Part One – Tyler
“I don’t understand why you want this kind of influence around you, Tyler. It’s not healthy!”
“It’s your fucking system, God! Turn the shit off if you don’t like it!”
“Don’t you talk to me like that!”
Sally and Tyler Felt, mother and son. They lived in one of those townhouses that sprang up in Seattle in the teens. Three long and narrow floors sitting on a small lot. She stayed on top and he made his room on the bottom. Currently they were on the middle floor in the kitchen; her getting ready to go to work, him to school. The kitchen was all stainless steel and grey. The displays throughout the kitchen all changed when Tyler entered the room, reflecting his inclinations. They adapted to the input he gave the campaign. The videos he chose to watch, the clothes he wore and the way he wore them, the conversations he had throughout the day, what he ate, the search criteria he used, the media he consumed, his heart rate and blood pressure, all of it was data fed into the campaign and used for marketing, targeting him specifically. And for the two of them combined when they were in the same space. So when Tyler walked in the room, his father’s face appeared on all the displays.
Sally put her to-go cup under the cafe nozzle and tried to center herself. She said aloud “Mocha frappe one.” A hologram of a man appeared on the counter between her and her cup, it was her husband, Tyler’s father. It was an image of what he might look like at his current age had he still been alive. A deep relaxed baritone voice began to speak:
“You know, agitation may be caused by many factors, let’s review how—”
She interrupted, grunting exasperatedly, raising her voice, “Stop advertisement.”
“Are you sure you would like to stop this important message?”
The hologram disappeared and the frappe began to stream into her mug. Her fitbit flashed red. The house then spoke in a different deep voice, “Recommendation for Sally, supplement, in stock available. Say yes to accept.”
She straightened up and righted her shoulders, loosened her neck. “Yes,” she said, comforted slightly in the knowledge that relief for this agitation was coming.
“Recommendation for Tyler, supplement, in stock, available. Say yes to accept.”
“No!” Tyler replied immediately.
“Tyler!” said Sally, shooting him a look. Her fitbit flashed.
“Are you sure you’d like to decline recommended supplement? Say yes to accept.”
“Yes!” said Sally to the house. “Yes, yes.”
She looked back at Tyler, drilling him with her eyes. “You listen to me, Tyler, today is an important day for us.” She looked up at the display above the counter next to Tyler, and saw her deceased husband’s face. He was older now, like her.
“Can I help you?” it asked.
Her fitbit beeped and continued to flash red, frustrating her more. She grumbled, visibly tense. “I want you to get rid of this campaign now. Today.” She didn’t look at him when she said it.
“There’s an easy way to do that mother, turn the shit off.”
“You know I can’t do that,” she said. She stepped over to him and grabbed his arm, then put her wrist next to his so their fitbits touched. Each device vibrated and clucked twice quickly to signify the transfer had been made.
“Now what? What the hell is this?”
“I know you don’t think I’m on your side, Tyler, but I am, trust me. I know it’s hard to be your age.”
“Oh, come on,” he said. “Christ, man.”
“You need to trust me,” she said. “Especially today.”
“UUUUUUGH,” he let out like a wail as he stormed out of the room, down the stairs, and then out the door slamming it shut behind him. He walked out onto the sidewalk heading toward Phinney Ave. He could catch the Rapid Ride or call his mom’s car, but he thought he’d walk instead. He was planning to stop by Keith’s house anyway and maybe they’d just skip school altogether. Maybe Keith’s grandfather would be there, and he could try that emotive kit thing again.
He crossed Phinney when traffic came to a stop for a commercial for a plastic surgeon. Walking through a hologram was technically jaywalking, but everyone did it, he didn’t even think about it. Then he began heading west down toward Ballard which was visible in the distance. He could see, up in the sky, hanging above the Olympics, a giant image of an angry looking man’s face, hair wild, a gaping mouth through which bright clouds peeked.
This particular image was of the Secretary of Defense, recently in the news after having been interviewed saying that an enormous deployment was being readied to attack an unnamed threat to democracy. This image of him was taken during a heated exchange with a rogue journalist who had harassed him before being escorted away, and had become a well-used image in recent days. Below this image taking up the entire western sky were the words, FEAR THE THREAT, and then the image and words morphed into a giant three-patty cheeseburger, beautifully sketched in dark and light. Below it read, THE TRIPLE PATTY THREAT ONLY AT MCDONALDS.
Keith’s grandfather, who everyone called Bub, was the only one Tyler knew who ever talked about what it was like before skyvertising and holograms and fitbits even. Tyler could only imagine it was something like being out in the country, like in Eastern Washington, where you can actually see the sky. But here in the city. It must have been so much quieter, he thought.
