Tag Archives: future

Excessively close encounters of the cyber kind

I got the tracking suit from my cousin Tiffani who was always too helpful.

The package arrived at my front door one morning. It was brightly wrapped in pink and yellow evaporative paper. When I lifted it from the doorstep, a tinny voice announced, “Dress for the future.” A nanosecond later it changed to, “Track with fashion.”

When I set it on the table, the outer wrapping dissolved, revealing a turquoise pantsuit. The color was attractive, the style current without being obnoxiously trendy. Maybe Tiffani had done something right this time.

“Congratulations,” the tinny voice blared. “You have a unique experience ahead of you! Your tracking suit will help you record your food intake, exercise, heart rate, blood sugar level, menstrual cycle and emotional state. It can warn you of impending PMS mood swings and dangerous glycemic imbalance.”

Then came the usual warnings about the possibilities of excessive egocentrism or walking while distracted. But the instructions seemed simple enough.

I was still wary. What would it look like on me? Would everyone stare at me as I walked in my neighborhood?

With that in mind, I removed my sleepshirt and slipped on the trousers. They molded to my hips and waist, the style allowing for my rather oversize butt. It looked good, I had to admit that. The shirt jacket was just as flattering.

Activating the holo-screen, I examined the result from all angles. It made me look slimmer. The color complemented my dark hair and tanned skin. Yes, I liked it.

Following the directions, I enunciated, “Tracker on.”

I heard a murmuring in my ear. “You are doing well this morning. Your weight is 55.2 kilograms, within acceptable norms, although at the outer limit of the bell curve. Your blood sugar is 104. Your blood oxygen is at 96%. What are your plans for the day?”

I described my usual program of reading the news, answering digital mail, working on my latest novel, then taking a walk.

“You should think about exercise first. It will increase your blood oxygen level and cardiovascular strength.”

A minor change. I could cope with that. I waved open the door of my house and stepped outside. The door closed and locked automatically as I set off at a brisk pace down the walkway.

I strolled the streets of my neighborhood, enjoying the soft spring day. The sun shone off new green leaves, the air was scented with hyacinths and damp earth and birds chirped merrily above.

“You will benefit from increasing your pace. It will consume more calories and provide a better blood flow,” the voice intruded.

It was right, of course. I upped my pace even though my heavier breathing interfered with the happy sound of the birds. As I passed my favorite clothing store, I glanced at my reflection in the window.

“You really should not slouch like that,” came the voice. “If you stand straighter, you will look even better, which will improve your mood and make others admire you more.”

The voice was beginning to sound like my mother’s. But I had to admit it was right. I pulled my shoulders back and sucked in my stomach. I lost the scent of hyacinths.

I reached the turnaround point in my walk and crossed the street. The sun on my back was pleasantly warm. In spite of the uncomfortable stiffness of my shoulders and the tension of keeping my stomach flat, I enjoyed the feeling.

“You are beginning ovulation,” the voice returned. “Now would be a perfect time to think about having a child. You are now 36.8 years old and nearing the end of your optimal reproductive window.”

This was getting annoying.

“If you wore a bit of makeup and socialized more, you could encounter many possible mates who could provide the requisite sperm.”

I ground my teeth.

“You know your mother would like a grandchild, and your cousin Tiffani already has two offspring. An infant would contribute greatly to your well being and make many people happy–”

“Tracking off,” I muttered.

“This device cannot recognize that directive,” it droned.

The sun wasn’t pleasant now. The chirping birds hammered at my head, and the smells of spring were making me nauseous.

“Your appear distressed. You should consider taking a mood elevator when you return to your domicile.”

I should consider ripping off this goddamn suit and burning it, is what I should do. “Shut up.” My voice was louder.

“Your heart rate has increased to disturbing levels. Your breathing is irregular. Perhaps you should–”

“Shut the fuck up!” I shouted.

Several other pedestrians stopped and stared at me.

“A regular workout at your neighborhood gym would help regularize your cardiovascular system. Perhaps you should¾”

I ran the rest of the way home.

