they didn’t, they would also become targets.
“Stupid old man!”
The article ends with a prediction about the future, and it’s spot on. It claims that to continue down the current path with lead to a unified consciousness, where people of the world are of one mind. After the final battles have been fought, and the death toll is tallied, human beings will no longer be individuals, but part of a whole.
I close my eyes and think hard, “We used to be individuals.” I remember. “We used to disagree, but it was okay. Creativity. Yes, I remember. Creativity came from difference of opinion. It came from compromise.”
“Shut up, poop-stick. Nobody likes you.”
“I’ll compromise your face!”
“I hope you get run over by an asteroid.”
More chants, more taunts. The whole world is suddenly at war with me for digging this up. Not a single voice cries out in my defense. I sit, isolated and alone, with tears streaming down my face. I’ve become the enemy of the human race. We older folks came from a harder generation of physical, rather than psychological violence. But my penchant to my own defense, “sticks and stones,” is being torn from my soul by the backlash. My eyes defocus before my eyelids scrape off more tears as they shut. I send out one final message.
“We’ve become a society with no war, no diseases, no crime, but at what cost? Do you like killing your fellow human beings? We’re killing each other with our thoughts. I know you won’t stop, it’s too late. But just know that you might be next. I hope this goes viral.”
A single voice shoots an acknowledgement my way. “You might have a point.”
“Shut up, biggot.”
“You don’t like it? then jump off a building.”
“He’s infecting people, shut him up before we all die.”
Two men appear in the room. The feeders have left their terminals, and rage fills their eyes. Funny. Before they charge, I can’t help but think of how human they look. No longer drones watching videos for hours on end, hooked to the screen like it’s some kind of feeding tube. They’re human, and primal. Being beaten to death is the most alive I’ve felt in a long time.