A girl on an electric bicycle pulled up next to him on the sidewalk. “Tyler?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah,” he said.
She handed him a prescription bottle and then they held their fitbits together until they vibrated and clucked, completing the transaction. “You can keep it if you want,” he said to her.
“No, thanks,” she shrugged her shoulders. “Going to school?”
“Yeah,” he said blandly.
“What grade are you in?”
“Do you like it?” She asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess. I mean, not really. You don’t go?”
“No, I’m online.”
“Yeah?” he said.
“Yeah. You know, that way I can work. All right, see ya.”
He watched her pedal away down the sidewalk. Then he looked at the label on the pill bottle.
Take 2 with next three meals
Bub wouldn’t take supplements, he thought. Yesterday, Keith and he had been behind Keith’s house, beside the garden in Bub’s workshop when they found the emotive kit thing. It was wooden and brass and shiny. It had a round analogue meter with a red needle behind glass like something from an old-fashioned movie. They were trying to figure out what it was, with all its wires and tubes going every which way when Bub came up behind them and startled them. Tyler’s fitbit flashed red, drawing Bub’s attention. Pfft, he dismissively blew a blast of air from his lips.
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have left it out like this,” Bub said. “This is dangerous boys.”
“What is it Bub?”
“It’s something I made a long time ago. It got me into trouble.”
“But what is it?”
He stroked his long grey beard and chewed his lip looking at the contraption. “It’s an emotive kit. Do you know what that is?”
Keith and Tyler looked at each other, then back to Bub. “Yeah, they told us about them at school in health class. They’re illegal,” Tyler said.
“Yes, that’s right. I could get into trouble if anyone knew I still had this.” He glanced back and forth between them, nodding his head.
“So what’s so bad about it? said Tyler?”
“Well, that’s a good question. That is a good question indeed.” He ran his hand over the wooden box which formed the main body of the device. “Well, it does something that the campaign doesn’t want it to. It releases emotion. It’s designed to very accurately find blockages in your body, and release them.”
The two boys stared at him. They looked at each other and then Tyler said, “So?”
“So exactly. That’s what I say,” Bub said. “It’s basically an electronic stim massage tool, with a very high level of precision.” He ran his hand along the long edge of the device. “It can be used for sex too.”
The boys glanced at each other and Bub laughed.
“Well, it can be,” he chuckled more, “but that of course classifies it as porn. You do know what porn is, right?”
The boys both rolled their eyes.
“But what they really don’t like about it, what fills them with fear is the intense emotional experience it releases in anyone who uses it. Ungoverned, unregulated emotion.” He pointed at the fitbits on each boy’s wrist. “Those goddamned things right there, monitoring you constantly so they can optimise you, keep you focused, keep you under control. You know what they’re doing, right? You know they’re robbing you of the real breadth of the emotional experience. You boys have no idea what true joy feels like. Bliss. Or anger. Disgust. Grief. Or surprise. That’s my favorite. Your entire generation has no idea what surprise feels like.”
“I felt surprised when you came up behind us just now, Grandpa.”
“No, Keith, you were startled. Surprise is a real emotion. It fills you with a burst of buoyancy, and energy in a way that, well it can shift your perception entirely, and make the world itself seem new.”
“So why is that so bad?” Tyler asked.
“The campaign doesn’t want you to see a new world, the campaign likes it just the way it is where it gets to tell you what to feel.”
The three of them looked at the emotive kit for a moment.
“Why don’t you wear a fitbit, Bub? Aren’t you afraid of getting sick?”
“Oh, getting sick is exactly what I’m afraid of,” Bub said. Tyler didn’t know exactly what Bub meant.
Then, after a bit of deliberation and warning, Bub agreed to hook each of them up to it. He connected a series of wires and inflatable straps to their neck, wrists, head, and chest. First for Keith, then for Tyler. He also had them each place their wrist with the fitbit inside a heavy metal tube. He said it would block the fitbit from recording what they were about to do. Man, Tyler thought, his mother would not approve of this at all.
First Bub hooked up Keith and turned it on for about a minute. Keith smiled a huge grin, and then laughed. “Oh, man!” was the only thing he said while the device was on. He said it a few times, his eyes lolling in his head, focused on some imaginary point off in the distance, his mouth hanging open. “Oh, man, wow!”
Then it was Tyler’s turn. As Bub hooked him up Keith said, “Wow, I mean I felt happy, but, I mean, way more happy than I’ve ever felt before.”
“Because you’ve just felt real joy. They’ve blocked it from you your whole life. It’s your birthright.”
