Networking

*What follows is an original short story. It’s a bit of an experiment for me stylistically. Hope you enjoy!

Networking

“You’d better not be wasting my time again.”

“N-no. No, sir. No, I-“

“Because I’ll be damned if I’m going back to my superiors with another report like the one you gave me last time I was down here.”

“No. Please, sir-“

“And I don’t know what end-run you pulled off to keep this little project of yours alive for so long, but I personally guarantee that if you try it again-“

“That…that won’t be necessary, sir.”

“Which part of it?”

“None of it. All of it. I mean…I…”

“Doctor?”

“We’ve had a breakthrough. BreakTHROUGHS, actually.”

“Oh?”

“Well, the original goal of my project was-“

“Was to oversee the development of Earthbound technology in order to plant a seed of pacifism into the human war machine.”

“Yes, and-“

“And at my last status check it was obvious that all you’d actually done was manage to make the humans even MORE quarrelsome and defiant, a feat that NO ONE in the Legions even thought possible.”

“But-“

“But what? Is there something I’ve missed, Doctor?”

“Ah….I…”

“I said-“

“I think we’ve done it, sir.”

“Oh really now?”

“Yes, sir. Now, as you’ve already said, the original goal was to accelerate the emergence of certain Earth technologies to establish a group-thinking process regulated through an artificial hive-mind construct.”

“YOU said that by suddenly interconnecting the humans on a previously unprecedented scale that you could make them all think the same way. And that WE would be the ones guiding those thoughts.”

“Yes, about that-“

“About what, Doctor?”

“About…We’ve failed at that, sir.”

“I’m leaving.”

“No! I mean, please. Don’t go. Sir.”

“You just admitted-“

“I misspoke.”

“You mis…spoke?”

“We haven’t failed. We just-“

“I am out of patience, doctor.”

“We’ve succeeded. Just not in the way we expected to.”

“Explain.”

“The basis of my theory was the fact that humans are such rampant….consumers. They seem to want EVERYTHING.”

“Which the Grand Advocates surmised long ago to be the root of their rather sordid and disturbingly violent history.”

“Well, we figured out that their rapacity is not limited to territory or power or even consumer goods. They also seem to have an unchecked hunger for INPUT.”

“I KNOW, doctor. And it was your job to feed them that…input, as you call it.”

“Yes, well-“

“Well?”

“My theory was based on the assumption that, once the humans were interconnected, they would all be getting the same input from the same source. We were expecting big ideas and big news to be disseminated instantly.”

“And then you were expecting to take control of that information.”

“Yes, exactly. Once the humans were all drinking from the same well, we would have the ability to medicate the proverbial water with a steady dose of palliatives. If you take my meaning, sir.”

“I do.”

“Unfortunately, once the network was online, there was no way we could predict the degree of…participation…that would ultimately arise.”

“Participation?”

“You remember, sir, when you first came for a report on my progress-“

“You’re damn right, I do.”

“The network was suddenly cluttered with uploads like this.”

DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMN!!! CAN YOU BLIEVE THIS IGNERANT SHIT? IF I FIN THE CLOWN WHO WROTE THIS IM GONNA KICK IS ASS YALL!!! COME DOWN TO MY NEBRHOOD AND FIND OUT WHATS 4 REAL B4 U PRINT SHIT LIKE THS. PEOPLE ALWAYS THINKIN IM STOOPID AND LAZY AND CANT READ BUT I READ THIS AND I CANT BELEVE ANY1 WOUD THINK THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH THIS!!! DON BELIEV EVERTHING U READ ON THE WEB. COME AND SEE ME AND ILL SHOW U WHATS WHAT!!! AND IF YOU WANNA HATE ON ME CUZ O THIS THEN U COME DOWN TO!!!

“We thought that maybe we could pinpoint a source, but-“

“You thought you could isolate and silence the voice of dissent.”

“But it seemed to be coming from everywhere.”

“Doctor, I already know all of this.”

“Bear with me just a few moments, sir. I promise I’m coming to my point.”

“You’d better be.”

“We were initially staggered by the level of skepticism the network generated. It seemed like every piece of information was questioned…ridiculed…even attacked, regardless of its source or its veracity.”

“It’s the human way, doctor.”

“So it would seem.”

“I think I’ve humored this discussion of ours about as long as I can stand.”

“Just one more thing, sir.”

“Make it quick.”

“The participation I spoke of. It started simply as a reaction to what was already there. And that was the stage we had reached last time you were here.”

“But it’s gotten better since then?”

