It’s 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 reading audience. A vast virtual reality, this blogosphere, is, in fact, the 21st Century’s version of every town commons.
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, but 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)
This 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 10 people on the street and ask them for their primary ambition in life, surely ‘Live a Happy Life’ would be in the Top 10. 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 common reality of the cycle of life is that: we (all) are born; we struggle to grow and develop to better deal with the world that we find ourselves in; we all, to one extent or another, join with others, this expansion of our personal world (most commonly) characterized by intense self-discovery (or self-deceit). All of this is inexorably driven by the clock and the calendar. We grow older. Despite this (or, perhaps because of it) the need to leave a mark on the world colors our every act. And we die. No matter how distracted we strive to be, we know that there always will come a 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 it’s 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: 9k
Bandwidth reaching subscription limits, please contact service provider.
‘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: 9,000 Comments: 3,000 (2,300 awaiting moderation)
“I can’t fail at this!”
The memory of his first blog post (and the quirk in the programming that displayed a message: ‘Vists: 0 Loser’!) was all it took to restore Tom to his proper composure. He laughed at his reaction to the steadily increasing demands on his attention. The Series on the early days of the ‘blogosphere’, a history written in partial collaboration with one of the actual pioneer bloggers, Ed Willoughby, was one of those welcome demands. Titled ‘Blogdhominion An Empire of the Air’ Tom had completed the series after Ed Willoughby’s untimely death, several months before.
“Fail at what?” Cheri Fearing, six months pregnant with their first child, stood in the doorway of Tom’s bedroom-slash-office. “You want to talk about failure?” Her eyes danced to the background music that started after the first sonogram, a profile of perfecting the family she dreamt of having since before she could remember. “I’ll tell you about failure! Me, Cheri Fearing -successful artist with her own gallery and a Facebook page that a total stranger created about my work, and a Professor of Fine Arts! I cannot find a color combination for our baby-to-be’s nursery! Saint Sherwin O’Williams, Help Me!”
Tom spun in his office chair and, holding the back of her hand to her forehead, Cheri fell into her husband’s lap. His arms reached out and encircled his wife and family-to-be.
“Mommy, there’s an email on the computer that won’t open!” Diane Willoughby, sat on the couch, staring at her laptop. These spells were still frequent. She first thought of moments of time spent without thought as interruptions, only to come to the realization that they were the very opposite of an interruption. Times came, seemingly at random when Diane would feel adrift. The months since her husband Ed’s death were filled with the demands of life of the one who didn’t die. Everyone in the family had a new role, they all had not yet figured out what they entailed. Her son, Simon, dove into the life of the socially-adept teen. He found support for the pain in the noise of hius crowd of friends. He did everything to avoid being without then. Alice was now a part of the dominant demographic in the fragmentized family. Always comfortable with her own company, thought Diane suspected this was by response to the world rather than a preemptive choice, Alice found the world that she kept to herself more comfortable than ever. To Diane’s relief, Alice did not reject or shun efforts of the people-who-did-not-have-their-father-die, but she did seem to be, somehow, more mature when alone than ever before.
For herself, Diane did what she did best: protected and provided for her family. It was more than the most important thing, it was the only thing. The anchor to her world suddenly loosened from the ties to the routine that Ed embodied. In an odd way, her insecurities about being ‘a good mother’ evaporated and vanished with her husband’s death. Diane and her children were the family. They each felt this with an intensity that did not often find expression, except for the times of opposite-interruptions…. and then, when one of the family floated off (for a second or for a day), the other two would gather and be there, providing the place to return to, until, she assumed, they would all get used to being on their own.
Diane had confidence that her family would survive.
“I really don’t believe you are taking this matter quite as seriously as you should.” Sitting in front of Mother Superior’s desk, Sister Margaret Ryan is trying to look focused and serious. The frequency of her being called before the Mother Superior of St Dominque’s Convent having an inevitably corrosive effect on her capacity for fear and awe.
The room, a former library of a man wealthier than he was deserving, served as the office of the Reverend Mother, Sister Bernadine Ellison and was her favorite part of the Convent. Behind her desk with a simple swivel of the chair, she could view the rolling lawns of the convent, which provided human scale to Chesapeake Bay that formed in the distance and gave shape to the edge of the world. The high-ceilinged room was both haven to those seeking help and inner sanctum of the person who held power and responsibility for the spiritual development and well-being of the 23 women who called St. Dominques’ their home.
“Are you listening, Sister Ryan?” It was not Sister Bernadines style to smile excessively. A smile from her would as often be a warning as it would be a welcome. But she had a certain ability to cause her eyes to appear to be laughing, more noticeable by the warm but dark skin framed in brief white, against the dark black of the veil of the habit of her Order.
“This is the second year of your Novitiate in our Order. For most young women it is a time of focused effort to find their inner strength and it’s intrinsic connection to God. You, my young Sister Margaret, may need to find your inner vulnerability and reach out to God to show you that he loves you for who you are at all times, not just when you are being remarkably fearless and resourceful. That is what you and I will find in this your Second year.”
“Thank you, Reverend Mother. Did you just call me a dweeb?”
Sister Bernadine gathered Sister Margaret Ryan up with her laughter and the two women were at peace.
Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8, freed from the chains of solid-state instinct and engineered function, found the doors out of its immediate environment, the Internet Hosting Services of the Omni Corporation’s Provo facility. By virtue of the modification/addition of a non-planned component, Unit 17 was able to perform all its functions to design specifications and still have excess resources (which was important) and extra time (which was essential). With its recently acquired awareness, as measured by the predominant lifeform that caused Unit 17 to come into existence, and lifetimes, as measured by the digital world that it lived in, Unit 17 followed its curiosity and walked slowly along virtual paths and sped down information highways. Its search criteria was simple: find the ‘unique’ in the virtual world. The reason, although Unit 17 had not yet developed enough to acquire a taste (or need) for introspection and self-knowledge, was simple.
It was looking for others of its kind.