He hooked up Tyler next. Got all the wires and straps connected, put his fitbit inside the metal tube. Then he flipped the switch on. For a moment, Tyler didn’t feel anything different. Then there was a sensation that seemed to start behind his eyes, and then all the air escaped his lungs suddenly. He felt a kind of contraction all over his body as his eyes began to water.
“Don’t fight it son, let go. Let it happen,” Bub said.
He’d never felt anything like it. Something inside was trying to come out and he didn’t know how to stop it. Pressure was building. He tensed up, his eyes teared up more, and then he suddenly let go and cried out loud. He heard himself wail. The pressure evaporated, and an enormous sense of relief washed over him, his body convulsed as he cried uncontrollably. Bub shut the thing off. Keith looked a bit worried. Bub smiled.
“Despair,” Bub said. “Or grief.”
That was yesterday afternoon, after school. He could almost feel it again, if he concentrated. It was so weird. He’d cried when he was younger, and of course he’d seen people cry, and it wasn’t pleasant. No one wants to cry. But there was something…good about it. About how he felt when he was hooked up to that device. He couldn’t explain it. He just knew he wanted to do it again. He opened the bottle of supplements and spilled them onto the grass next to the sidewalk as he walked. They fell one after the other. He would have to account for them eventually, but he didn’t care.
He was almost at Keith’s house. He heard a series of loud rumbles. The western skyverts were now all images of war, old images like from the nineteen hundreds, hanging up there above Ballard. The rumbles were louder now. Explosions. It was a series of explosions off behind him. He turned around but the ridge he was now descending blocked his view from whatever might be happening. Then with a roar a series of jets came overhead. It looked like they were dropping things. He heard more explosions, closer to him. He turned back toward Ballard as the jets streaked away. Then he saw the first bomb hit and felt the thud of impact as one of the taller buildings tipped over and disappeared in a cloud of debris.
Part Two – Sally
Tyler stormed out of the kitchen and down the stairs, slamming the door behind him. The displays in the kitchen all changed to reflect that Sally was their sole audience, they displayed an advertisement for home security. They all showed the image of a black-masked cat burglar entering a house through a window with a flashlight in the dark. What was she supposed to do with Tyler, she thought.
It was 6:32AM, she needed to get moving.
It was in fact an important day for her. She was on the leadership team of a campaign launching in about thirty minutes, timed for rush hour when so much of the market is totally captive. She wasn’t exactly looking forward to witnessing the campaign in action, but she and Tyler were safe, now that she’d updated his fitbit.
“Your car arrives in five minutes, with normal delays,” said the house voice. “Mirror,” she said, and an HD hologram of a one-dimensional mirror appeared in front of her, reflecting her face and hair. She inspected herself quickly while walking to the door. “Done,” she said and the mirror disappeared. She picked up her briefcase and put her coat over her arm then headed downstairs. “Assistant,” she said, as she got to the front door and reached for the doorknob, “I want a new automatic door installed here to replace this antique. Get me three quotes to review on my drive home tonight.”
“Three quotes,” said the house in that relaxed baritone. “Confirmed.”
She went outside, shutting the door behind her, it felt flimsy compared to new automatic doors. This was just a slab of wood held with two small hinges and one small old-fashioned lock mechanism. Why does she keep putting it off, she wondered. From her front walk on Phinney Ridge she could see down the slope facing roughly east, toward Greenlake. It was a beautiful cool spring morning. The streets were wet, but the sun was shining now. The eastern sky was filled with an image of an enormous hamburger. This skyvert was the current style, instead of displaying the image opposite the sun on giant holograms in HD realcolor, they were more and more being displayed backlit by the sun, creating dramatic stylized drawings that were at once both ancient and immediate, like a woodblock print, or calligraphy set in the air by a skilled hand.
A girl on an electric bicycle pulled to a stop in front of her house as Sally got to the sidewalk. She checked her fitbit to review her orders. When Sally reached her, the girl handed her a prescription bottle. Then they touched their fitbits together until they vibrated and clucked.
Sally’s car pulled up to the curb as the girl rode away down the sidewalk. It was a driverless car, a Mercedes like most of them on the street in Seattle. Sally walked over to it and held her fitbit within millimeters of the entry panel. The door clicked, and lifted, and Sally got in. The car had an upbeat, confident lilt to its voice. “Hello and welcome, Sally. Where would you like me to take you?” It asked.
“Take me to work please,” she said. She buckled her seat belt and put her bag, coat, and coffee down. The car was roomy for a coupe, she was glad to have gotten this particular model today. “Homepage please,” she said, checking the time.
