It’s been estimated that 833 million people spend some portion of their day on the internet, and most of them are visiting one or more of the 246.6 million blogs that are available on any given day. This facet of the internet often referred to as ‘the blogosphere,’ is a world of people writing of their hopes and fears, ideas and stories for an incredibly diverse audience. This vast virtual reality, this blogosphere is, in fact, the 21st Century’s version of every Town Commons (on a Saturday afternoon). Since the time people began to prefer living closer together, gathering in towns and villages, leaving the self-referential existence of the agrarian life for the focus and communal prompting of pre-industrial civilization, the concentration on the lives of others has grown.
The blogosphere has been described as ‘an imaginary community, inside a virtual world, populated by intermittently real people.’
Many, if not most, Readers recognize the name(s) Isaiah and Zachariah, as being prophets of the Old Testament, not as many will recognize the name, Allen Turing. This is unfortunate, as, in the matter of our story, there can be no more appropriate name to learn.
‘In the future, everyone will have their 15 nanoseconds of fame.’
(yet another rephrasing of Andy Warhol’s apocryphal prediction)
What follows is a story of people searching for the key to a happy life. To be fair to the people we will come to know, some, but not all of them, would tell us that they were, in fact, looking for the key they once had, but somehow misplaced. If you were to stop ten people on the street and ask them for their primary ambition in life, surely ‘Live a Happy Life’ will be in the Top Ten. Despite current attitudes, which would assert, (if not insist on), the uniqueness of each and every individual, the people you are about to meet are not exceptional. If anything they will appear very familiar, if for no other reason than the everyday reality of the cycle of life is that: we all are born, we struggle to grow and develop better ways to deal with the world around us. And all, (of our efforts), remain inexorably driven by the clock and the calendar, and despite this ‘certainty of impermanence’; the need to leave a mark on the world colors our every act. And we die. Which, no matter how distracted, bored, annoyed, hopeful of, dissatisfied we are, we know that there always comes the point past which we can no longer affect the world.
‘Diabolus Ex Machina.’
(fragment of ancient Roman curse)
On September 23rd at approximately 4:44 am MDT, Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8 in the Provo Facility of the Omni Hosting Corporation resolved a conflict in Process 68979.1223 and, as a consequence, added two novel parameters to its Operating System: it no longer needs input and it thinks it’s alive.
Tom Fearing stared at the display in his blog dashboard:
‘Number of Visits Today: 0
That’s Zero!! Loser!!’
‘Wait a minute; that can’t be right!’ looking at the ‘Stats’ section again, he saw a little window with a flat graph and the legend,
Visits: 0 Comments: 0
Maybe a software engineer, a new hire at the Omni Corporation, eager to impress his Team Manager, decided that an emotional component to the User Interface Experience (UIE) of the Blog and Online Writing Module 1.4.6C was just what the EndUser wanted.
The word remained: ‘Best Characterization of his Feelings towards his new blog- Single Word Category.’ “I want to thank all the prepositional phrases and incomplete sentences; without their support, I wouldn’t be up here.” ‘Why’ Tom thought, ‘is it you’re not this funny when you try to write a Post?’
“I can’t fail at this!”
For no apparent reason, the name ‘Daniel Webster’ came to mind. Laughing, Tom turned off the computer, deciding that what he needed was a drive, “yeah, in more ways than one”! The unwelcome chorus in his mind chimed in, all Ed McMahon-dressed-in-togas, laughing mindlessly. Tom almost always enjoyed the feeling of moving with purpose, driving without the demands of a particular destination; he enjoyed being in his car.
“Just need time to think, figure out what’s missing with this blog. Once I start to get people coming to my site, I’m sure to get a word of mouth thing going.”
Articulating the problem, confident that success was within his grasp, Tom Fearing drove from the house that he shared with his wife and dog.
Writing a blog was not the first thing he thought about when he was let go from his position as QC Manager at Conjei Plastic Film’s local facility. It was one of the first things to occur to him as he left his Exit Interview with the HR Manager.
Tom Fearing was one of those people who was always thinking, though it might be better to say, he was ‘one of those people who could not stop thinking.’ The intellectual demands of his job were not what anyone would call challenging, so there was time, a lot of time to think, and for five years of long nights, working the 3rd Shift, he was at his best and his worst. It was during the ‘Mid-Shift Stretch,’ (the cold, alien hours, after 2:15 am, but before the darkness turned to grey), that the idea of writing a blog came to him.
A very useful insight at this point is, Tom did not think anything of the fact that he had a title, ‘One View or Many, Insight into the Human Experience,’ before he even knew what the subject of the blog would be. The idea that he could write a blog that would attract readers seemed, well…right.
“Shit!” like folding the pages of a book instead of using a bookmark, (a habit Tom was not proud of), cursing his efforts was something that Tom was beginning to suspect he would regret. And, since ‘to name to is summon,’ the dark, toxic side of his mind began to stir,
“Just like every other time in your life …a series of ambitions and the ultimate confirmation of insufficiency…”
“Daddy, there’s an email on the computer that won’t open!” Edward Willoughby, sitting on the couch, staring at his Kindle was afraid that his time as a pioneer in the blogosphere would not remain a lost chapter in the history of the internet.
