Monday, January 4, 2021

A Really Short Story About Our New World

So Dad’s iCar became mine after he killed himself. We were no longer close, mostly my fault. I was living in the country. The only country left, really, after the meltdown. Pretty much like the New Jersey airport swamps that Dad used to tell me about, as far as I can tell, with desolate snow instead of water. Life was already pretty much dead for me where everyone else lived. I never learned how to promote myself the way you’re supposed to. 

I did know how to live in the country. Dad taught me. He was a boy scout. He'd been in the Army. He always said that he’d live in the country if he didn’t have mouths to feed. So we used to camp, which really isn’t possible anymore. Because of the toxins. I live normally in the one place which doesn’t have them yet. That’s because they don’t last in the cold. The water flows the other way from where I live. I live in the last cold place on earth. Not the North Pole, but pretty close. There are still some trees there, though most of my firewood is deadfall. There are still some scrawny critters to eat. I stay fit.

Dad was well off. He practiced law, which had become pretty much the same as running a computer, though it still took some knack. Dad was pretty much happy all the time, and so of course I wondered why he’d killed himself. He acted happy anyhow.

I know how he killed himself. Nowadays, everyone always knows how everybody dies. There are only so many ways to go, and Dad took one of the most obvious routes. He went swimming. Dad had always loved to swim. He told me about the ‘good old days’ growing up on the Lake, when there were still fish in it. When you could see right down to the bottom at over 25 feet, he said. 

Swimming now is a pretty quick death sentence. You don’t exactly drown. It’s just that the hypertoxins work their way in through your skin, and the faster you swim, the more they work their way in, and then you can’t swim back. Simple as that.

But I thought – no, really I knew, that there would be a clue of some sort in his iCar. First I had to talk my brother out of Dad’s iPhone for a day. We’d gotten the end-of-life codes when the will-vault was opened, and I found myself well-off for the first time in my life. But mostly I wanted access to Dad’s life records, and I wanted to see what it felt like to go for a ride in his car. Because that’s what Dad had done right before he killed himself.

Dad’s iCar was hardly brand new, but it was very comfortable. The inside was very very real fake leather. Lab grown, manufactured, same thing. There were no controls visible already.  Everything was voice controlled, and the soundproofing was excellent. The windows would show you the outside if you wanted to see it, which hardly anybody ever did, mostly because it was all the same. Just moving.

There were plenty of entertainment choices while underway. You could immerse yourself in a film where the scenery was synchronized with the car's motion using the same approximate technology which cancels noise - although the ground ahead is a lot more difficult to read than noise is - and ran the active shock-absorbers, and so you would ride along inside the movie. Smoothly, unless it was supposed to be bumpy. Which is kind of funny, because you were the one moving now, and the movie held still to infinity, as it were, if you know what I mean. Seasickness had been an issue in the early days.

The narrative structure adjusted itself according to how you were moving. You could tune that, in case you wanted the car's motion to adjust, and not optimize for speed of arrival. Everything adjusted automagically however you wanted it to; meaning you did a dance with the other cars. It could look weird from the sidelines.

The main narrative kept to its script, so to speak, but subtle changes made it more personal, and therefore more exciting in a way. Most of the movies now make sure that you feel as though you are the actual protagonist. You sit still while moving and the movie moves your narrative along. Talk about projection!

Projection happened naturally enough, since there wasn’t very much that you could do IRL that put you in the protagonist’s seat. Real life was buttoned down and safe, so in your car you could imagine you were actually in control of something, even though it was mostly scripted in advance.

Most movies were actually produced for iCars now, because there was nothing better than full first-person immersion to get your blood going. You didn’t actually have to travel, and really nobody had much reason to travel except to visit friends, maybe at a restaurant. Or maybe you’d share a multi-player movie where you’d try to wrest the plot from your friends. 

If you were well off, you pretty much could live in your car in its pod in your house. If you weren’t so well off, you’d either hail a car or maybe hail a bus if you were really poor. Most likely with your iPhone which was always on your body if you wanted to live. The entertainment wasn’t really so good on the bus, unless you count the people as entertaining. Most of them would be wearing goggles, though. Goggles were cheap.

None of that was the life for me. 

