I’ve put my money where my mouth is
For the first time in my life
I’ve made mistakes, but I believe that
Everything was worth the fight
‘Cause in the end, the road is long
But only ’cause it makes you strong
It’s filled with peaks and twists and turns
Sometimes you have to learn to forget about it
He waited in a conference room going over a document with a mechanical pencil. As he read through it, he’d mutter and write in the margin, or line out some text. He had two copies on the table.
Two slightly younger men opened the door and walked in. The first one started with a greeting.
“Congressman,” he said, “We came as soon as we could.”
“Sure, sit down,” he responded and pointed to chairs on the other side of the table. He looked at them and pushed the documents toward them.
“Look,” he said. “The speech I’m giving isn’t working. We’re not connecting with people.”
He stood up and crossed his arms and looked at them disapprovingly. They looked back and the first man in spoke.
“Well, we’ve redrafted it and it seems to test well,” he said. “It does seem a little wordy in some spots, sort of academic.”
“I know,” he responded. “That’s how I talk. You know that. And here’s the thing, I don’t think you get it anymore than some Grandma in the audience does.” He walked over to the white board where he’d written,
Why is freedom dependent on value exchange?
“Do either of you have an answer?” he asked putting both hands on the table. “Can you explain to me why? Do you even care?”
Before they could answer, he walked back over and pointed to the words.
“We,” he said, then paused, “I have to be able to explain why a system of value exchange based on price is why we can think, and see, and say what we want.”
He pointed at the document in front of each of them.
“Some people want to control prices and some people think maybe we don’t need to do that because we’ve got data,” he said. “Data. Consumer data, biometric data, all sorts of data. What I’ve written here for you is a absurd little fable I hope will get you thinking and writing. I need something vivid, guys. Something vivid.”
He reached into his bag underneath the table and pulled out a book. He slid it toward them.
“This is the Road to Serfdom,” he said, “Read this too. This is what we believe.”
Unforgettable : A Parable About Price
It was another rainy day. He wanted to see her. When he did, heart rate could climb to 72 beats per minute, his phone would send a signal when the rate hit 70 beats.
Whenever it did his phone would automatically call her.
“I was thinking about you too,” she said.
A bell sound would go off as a reminder for daily chores or in response to changes in bodily functions or work meetings.
“I’ve got some work,” he said.
“Me too,” she said “What’s that bell?”
“I think I need to go to the bathroom,” he said.
“I don’t mind,” she said. He kept talking to her as he went into the toilet.
“I earned some extra points for a drink out,”’he said.
“Yeah?”, she asked. “My points just dropped. So we should get together.”
Points were earned based on behavior and meeting assigned goals like weight loss or gain. Every possible variable was measured and behavior was tracked and incentivized for maximum utility; that’s what it was called, “maximum utility.”
“Ok,” he said.
“Are you doing it?” She asked.
There was a flush.
More bells. They now could see each other, but they were looking at each other looking at their screens.
“You’re looking beautiful today,” he said as he wrote a text to a co-worker.
“Looks like we’re going to the Jasper Tudor,” she said. “It’s a pretty hot cocktail spot; it has 4 and a half stars.”
“Yep,” he said. “Looks like that’s exactly what we want.”
His phone was buzzing.
“Hold on,” he said.
She looked at her phone.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
The waiter appeared with a bowl of pasta.
“Pasta?” she said.
“I run tomorrow, so carbs, you know,” he said.
“Do you love me?” She asked again.
Their phones buzzed. They both looked.
“My clock…”she said.
“Is running out,” he finished. “You’ve got about 675 days optimal.”
The waiter brought some vitamins for them both.
“Prenatals,” she said.
“This is moving fast,” he said.
Their phones both buzzed.
“Therapist!” they both said at the same time.
They both laughed. They looked into each other’s eyes.
“It’s like it’s meant to be,” he said.
“That’s what my phone says, too!” She said.
“Hey,” he said. “Let’s leave for a minute.”
Leaving meant something. It meant handing a phone to another live body to disrupt the algorithm. People could shut off the phone. But the consequences could be dire. No food. Needs profile all fucked up. One time he shut off his phone accidentally and he got a delivery of 100 pounds of gravel.
Leaving was just stepping away. But leaving a phone unattended was dangerous too. It picked up stray conversations, noise. She’d heard a story about a phone left in a cab over night. The person had a swat team show up looking for terrorists.
Resetting meant starting over, the equivalent of turning off then turning on.
Forgetting. Nobody usually talked about forgetting.
“Leave?” she asked. “It heard you say that.”
He looked at her with wide eyes and put his phone in his pocket. She did the same. Then they handed his coat with the phones in the pocket to the bartender. He tilted his head, winked and put put the coat on while he stepped back behind the bar.
“Hey, what else can I get you two?” he asked loud enough for the microphones would hear. The phones would figure out what was going on in about 15 minutes, but for now it would start tracking the bartender’s biological functions, temperature, and heart rate.