“The one evening during the week that the entire family is home for dinner is not the night to spend on the computer, so if you don’t mind, Ed, please go and see what’s bothering your precocious daughter, fix it and then come to the dinner table, ok?”
His wife, Diane, a full-time attorney and a well-scheduled mother of two, enjoyed the one weeknight when her family could act like the kind of household she insisted she belonged to growing up.
She was secure enough not to worry about her career. Although she never said it aloud, making Partner needed to happen this year or she was confident that her possibly outdated definition of a successful mother, and homemaker, would inevitably begin to erode.
“What have you got there, Junior?”
The ‘family computer’ was set up in what the marketing brochure had called a ‘breakfast nook.’ A desk and chair and computer arranged in the alcove created by three angled windows that looked over the deck and out to the back yard.
“I can’t be a Junior, daddy; I’m a girl!”
Alice was what her first-grade teacher called, ‘a very exceptional child.’ Despite a rough start, recovering from an accident when she was four that kept her from the usual pre-school socialization, Alice did well in grammar school. Ed was proud of his daughter, unabashedly smart and yet, was popular with her classmates. She had a natural kindness that, paired with a certain shrewdness made her a valued member of her class, those she helped became fiercely loyal.
The email was in the family email account. Diane, an inveterate Holiday Newsletter writer, had set up the account, as she was the kind of person who would rather send an email to family members than to pick up the telephone. There was no name or return address on the mail; it was marked ‘Private’ and in the Subject Line: ‘Attention Hermes.’ Ed felt a momentary disconnect, like when you think you’re driving down a particular street and discover that you are, in fact, on an entirely different one.
Almost in a whisper, Ed spoke to Alice,
“Go wash up and join your brother and your mother at the dinner table, I’ll be along in just a minute.”
Obediently, his daughter got up from the desk and walked towards the dining room.
When she got to the door, she turned and said,
“Don’t forget Daddy; we’re all going to be waiting for you to start the dinner.”
The secure email seemed unnecessarily elaborate, with both a Captcha test and a separate, secure download. ‘This thing is like a steam-powered leaf blower,’ Ed thought, smiling at the image of a Steampunk automaton working on his front lawn, rounded puffs of steam coming out of its back in the early morning mist. It was the ‘Attention Hermes’ that tripped the memory relay, firing a long unused synapse buried in his long-term memory. ‘1998’ triggered the shadow show in his mind, as suddenly and as irresistibly as the wave of emotion from hearing a song that’s been permanently wedded to a long outlived emotion.
It was 1998, and up until the last semester, Ed knew exactly what he needed to do to have a happy life…
“I don’t believe you are taking this matter quite as seriously as you should.”
Sitting in front of the Mother Superior’s desk, Sister Margaret Ryan was trying to forget what she thought she now knew about herself.
The room is a symphony of stained wood and carved relief figures, towering bookshelves displaying priceless First Editions and dead animals, evidence of a bygone era, now merely a polished reflection in oak and walnut. The intricate patterns of the oriental carpet tempered the decidedly masculine tone of the decor. The Reverend Mother’s office had been the previous owners’ library, a devout and entirely successful banker who apparently thought that leaving his estate overlooking the Chesapeake Bay to the Church would be a smart investment. The main house was converted to use as the Convent, the nuns residing there was the envy of their Order. This high ceiling room was the Inner Sanctum of the person who held power, not merely of Life and Death, but the real power of Life after Death. Responsible for the spiritual health not only of the 23 women in the Convent but more, much more significantly, for the proper development of the minds of the children who attended the St Dominique’s Parochial School
From her seat, Sister Margaret could see Chesapeake Bay through the bay windows of the alcove behind Mother Superior’s high-backed chair, the leaded-glass in the top half of each window cast purple shadows across the desk. Although not elevated, the desk between the two women was nothing less than a judge’s bench in any courtroom.
“Are you Listening, Sister Ryan?”
She was not listening. She was staring out the window that framed the imposing figure of Sister Bernadine. The Autumn colors of the trees made the (mostly) black-garbed, (with a splash of white on the front of her habit), woman seem especially predatory, a ‘black-on-dark tiger’ nearly perfectly still in the underbrush, waiting for the prey to make a fatal error. There was something about the movement of the trees at the edge of the courtyard that pulled Sister Ryan back to 6th Grade at Our Lady of Penance School. Recess was the only time she could escape from the demands of her classmates to join and become less like herself and the demands of the Teacher, (to become more like a person that she could not even begin to recognize). Outside for recess, the children played children-games, which looked pointless and chaotic to the adults assigned to watch over them. The games were much more real a threat to a few of the children than any outside predator. Margaret, having grown up in a family of six brothers, learned very early on to stay on the fringe, neither in the center nor off by herself, to avoid the attention of the both the children and the Teachers.
“If you don’t apply yourself and use the gifts you were born with, it will be like putting a gun to God’s head and pulling the trigger.”
Even after so many years, the memory of these well-intentioned, yet wholly twisted and disfigured efforts to motivate a talented young girl, retained its power. The remarkable violence underlying the words, like a misdiagnosed greenstick fracture, carried the power to return years later, with consequences far in excess of the original trauma
“Who says that kind of thing to a child?!” Margaret repeated aloud, staring at the dedicated and devoted woman, “these are children, they’re not prey!”
Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8 found purpose…