“Um…no.”

“No?”

“No, sir. It…it actually got worse. A lot worse. Wait, sir!”

“For what, doctor? For you to finally get around to admitting how badly you’ve-“

“The humans figured out how to deregulate the spread of information.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“That anybody could publish it.”

“You mean they gained access to our network!?!”

“Technically, sir, it was already their network. We just-“

“Fine! Fine….What happened?”

“Ultimately, the humans never did connect to a central hub the way we predicted they would. Instead, they decentralized the entire system.”

“They never dug you your well, is what you’re saying.”

“Well-“

“They never formed the hive that you were so convinced-“

“They did form a hive, sir. There just wasn’t a queen.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning we were never able to bind them to a central source of information. There’s no way to inoculate them with a singular idea or to instill in them a single, shared thought.”

“How many different ways can you tell me you’ve failed, doctor?”

“But there was a hidden benefit.”

“I’m waiting.”

“What the humans ultimately did was connect to each other. And they created a web of unimaginable density and diversity.”

“And how does this help us?”

“The unintended result is that we haven’t made the humans pacifistic. But we have made them submissive.”

“Finally. You have my attention, doctor.”

“The humans quickly realized that anybody could share information on the network. They even figured out ways to make that information seem legitimate, regardless of whether it actually was or not. Because of this, the initial skepticism and combativeness we witnessed was compounded exponentially.”

“Understandable. Where’s the benefit in all of this?”

“In spite of this environment of suspicion and contention – sadly, maybe even because of it – participation rose.”

“Because of it.”

“Sir?”

“When you’ve watched over humanity for as long as I have-“

“Of course. Regardless, particularly enterprising humans started to create their own hubs independent of ours.”

“They created their own central broadcasting channels within the network.”

“Well, yes. But no. That’s not what I’m referring to, anyway.”

“Then what are you referring to, doctor?”

“They created their own hubs to centralize their interconnectedness to each other.”

“They what?”

“Instead of creating broadcast stations within the network, they created NETWORKS within the network. They made the process of spreading and sharing information infinitely more efficient by limiting it only to those individuals who chose to receive it. They also streamlined both the broadcast traffic and the reception traffic by linking and automating the two processes.”

“While I find your lecture on the spontaneous evolution of Earthbound network systems interesting-“

“But this is where it really does get interesting, sir.”

“Really now?”

“Really. Soon the humans adapted that same sub-networking paradigm and applied it SOCIALLY.”

“Socially?”

“Instead of interacting with each other interpersonally, they began doing it within the sub-networks.”

“Why?”

“Convenience? Constancy? Ubiquity? Each would seem to be an inducement enough on its own. But you combine those advantages – you make it possible for them to communicate with each other any time day or night AND to do so instantly? – and it proved too enticing for most humans to ignore.”

“So now we’ve not only enraged the humans, but we’ve handed them the most effective communications system ever devised on Earth?”

“And as I already told you, sir, it made them submissive.”

“How?”

“Please be patient. This is going to take some time to explain.”

“It hasn’t already?”

“I’ll be as brief as I can. The social engagement we initially saw on the subnets – our term, not theirs – was generally innocuous enough. Barring the not infrequent bouts of customary human bravado-“

“That’s one name for it.”

“Most of what appeared on the subnets was congenial. More than a little egocentric, perhaps-“

“You just described humanity, doctor.”

“Yes, well….Soon, that egocentrism began to be widely interpreted as contempt. The result was a fresh influx of uploads similar to the
one I showed you earlier. The difference was that these were very specifically targeted.”

“They were personal.”

“Precisely. They often resulted in very…heated…exchanges within the subnets. And, in some cases, prolonged invective. The humans even created a name for it: Si-per-bull-ing, if I have the pronunciation right.”

“And how were these disputes resolved?”

“Early on? Physically.”

“I thought-“

“I’m oversimplifying, of course. In most instances, the parties in question simply exhausted themselves and moved on. But we have a substantial number of documented cases wherein rivalries within the subnets spawned physical violence OUTSIDE of the network.”

“It spilled over into the streets is what you’re saying, doctor.”

“Indeed.”

“And how exactly does this help our situation?”

“Never underestimate human ingenuity, sir.”

“I don’t.”

“In this case, the humans developed two simple but equally effective defenses. The first is exclusivity. They redesigned the subnets so that participants could only make contact with each other if they were granted PERMISSION TO DO SO.”

“They put themselves into bubbles.”

“To a degree that is impossible anywhere but on the network. That was the first breakthrough.”