They walked around the corner.
“Is this having a baby thing real or the algorithm,” he said.
“What the fuck do you mean?” she said. “It’s the same thing.”
“Do you remember what love was like before this?” he asked.
“Look, I know you’re older and all,” she said. “But life’s better now. Why go back? Everything is saying we should be together and have babies.”
“But what do you really want?”, he asked.
“Are you a terrorist?” she asked. “Oh fuck, how did my phone not know that?”
“I’m not,” he said. He kissed her. He looked in her eyes.
“Real?” she said. “Real was billionaires and homeless people on the same block. You remember that too?”
She pushed him away.
“Real was having to pay for shit, and work, and…” she paused. “And money.”
“Real was heartbreak,”’he said.
“Yeah,” she said. “All that sucked. So much uncertainty. I’m feeling like I need to get back to my phone.”
“Hey,” he said holding her hands. “It did suck. But everyone didn’t know when I was going to take a shit.”
“Yeah,” she said. “That last one was an outlier.”
“Shut up,” he said. “Knowing everything isn’t really knowing everything. Life is…”
“It isn’t,” she said. “I know we should have babies. That’s what it says. That’s for sure and certain.”
She was nervous.
“Let’s go back,” he said.
That night after the car that was selected for them dropped them off at each of their apartments, he turned off all the lights. He lit a candle and put his phone under a pillow.
He just wanted to think. For a minute.
He heard a knocking at his door. That was weird. He hadn’t ordered anything. He looked at his phone. Did she order something for him?
The knocking continued.
“Uber eats!” a female voice said.
He looked at his phone. He wasn’t even hungry.
He opened the door and she stood their soaking wet from the rain. She didn’t have anything but a canvass bag.
She looked at him.
“Let me in,” she said under her breath. “Just let me in.”
He recognized her. She was often at the bus stop on the way to the coffee shop. She didn’t register on any of his apps. Ever. He just guessed he was missing something.
He squinted at her.
“I’m not hungry,” he said.
“Please,” she said.
He stood back and she barged in.
“What’s this all about,” he asked.
She looked at his phone and made a face and with her hand made a motion like a key being turned.
“What…” he said.
She took his phone and shut it off.
“Hey,” he exclaimed. “What the hell..?”
She kissed him and then slammed the door.
“That was for real,” she said. “I don’t have a phone.”
“What?”, he said. “You can’t just bust in here…”
“Shut up for a second,” she said. “You have any other AI in here?”
He looked at her confused.
“I mean the fridge and the crock pot are connected…”he lamely said.
She rushed to them and unplugged them both.
“Goddammit,” he said. “What the fuck is this all about? They’re gonna know this unit is dark now.”
“Can you just shut the fuck up for one second?” she asked him, her eyes wide.
He looked at her in the candle light. He’d always liked her. He wondered what she was doing there at the bus stop.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s illegal to be dark for more than 30 minutes.” Going dark, shutting off all connections to the internet was illegal and most people thought immoral.
She took him by the hand and walked him away from the front door and toward the candle.
“We’ve been watching you,” she said. “I’ve been watching you.”
“Who?” he said. “What the fuck is going on? Give me my phone.”
“No,” she said. “Let’s forget.”
He stopped and looked at her.
“I’ve heard about this shit,” he said. “This forgetting bullshit. I’m not stupid.”
“Look,” she said taking his hands. “If we’ve picked up on your unhappiness you know they have.”
A lot of things went through his mind at that moment. For one, they were about 25 minutes from the going dark limit. She was cute. He was unhappy. They had to know. He didn’t want to take prenatal vitamins.
“Ok,” he said turning away. “You got me. But how are you better than them? You’re reading me too. How’s that better?”
“That’s above my pay grade,” she said. “We call it the calculation problem. It’s from a book.”
“Fuck you!” he said. “A book? You’re doing this because of a book. That’s not data.”
“Please,” she said, hugging him, “It’s trial and error!”
He pulled away. He ran his fingers through his hair. He saw feet outside his window and the glow of a phone.
“Trial and error?” he whispered. “We’ve got minutes before they come. Maybe less.”
“Isn’t this exciting?” she asked with seriousness.
He knew it was. He felt warm. Being forgotten. Is that what he wanted? He felt his hand forming the shape of a phone. He didn’t know what he wanted without it.
He stepped toward her. He held her close.
“I’ve googled ‘forgetting’ a million times,” he said.
“I know,” she said. “They know. They’ve always known.”
If they knew he’d forget why didn’t they stop him. He was confused.
“You’re confused,” she said.
“That’s a fucking understatement,” he said. “And how did you know that?”
“Understatements aren’t allowed,” she said. “And I know because I’ve watched you with these” and she pointed to her eyes.
They kissed each other again. He was overwhelmed by what had always been a deep doubt, a doubt he’d dammed up. Now the dam was breaking.