I knew that Dad had equipped his car with a state-of-the-art sailing package. That was what he’d loved to do when he was young. He would sail on the Lake. He would tell me over and over when I was little about how many times he should have died on that Lake. 

The one I remember the best was when he was out in the middle of the night and drinking beer with his best friend. The lights were all off because he almost never had enough battery left to start the engine back up when he got becalmed. He had a hand crank, but you still needed some battery for ignition. No magneto. He says he looked up one night late, at the bow of a Lake freighter bearing down on his little wooden sailboat. Talk about scary! He would have been invisible to radar, he said. Especially in the steep chop, as he called it, on that shallow lake.

Luckily there was wind. The beer bottles went overboard as he pulled the tiller hard in to just barely fly off the ship’s port bow, helped along by its bow wave. They laughed. He laughed every time he told the story. It knew it was probably exaggerated. Everything always is, when it gets turned into a story.

Of course, Dad would have preferred to drive his car, but that was perfectly illegal anymore. Sailing wasn’t illegal. There was just no place to do it, and so there weren’t any small boats. No canoes. No kayaks. Any body of water had become a repository for the hypertoxin. And that wasn’t going away for another hundred years or more. If ever.

My own life wasn’t so great. None of my old friends could understand why I wanted to live the way that I do. I don’t have any new friends. I really had no way to explain it to them. Creature comfort just didn’t matter to me. What mattered – what still matters – is that I remain alive, which means that I have some connection to a life that’s bigger than I am. There’s just simply nothing interesting about life in civilization anymore. It's dead.

Fact is I don’t really actually like to live the way I live. It’s just the only choice I have. It’s not really that I don’t know how to promote myself. I refuse to promote myself, and still I’m well-off, pretty much because of white privilege. Not much I can do about that. Dad died, and I could really use the money. The caribou are dying off, and so I have to start eating lab food like everyone else. Short trips to civilization are all that I can take, but you've gotta do what you've gotta do.

Anyhow, I knew that Dad had installed a sailing package in his car. I knew that he would sometimes get drunk and pretend that he was sailing. I tried it once about ten years ago, and it was pretty cool. It really did feel like sailing. The motions were right, and the wave action was right. The car was standing still in live-action mode. The ground-anticipating shocks had become motive shocks; same difference. The sails responded perfectly to the wind, which might be turned up and gusty. You would have to hike out from the edge of your seat when sailing on your ear, for instance. You had to haul on actual ropes, and it was pretty good exercise, really, even though the lines weren’t always in perfect alignment with the image. Push-button electric winch sailing never really caught on with the small, elite audience for the iSail iBoat.

You know one thing people didn’t really think about when they first started moving reality onto a screen is that you can’t really perceive something if you don’t conceive it first. I know that seems basic, but it’s really quite profound. At the one extreme there are all those subatomic, so-called particles. At the other, there is the virtual experience of something you’ve never done IRL. In a way, it’s like if you’ve never had sex with an actual woman, you can’t feel sex with a fake one. Scratch an itch. Those changes happened slowly over time, but they’ve had a real impact on our population. You can’t just go from horse to horseless carriage overnight. You have to learn to see it.

In the car now there was no wind. No real discomfort. Not that there couldn’t have been, but really most people didn’t want to experience the actual pain of it when they went climbing up Mt. Everest, say. It would have meant legal trouble anyhow, as Dad would know. You can’t design something that inflicts real pain, even if the pain is administered by the user themself. Not legally, anyhow. 

And the law was as hard to skirt as it was to fake your death if you wanted, say, to start a new life. Which plenty of people did. But it never changed anything. Ever. We’re all kind of doomed, in a way, to be the person we are, if you know what I mean.

I’d say that’s a good thing. I mean, if you could change your life, then you could kill yourself over and over and I know that I’m already immortal anyhow. There isn’t going to be another one of me, which is a kind of immortality, even though I’ll be long forgotten. Given that I am an instance of the most complex being in the known cosmos, I’ll take it. That’s plenty of influence for me, promoted or no.

I’d already wrecked my relations with my Dad, so his suicide wasn’t exactly killing me, if you know what I mean. I mean I didn’t feel any different than I had before he died. There hadn’t been anything for me to miss for a very long time. Dad had told all his stories. There weren’t any new ones. We'd long since become cranky with one another.