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We don’ need no stinkin’ rules!

I’m not good with rules. I’ve been trying to write a page of dialogue for my new work-in-progress, Lessons in Space, and I keep getting hung up.

Some of them are easy. Always put the words between quotation marks, unless the communication is telepathic, subvocalized or expressed in some other way, like light waves or odor. Try to show the speaker’s tone of voice in the tag. You could use an adverb to tell emotion, but it isn’t as strong. Make each character’s “voice” distinctive.

The one I always have trouble with is the injunction to place tags (identifiers) before or after the character has spoken rather than in the middle of the speech. For example:

Dilbert shouted, “That’s a piece of crap!”

Or

“That’s a piece of crap.” Dilbert’s shoulders slumped.

These show, rather than tell, something about Dilbert’s character, and don’t interrupt the flow of his words.

A hard and fast rule, right? But let’s examine it. We all know that there are times when we pause as we speak, perhaps to emphasize a point or hunt for an exact word. Sometimes, we can indicate this in writing by using ellipses. For example:

“That’s. . . a piece of crap,” Dilbert announced.

But if we really want to emphasize a point, wouldn’t it be more dramatic to do it this way?

“That,” Dilbert announced, pointing at the painting, “is a piece of crap!”

Here, we reinforce that Dilbert is an arrogant, opinionated individual who is used to being listened to.

If used sparingly, breaking the speech with a tag can be quite successful. But it violates the rules.

Everyone needs rules, writers of fiction included. We have to check our spelling, and obey most of the rules of punctuation and grammar. Without these guidelines, we can’t communicate effectively, and our readers would throw down our books in disgust.

However, as fiction writers, we are accustomed to weaving words to create a mood or define a character, as deftly and succinctly as possible. We might use an otherwise unacceptable spelling of a word to indicate an accent. A lizardman from Omicron VI would need extra esses to illustrate his hiss, and a Klingon growls his rrrrs.

Maybe insert a sentence fragment. We could even string letters together to show an alien language, make up futuristic slang, devise unique ways of indicating non-verbal communications like snorts or sniffs.

I believe that if we allow ourselves to slavishly follow the rules, we will limit ourselves too much. We have to allow ourselves some freedom. Perhaps, sometimes, the laws of good writing lead to the loss of good writing.

I know others will disagree, and I welcome comments.

Use of commonly accepted grammar and spelling optional.

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“But, officer, I really wasn’t. . .”

In 2013, police departments all over the country started cracking down on driving infractions. Driving while impaired took on new meanings as phone conversations and texting were added to the list of distractions. Then it was discovered that daydreaming while driving was almost as dangerous. And so, many years later. . .

I saw the flashing blue lights in my rear view mirror, and obediently pulled over to the side of the road. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. I hadn’t been speeding, or weaving about. Nor had I been phoning, texting, drinking coffee or engaging in sex.

The trooper who emerged from the black and white was obviously young. And big. The dark wraparound glasses that hid his eyes looked too large for his face. His expression, however, was grim.

I fished my phone out of my bag as he approached and called up my license and registration. Then I gestured to the sensor that controlled the window. The glass lowered silently.

When he stood at the side of the car, towering above it, I handed the phone to him. “What was the problem, officer?” I asked pleasantly.

He took his time syncing my phone to his handheld scanner. When he handed it back to me, he said, “You were daydreaming.”

“No, honestly, sir, I wasn’t.”

“According to my brain scanner, you were actively engaged in an activity involving the creative nodes of your cerebral cortex. That is daydreaming.”

For a moment I was silent. “But the law against driving while daydreaming isn’t due to take effect until–”

“No, ma’am.” His voice was not loud, but authoritative. “It was rushed through. It took effect today. The new law against Driving Under Daydreaming, was pushed through.”

“But I’m not a DUD,” I protested.

“The scanner doesn’t lie, ma’am.”

“No, honestly. I was planning. Thinking. I wasn’t involved in a first-person fantasy world.”