“Where do we go now?” he asked.
“The old shopping mall, they have…”
“Stop,” he said. “We’ve got to leave now. No maps.”
“I know the way,” she said.
“But I’ve never bought anything,” he said nervously. “I’ve never seen money. I’ve never borrowed. I’ve never bargained.”
“You’ll learn,” she said. “But we’ve got to go.”
The trip started easily enough. He didn’t touch his phone. They had 10 minutes left. He had no sense of time as they moved through crowded streets holding hands.
“Hey,” a woman said. “You’re that guy. You’re a forgetter!”
She took a picture with her phone.
Someone else did too.
They picked up their pace.
Now they were running.
Phones were up everywhere. Flashes were going off.
They turned down another street.
“It’s this way,” she said. “Across the bridge.”
“Hey look,” voices said. “That’s them!”
By now Twitter and Facebook were blowing up.
“This is Wolf Blitzer,” blared a television. “Two more so called ‘forgetters’ have shut off their phones and are making a break for it. We have exclusive video…”
“Fuck,” he said. “That happened fast.”
“Fox News has an exclusive interview with the girlfriend of one of those ‘forgetters’ who toss their phones and try to leave society.”
They stopped for a minute and watched a television.
“He was always leaving,” she said as she wiped tears. “I always knew something was wrong.”
“What the fuck?” he said.
“He always wondered about the old days, buying and selling, prices and money,”’she said. “I should have known!”
“We gotta go!” she pulled him.
By now they were being chased by people with phones, live streaming and Tweeting.
“There’s the bridge,” she said. “It’s off limits. They won’t follow.”
He looked back halfway across. There was a huge crowd taking video and pictures.
The campfire was in front of a Barnes and Nobles that served as a kind of hub for the community. There were no lights and no electricity.
They had been welcomed but he had a lot of learning to do. This bearded man at the fire was their leader it seemed.
“Welcome,” he said. “Sit down.”
“My life is over,” he said.
“That life is over,” he said. “You’ve got a new life.”
“Read this,” he threw him a book.
“A book,” he said. “I haven’t seen or held one. Ever. It’s weird.”
“Everything is going to be weird now,” he said. Then he laughed. Everyone else around the fire did too.
The book was called, The Road to Serfdom.
They had found a spot to live — and work — near the abandoned JC Penny.
“I’ve never done this,” he said.
He showed her some pieces of paper with pictures of men on it.
“It’s money,” she said and paused, “honey.”
“I’m not used to this,” he said. “I do stuff and then people give me these papers.”
“At the fire tonight he’ll explain,” she said.
That night they gathered in front of the Barnes and Nobles.
“Price,” the bearded man said, “is what teaches us what to do. When prices go up, then we make more. When they go down…”
“You’re saying price tells us what to do,” he said. “How’s that different from the algorithm?”
Everyone around the fire smiled. She held his arm tightly, a bit worried.
“That’s the question,” he said. “That’s at the heart of it.”
The bearded man settled back.
“Need and want are different,” he said. “Here, there is no equality. Work and innovation determines value.”
“But what if I can’t get what I need?” he asked. “Back there I had socks when I needed them. Now I go without!”
“Until you earn them,” he said. “If that’s what you need you’ll work harder, and Jim over there is my sock man! He has socks.”
“That’s uncertain,” he said.
“You want certainty, then go back,” he said. “This is a world of no promises.”
Later that night they talked.
“Sometimes I miss my phone,” he said.
“I know,” she said.
“Do you miss her,” she asked.
“Only because she was part of my phone,” he said.
They sat quietly for a long time.
“Do you miss the certainty,” she asked.
“Sometimes,” he said. “I don’t understand prices.”
“It’s easy, honey,” she said. “If there’s less…”
“Then prices are high, and I have to work harder,” he said. “I get that.”
He stood up. The fire beguiled him for a moment.
“It’s unfair,” he said. “The old man won’t be able to work. Then what?”
“We’ll take care of him,” she said. “There’s nothing about what we believe that says we’ll let people die without a fight.”
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you,” she said back
“This is a crazy fucked up world,” he said. “But I love it and you.”
They were out walking one day on the perimeter looking for edible mushrooms they could sell.
Two hovering cycles with police appeared.
“Halt!” one said. “Surrender your cash!”
He looked at her. Then at the robot.
“Ummm, no,” he said.
“How much cash do you have?” asked the robot?
He reached in his pocket.
“I have $13,009,” he said.
“Surrender it or die,” the robot said.
They both looked at each other and laughed.
“No,” he said. “Fuck off. We’re giving you nothing. You have no use for cash in your world. Go away.”
The robots looked at each other and then buzzed away.
“Fuckers,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said.
The sun was setting and the light was making the big Nordstrom sign glow red.
“What do you wanna do for dinner tonight,” he said.
“I have no idea,” she said.
“Me neither,” he said.
They laughed. They kissed. The sun set.
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