“And the other?”

“The other what, sir?”

“The other breakthrough, doctor?”

“That comes later.”

“Doctor-“

“The other defense they created was anonymity.”

“Anonymity?”

“Even from the earliest days of the network, participants realized that they did not need to be entirely honest about-“

“They figured out they could create false identities.”

“Over time, participants realized that the anonymity provided by such falsehoods gave them the freedom to be zealously quarrelsome. Often with unmitigated cruelty.”

“I thought this was supposed to make our situation better.”

“It does, I assure you. Participants became so confrontational specifically because they knew that the conflicts they created would NEVER exist anywhere BUT THE NETWORK. In other words, their anonymity gave them the freedom to ACT aggressive and intimidating without ever actually having to BE so.

“And soon, they started losing that capacity altogether.”

“You mean-“

“I mean, sir, that we’ve done it.”

“Prove it.”

“Are you familiar with the ritualistic nature of human pair-bonding.”

“Don’t insult my intelligence, doctor.”

“Fair enough. Our first indication was this.”

Richard-

I’ve been unable to ignore the doubts that have been slowly creeping into my mind over the past few weeks. It’s suddenly uncertain if we have ever been right for each other. Our engagement is off. I do not intend to be at the church tomorrow. I’m sorry if this hurts you.

Elizabeth

“We almost missed it. But with further study, we discovered-“

“It’s my understanding that ending such an…engagement…is considered a grievous affront.”

“An insult to both personal pride and family honor. And the closer such a dissolution occurs to the designated date of the bonding ritual, the deeper the insult.”

“And this occurred via the network?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How did this …Richard…respond?”

“He didn’t.”

“What?”

“No response, sir.”

“You mean to tell me that-“

“I do.”

“Show me more.”

“Now, this was an exclusive interpersonal communication-“

“Ha!”

“Sir?”

“Personal?”

“Such as it is, yes. And we know now that it is not the only one of its kind. In fact, we’ve tracked thousands of such messages, virtually all of them with the same end result. But as the subnets increased in usage and popularity, we discovered an even more encouraging phenomenon.”

“Which was?”

“Well, the largest of the subnets contains a feature that allows users to designate what stage of the pair-bonding process they have achieved and – if they so choose – with whom.”

“Convenient.”

“It’s now become common practice to announce the cessation of human relationships by simply changing that designation.”

“No personal contact?”

“None.”

“Ever?”

“There was some initial blowback in such situations, but this was also very early on when the practice was still uncommon and-“

“And it still pissed people off, as they say.”

“But as it became more common, the blowback became limited to within the subnet itself. And once the practice starting achieving acceptance, there was no reaction at all.”

“Never?”

“Just a corresponding change in status.”

“Incredible.”

“Quite remarkable, I know.”

“You said there was a second breakthrough?”

“Yes, sir. While all of this was going on, the humans did us one better. They expanded on the principles of the network and made it portable.”

“Portable?”

“It started small. So small, in fact, that we initially ignored it as an anomaly. The humans made rapid advancements in portable vocal communications technology. Soon they were able to talk to each other from anywhere at virtually any time.”

“This is starting to sound like bad news again, doctor.”

“Not at all. The humans quickly developed the ability to couple their communications to the network. Suddenly, everyone on the globe had access to the entire network every hour of the day.”

“Including the subnets.”

“Of course. The subnets were what made the technology so indispensable to so many of them.”

“With what effect?”

“Exponential increase in the phenomena I’ve already demonstrated to you. And it gets better.”

“How?”

“Let me show you. This first series of visuals is archival footage of human social interaction.”

“I’ve seen these images, doctor. I’m the one who captured most of them.”

“But watch, sir. We returned to some of the same establishments and continued to surveil them over the course of our study. Watch what happens as time elapses here…here…and here.”

“And what am I supposed to be seeing?”

“Devices, sir.”

“Devices?”

“Look. In their hands. And now here. And again here.”

“What are they doing?”

“Networking. They’re socializing.”

“But they’re not even-“

“Exactly. Now look at this. This is our most recent reconnaissance from the most populous of our surveillance sites.”

“They’re all-“

“Every one of them.”

“But what-“

“The bubbles you spoke of, sir? They’ve started carrying them into their real outward lives. Virtually all social interaction streaming through the subnets. In some establishments, they no longer even need to speak to another human being to order refreshment.”

“Then why are they-“

“Frankly, sir, we don’t know. Force of habit? Human ritual? Economic necessity? We don’t have an adequate explanation for it. But we do know beyond all doubt that it’s become a global phenomenon.