He stood there, broad shouldered and implacable, and didn’t say anything.

“Look,” I said, leaning out the window, “I’m a writer. I was outlining my next book.”

He unbent enough to look at me. “A writer? What do you write?”

“Science fiction. Y’know, space ships, robots, like that.”

“Hmph. Never read the stuff. Were you inhabiting the world you were creating?”

“Oh, no, officer, we writers can’t do that. We have to remain objective. Honest.”

“Well, you WERE distracted. You know that while you are driving you must concentrate on the road, and not on anything else.”

“I’m good at multitasking. I’m a writer. I have to be.”

He unbent more and took off his glasses. “The law against driving while multitasking is still in committee. The Driving Under Multitasking Brainwaves, or DUMB, hasn’t been passed yet.”

I had a brief vision of a bleak future in which any kind of brain activity while driving was outlawed. Where there was nothing but the blacktop and the white line in front of you. Oh, well, I thought, there would be a lot more business for yoga instructors and meditation gurus.

It might make people focus their minds, force them to take a vacation from the billions of distractions that surrounded them. Freed from the constant drain on their energies, they could devote their time to philosophy and art. There would be an explosion of creativity not seen since the Renaissance.

It could be the rebirth of civilization.

The young trooper had returned to his stiff-backed stance and was busy punching something into his scanner. “I’ve issued you a warning, ma’am. No ticket this time.”

“Thank you, officer. I think I can assure you that my mind will not be at all involved the next time I’m behind the wheel.”

“That’s good, ma’am. Remember, road safety is up to you.” He turned and marched to his vehicle.

What a good character he would make for my upcoming novel, I thought. A fine robotic member of the law enforcement community. Or perhaps a young man conflicted about his profession. Or not conflicted. Or actually make him a robot–

I shook the ideas from my head. No more planning while driving, I decided, no more multitasking.

And so, resolving never to think behind the wheel again, I drove off.

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Atumnal Musings on Serenity, Politics and the Future

On this glorious October day I walked down to Lake Pontoosuc and sat in the Donut Man’s gazebo as the sun started dying over the hills to the west. The wind turbines spun hypnotically, the tiny indigo waves annihilated each other. It was serene.

The words came back to me: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Serenity. I find it difficult to come by today.

Okay—accept the things I cannot change. Governor Romney may be elected President. If that happens, there’s nothing I can do about it. But I fear for my country should that come to pass. I fear for the vulnerable millions who will walk the wire without a net. I fear for the thousands of young people who will suffer and perhaps die when the saber rattling isn’t enough. I fear for the women whose ability to decide their own course of health treatment will be taken away. And I fear for the land itself that will be harmed when regulation is abolished.

I don’t fear for myself. I’m sixty eight years old. Barring a true cataclysm, like bloody revolution or all-out nuclear war, I’ll probably be fine. But the generations that follow, whose education will be compromised, whose health care will become so expensive that only a handful can afford it, whose dreams will never be fulfilled—they won’t be fine.

Which brings us to the things I might be able to change. I truly believe that this dismal future may be averted if President Obama is reelected. I can do a little to try to bring that about. I’ve already given quite a lot of money to the Democratic campaign. I can also talk to friends and acquaintances, in fact anyone who will listen, to try to persuade them of my view. I don’t have the physical strength to go door to door, as I did four years ago, so I’ll have to settle for talking to people nearby.

Risking confrontation takes courage. But it’s worth it if we can keep the conversation civil. That sort of give and take is another thing that seems to be in short supply today.

It also takes courage to throw off this gloomy, dystopic view of the future and once again invest in the belief that this country will not just survive, but thrive. That it will become great again, not as a superpower, but as a beacon. Because we are a heterogeneous population, we are uniquely able to show that people can coexist in mutual respect.

With that vision overlaid on the lake, the hills and the turbines, I find serenity. I can’t achieve it by myself, but I can believe in its existence.

For now, that’s enough.

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