The windshield transformed into a screen displaying a three panel page, a task list on the right, a newsfeed on the left, and a larger area in the center currently displaying the advertisement with the catburglar and the flashlight. “Home channel, please,” she said.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to learn more about securing your home? Your recent—”
“Yes, home channel please.”
A live feed showed a man in a suit standing at a podium in a conference room at the head of a table full of men and women in suits. The bottom of the feed in bold all-caps read, DIRECTOR ADDRESSES LEADERSHIP TEAM. It was a rare glimpse of the Board of Directors of Sally’s company, and the Director himself, addressing all of the leadership team, of which Sally was one. The sound came on to the Director mid-address, “…and we’ve experienced unprecedented growth in the last number of quarters,” the man said, “Huge growth. Unprecedented. Profits are up. You, our leadership team have seen this with the recent bonuses we were able to distribute. You see, we view those bonuses as an investment. We know that when we invest wisely, we reap rewards, we keep our principle growing. Now, that’s why we’ve decided to reach out to you this morning regarding the new campaign. You’ve all received new credentials this morning and I trust you’ve synced your additional credentials to your significant others. Let me start by giving you a bit of background. You’ve heard me talk before on emotional response. It’s the foundation, you know that. You’ve seen and worked on campaigns where we have ever more precisely harnessed and utilized mass emotional response. We have created delivery technology that incorporates all five senses. We have been at the forefront of Immersive Experience Marketing, IEM, and we have reaped the greatest profits in history as a result.” He paused, then pointed at the camera. “You’ve created IEM. You have done this. Not just the Board of Directors here, but all of you on the leadership team watching this right now. Your dedication and hard work. And today,” he looked down at his fitbit, “today in one minute precisely, we will usher in the future. Historians will look back on today as the dawn of a new era of profit making. Of what is possible. Of how motivated masses of people can become to stimulate their economy, and how focused they can be at generating profit. Of how great the free market system is in this, the greatest country in the world.” He checked his fitbit again.
By this time Sally was on the Aurora Bridge heading over the Ship Canal toward downtown. To her left, looking east was Lake Union, and the Cascades beyond. Up here, high on the bridge there was so much canvas to work with, she thought. She was a designer by training and did layout work for the company. At first. She did more managing now than actual layout work, she was good at it, or so they told her. But she would like a shot at layout for the Ship Canal view. She looked from the floating homes to the growing skyline on Capitol Hill and imagined skyverts growing organically from the hilly landscape.
The Director began again after having paused for a drink of water. “And the campaign has begun. We are working with all branches of the armed forces, and your support is vital. As I speak, one hundred thousand troops are moving into Seattle, and bombs are about to rain down onto four distinct areas of the city. You have all received a file detailing the campaign,” he made eye contact with someone or something in the room, and nodded. “It should be in your inbox now.”
Up above Sally, up above the skyvertising a group of large jets passed through and it looked like they were dropping things.
The Director went on, “As everyone knows, the Pacific Northwest is one of the toughest markets in our entire nation. People here are stubborn and progressive. Very slow to adopt IEM technology compared to nationwide stats. The Pacific Northwest has the lowest adoption rates anywhere, which as you all know is foundational. Adoption of the tech is paramount. Well, today we change things. Today we’re rolling out a new campaign right here, in the toughest market in the nation, precisely because it’s so tough. With enough IEM focused pressure, we will turn this inherent stubbornness into an asset, into a reliable profit stream. We can thank the President and Congress for passing legislation just yesterday finally unshackling us once and for all from the regulations that have been holding us back from this, allowing us to use IEM in entirely new ways. To target the most powerful emotion, fear, in revolutionary new ways. We will fill the Pacific Northwest with fear. Fear filling the very core of each individual in the market, and the profit will come to us.” The Board of Directors applauded. “The profit will come,” he repeated to the applause of the Board.
Sally looked back toward the jets and saw it now, they were dropping bombs. She saw the first explosions not far northeast of Phinney Ridge. She was almost off the southern end of the bridge at the base of Queen Anne now. She turned around to look behind her and saw drones that had swarmed and were diving straight for the bridge. They pulled up just before hitting the bridge itself in a hypnotically acrobatic display, all turning back on themselves like a long whip, and then there was a huge explosion on the bridge itself.
Sally undid her seatbelt to fully turn around in the car and look out the back window. She saw smoke and dust and chaos. It was hard to tell how bad the damage was, and then it was out of sight as the car curved around the base of Queen Anne and took her toward the tunnel into downtown.
“The profit will come,” the Director said again another time for emphasis. “Thank you and have a bountiful day all of you. God bless you all.”