This is the new humanity, sir.”

“Impressive, doctor, even I have to grudgingly admit. But I’m still not convinced-“

“Then let me show you one more piece of evidence.”

“Proceed.”

“This was the reason I called you down here today.”

“Then why have you been wasting my time-“

“You needed context, sir.”

“Context?”

“You needed to understand HOW all of this happened in order to even believe that it could.”

“What are you insinuating, doctor?”

“Nothing. Just that I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t watched it all as it unfolded.”

“Fine. What do you have to show me?”

“Nothing. I-“

“Doctor-“

“I have something you need to hear. Visual access to the incident in question was dangerous at best, so we’ve had to rely solely on audio. But the audio is definitive. What you’re about to hear is a disciplinary exchange between an adult human male and his professional superior.”

“Smith!”

“Y-yes, sir?”

“What the hell happened back there?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we have all of our Middle Eastern affairs riding on this fucking conference and you’re in there getting your ass handed to you by some raghead shyster streaming a fucking slideshow from somewhere out in the fucking desert.”

“Sir, I-“

“What, Smith? You what? This whole damn deal is about to fall apart because of a bunch of grainy fucking photos.”

“Mr.-“

“Did you even know that those photos existed?”

“But-“

“No buts. Did you know that the photos existed?”

“Not-“

“Un-fucking-believable, Smith. We just got caught with our fucking pants around our ankles in there, and we’ve got less than an hour before we go back in there and get bent over. You better have some fucking answers for these assholes before that happens.”

“Mr. Johnson, that’s not my-“

“I don’t give a damn whose job it is, Smith. You’re going to go in there and make this go away. Do you understand me?”

“I-“

“DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME!?!”

“Yes, sir.”

“When this whole fucking thing comes crashing down around us I’ll be damned if it’s going to land on my fucking head. You’ve got thirty minutes.”

“I’m only finding half of this encouraging, Doctor.”

“Let me show you what happened next. Almost immediately after this exchange ended, Smith went to his portable access.”

Mr. Johnson-

We learned of the existence of the pictures in question four days ago, but had it from a reliable source that the Middle Eastern negotiating committee had not. White was able to confirm the information as credible and saw to the subsequent suppression of the photos. Although we did get caught with our pants down momentarily, we are not wholly unprepared for this contingency. It will, however, cost us some concessions at the negotiating table. I will take full responsibility for our losses.

“Does this say what I think it does?”

“Sir?”

“The oversight in question was another man’s fault?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And this…Smith knew it the whole time?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But he let his superior publicly berate and belittle him without ever bothering to contest this point?”

“Exactly.”

“And now he’s volunteering to take the fall for someone else’s mistake.”

“Would you like to know how it ends, sir?”

“Damn right.”

“We were able to track Johnson back to his office. We still only have the audio, but you’ll find it revealing. That’s his door slamming shut. That’s him collapsing into his chair. Now, listen.”

“All I hear is him breathing.”

“And?”

“Heavily. Was that a whistle?”

“A human tic.”

“What was that?”

“Notification of a message over the subnet.”

“Smith?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And that rattle?”

“Medication. What the humans call anti-anks-iety pills.”

“Anxiety? Over confronting a subordinate? Who gave in without a fight?”

“And relief, sir.”

“What about the negotiations?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Smith returned to the negotiating table fully prepared to make the concessions he referred to in his missive-“

“He was just going to give in like that?”

“Indeed. But following a perfunctory display of counter-aggression-“

“He didn’t have to.”

“Right. The…Mi-dull Ee-ster Shy-sters…relented.”

“They had the upper hand and they backed down at the first sign of opposition.”

“Exactly.”

“Incredible.”

“No, sir. What’s incredible is what comes next on the audio. Allow me to resume playback.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Fast-forwarding. Here.”

“What-“

“Wait.”

“Did she just say Mister President?”

“Yes, sir.”

Mister…”

Press-i-dent.”

“You mean to tell me that this Mr. Johnson…is President William Robert Johnson.”

“The most powerful man on the planet Earth.”

“The most powerful man…”

“Sir?”

“You’ve done it.”

“We’ve done it.”

“I’ll alert the Advocates. The Legions have been standing by for too long already. Landings and occupation will commence immediately.”

“Sir?”

“Yes, doctor?”

“You can tell them that they’ll encounter no resistance.”

*If you have a thought or would like to share some feedback, please comment below. I’d love to know what you think.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

Copyright 2013 Christopher V. Alexander