Now there is still some controversy about this. It’s pretty much an invasion of privacy, but if the will left behind says it’s OK, you can play out, as I was about to do, say your Dad’s life after he’s gone. You can relive what he lived and watch what he watched. You can sail in the same conditions that he did and it will pretty much feel the same as it felt to him. 

I suspect suicide will soon exclude any such provisions in a will. It should, right? I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but truth be told Dad was working on precisely that body of law to prevent a life-grant that survives a suicide. He thought it was creepy and sick, but he wasn’t expecting to commit suicide, so he didn’t include the language in his own will. So Dad’s iPhone combined with his iCar pretty much gave me a way to inhabit Dad if I wanted to. And I did just simply because I felt like I had to know. Who knows why?

Well, he is my dad and I had loved him once. Shouldn’t that be enough?

So I went sailing. Yikes! Dad had been ramping up the amperage until he was sailing in a gale-force wind. What a wild ride! Exhilarating really and more exercise than I’ve ever gotten virtually. You could talk like you were talking with God and so you could tell the wind to blow harder and it did. You could say that you wanted more power than your sails could handle and they would tear out, and then you’d have to deal with bringing them in by hand, although most people tilted before that could happen. I was pretty strong, though. Even Dad didn’t have enough spare change to get the kind of equipment to take you that far over the edge. 

Who really needed it anyhow? There are limits to what it’s worth accomplishing virtually. The machine never quite dances as a real partner would. You get off it gets boring, well, except, like eating, it’s a renewable pleasure, right? No real sailor would ever stop sailing because they’ve already been there done that too many times. With your wife maybe, but not with the sea. When there was a sea you could actually sail on. Back in the day.

What were you doing, Dad, right before you offed yourself? I wanted to see. I wanted to experience it. And then it happened. I suddenly wanted to kill myself in the worst way, and so I shut it down. I knew what was happening, and unlike Dad, I hadn’t ever experienced the real thing, which is what saved me. 

You get to this point where you just say ‘bring it on, old man, fucking bring it on.’ You get to some combination of pissed off and exhilarated and as much as you want it to end it won’t end and you know it could get a lot worse, so you just say, out loud or to yourself or to the very cosmos, ‘just bring it on!’

I knew that Dad just wanted it to be real, and that it was real, but that here was no real danger and therefore no real excitement. Nobody goes out sailing wanting to die. You check your equipment, you keep things in good repair because you never know when the weather will turn on you when you’re too far out to make it back in before all hell breaks loose. 

And when hell does break lose, according to my Dad, then you’re too busy taking care of business to be scared. You’re just in the weather, or dealing with the snapped bowsprit or hauling in the torn sail, or taking apart the engine, trying to get it started. If you live to tell it, those are the things you live for.

It’s not like you really want to kill yourself. I guess it’s like jumping off Everest. You just want to know what it feels like. You can’t know what it feels like to jump off Everest, since that’s against the law for obvious reasons. Not the jumping. You can do that all over the place. But the feeling, since the feeling only comes with the actual fear of death as the ground approaches. That would be like making a snuff film. Really gross. Not cool.

But with sailing you can get actually closer. You can get to where you really do feel scared. The trouble is that it just reminds you that you aren’t really going to die, and there’s nothing you really have to do to stop from dying. I guess Dad just stopped wanting to live if he couldn’t do that. Plus, I imagine he was sick and tired of swimming in swimming pools. Virtually, I mean, since it would be unconscionable to waste that much good water on swimming in a full pool. There was water and it felt like swimming, but you’d never do it if you didn’t have ocean-reality goggles on. I mean who wants to exercise for the sake of exercise. You can get a hard body over correspondence if that’s what you’re after.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should be glad you don’t live when I’m living. Things will be better for you by the time you read this. How do I know? Well, here in the real-world things have gotten really hairy. We’re not going to make it is what I’m saying. So, if you’re reading this you can’t possibly be living the way that we all are now. 

OK, signing off. I don’t really need to see how things end. I’m going sailing off to eternity. So long. I’ll drop a line into the cloud along my way in case somebody gets it.

No comments: