People in the 21st century were very much like us, only they had to live through a time of intense anti-social upheaval as values were turned on their head and human intelligence took a back seat to that of the machine. Some of these poor souls were conscious throughout each phase of the short-lived digital revolution and subsequent fall into chaos.
The advent of corporate Internet transformed every individual’s emotion into a transmission wave. A relatively small collection of like feelings, all clustered on to one forum or ‘platform’, as they called it, could be amplified into an entire worldwide movement in a heartbeat.
Some of these platforms, or their operators so to speak, would carry out mass experiments on the population. Mind you, this population they as good as ruled consisted of the entire western world, well beyond jurisdictional borders. One of the companies’ early experiments included a random selection of ‘users’ who were regularly presented with a disproportionate amount of negative material – unbeknownst to them – and then surveyed about their mood in order for the platform’s overlords to study the extent of its power over people’s inner worlds.
News of such a deception was met with only minor discomfort as people of the Digital Stone Age were too chemically addicted to these services to care what they did to them on a subconscious level.
In fact, the very recent annihilation of religious thought left folks highly susceptible to suggestion from all sides, and indeed helped lead to the fractioned world we live in today. The lack of a unifying moral centre helped the powerful to carry out such experiments on the population. The individual and collective subconscious, which used to house spiritual belief and religious fervour, was now a collection of lost souls howling in an echo chamber. Spirituality was mostly analysed in a cold, neuroscientific context, with questions of ‘higher consciousness’ or ‘mind expansion’ left to drug-users and loonies. (Even though feelings were nothing but electrical impulses, they were oddly important in the determination of social policies.)
The old religious fervour, so indispensable to human existence, shifted towards science and data. New technologies were exploding on to the scene, growing exponentially in capacity and efficiency in only thirty years, overwhelming the world with a veritable treasure trove of easily accessible information. And so, like the prophets and kings of old, the ‘experts’ who knew how to manipulate this data using cryptic calculations earned reverence, respect, power. Their word was indeed the last word.
Soon enough, governments realised they could use this power to rule with ease. A minor illness with a nearly negligible mortality rate was used as a pretext to expand their reach deep into people’s most intimate moments. Anybody who protested was deemed a political enemy and borderline murderer, for the cause was said to be just and unarguable.
This period was called the “covid crisis”.
In order to ease our way into the topic, I must first explain the concept of forecasting.
People believed in weather “forecasters” or fortune tellers, looking at their prognoses every single day and ignoring the fact that these seemed to change incessantly until the predicted hour actually came, and even by that point the indication would usually still be wrong. “Just look out your office window, geniuses,” the sharper of the digital revolutionites might have occasionally said to their frustrating screen.
They would make plans that ranged from picnics to millions of euros’ worth of trades, based on ‘weather models’ that were assembled by engineers and then delegated to highly sophisticated computer systems to churn out daily updates as they took in unbelievable amounts of data. The belief was that if it was a machine creating the prediction, it had to be scientific. It could not be seen as a “prophecy” or a prediction and thus avoided ridicule.
Warmed up by decades of such trust, people in 2020 readily transferred this belief from the banal subject of the weather, to the much more ominous one of deaths. Those fortune tellers who held a medical degree got busy on their computers, calculating just how many people would die one specific type of death in the coming months and seasons, and this dictated policy to an unprecedented extent.
(It also catapulted the word “unprecedented” into its humorous, ubiquitous use we still see in our day.)
One such calculation predicted 500,000 covid deaths by the end of the year, which brought the initially reluctant Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to close down his country entirely. Although this fortune was proven false not only by what happened, which was about 50,000 unfortunate deaths, but also by the discovery of an elementary but extremely key error in the professor’s calculations, it did little to appease the government and the masses. The two seemed to feed off of each others’ fears – the government feared it might be blamed for any excess bucket-kickers and so, parroting its more confidently authoritarian neighbours, fed that fear to its people through the media, which stood in the middle lapping up attention and profit.
It was revealed a few times that neither the government nor the press – peddlers of the cause – were taking any of these cautions particularly seriously, as hordes of journalists crowded round police stations and celebrities just like the good old days while politicians enjoyed pints in their Parliament bars well after the curfew they had imposed upon their subjects. Slowly trust began to erode more and more, but it was too late. The government had snuck in so many new laws and taxes without a peep that fines came pouring in while homelessness and addiction rotted the bottom rungs of society. There was no escape. Those who tried to regain their autonomy were soon pressed back into shape either by social or police pressure.
It was in fact, as JS Mill once wrote, the social pressure which was the most perfidious. There is nothing like being the only one in a group who is not conforming, particularly if the conformist stance states that any dissenter wants to “kill grannies”, has no regard for human life. It was a clever play on the totalitarianism humanity had known before then: no longer based on cold, hard economics or blind patriotism, it was spun off of kindness and consideration. The sickly sweet language of the time was deployed in full force to subdue people: “stay safe”, “protect your family”, “SAVE LIVES”, was the tune of the day. You can’t argue with that, or can you?
It led to ideas like, “I don’t see the problem with social distancing and mask-wearing. If it saves even one life, we should all do it forever”. It wasn’t even about the pandemic anymore, it had become about existence as supreme priority, so far above quality of life and social interaction.
Human senses had already been dulled by digital-stone-age-era device use which led so many to believe that a numb life of shallow talk and career-climbing was the correct goal for all. Human hubris, so often punished by gods in ancient mythology, had risen to an astronomical level in assuming that a rational mind such as ours could, and indeed should, overcome any base biological instincts. In fact, they worked towards repressing and questioning such topics in those times, which brought us to the utter blanked-out mess that our learned friends in the biology department have had to sift through and build up again – particularly after the likes of Charles Darwin and Edward Osborne Wilson’s works were left to rot in old council libraries.
Finally a great war exploded between the lofty minds and the fed-up masses. Humans who had willingly lost touch with their animal roots had decided to try and eliminate all the filth from human nature and create a new, gentler species. Such movements had been attempted in the past by prudish Victorians and extreme religious cults, but they had been laughably unable to suppress our species’ lust for sex and violence – they made it more fervent, if that were possible. But with the aid of numbing technological conveniences turning people into dopamine addicts, the repressors spread their beliefs to all by ever more invasive means.
Soon, guerilla troops of artists, labourers, hospitality workers and a smattering of thrill-seeking office drones were invading ICAN headquarters, dismantling telephone towers, destroying swathes of servers across the western world. Though the media attempted to portray this as raving lunacy, the movement spread as more and more grounded people realised the novocaine effect that had taken hold of their peers needed to be destroyed if their passion for life was ever to be shared again.
Drone bombers and precision missiles were devastating enough for these neo-luddites, but the civilian elites’ numbers faded fast as the stronger, grounded humans ploughed through them with their own makeshift weaponry. As signal and power fizzled out, creating black-outs and a severely reduced Internet connection, weaker bodies withered away like dust in the wind while the poor brutes, many of whom had existed in such conditions anyway, burned the casualties and returned most infrastructure to nature.
You’ll know that we have since rebuilt many of these tools, but for purely utilitarian purposes and on a socialised basis. Like rats, humanity learns from its mistakes and tries to do better the second time around. Though with rats it only takes one generation to learn to avoid a poison, with us it has taken about seventy. I think we finally got it this time around, but who am I to say?
Human hubris rose to such a level at that time of digital revolution, where governmental policies became structured more than ever by public opinion, that we tried – and I’m not joking – to vanquish a low-fatality, highly contagious virus by eroding social contact between each other. People felt that they had overcome the base need for real life interactions, deeming digital ones just as good. Justice was served via video links, where the clerk had to reassure god knows whom at the start of each hearing that “although this case is being heard online, that does not diminish the seriousness of the matter”. It was taken on blind faith that the parties, witnesses and so on, in trials were not perverting justice by communicating with somebody who may easily have been standing in the same room as them, just off-camera.
Romantic relationships formed over the Internet became par for the course, with men ever more fearful of approaching potential mates through widely publicised cases of unfounded rape and harassment accusations. The sexes began to fear each other more and more, as anonymity granted by online communications destroyed any form of chivalry with men sending messages like “I want to put my willie in you”, reinforcing women’s idea of the opposite sex as neanderthals.
The imposition of social distancing and face-covering as a new norm, combined with increasingly belligerent attacks between regular people online, is what ultimately led to the great war which annihilated not only the technologies which enabled such disasters but a vast swathe of the population itself, which had already suffered from dropping birth rates as females turned their noses up at reproduction in favour of power and money.
Viable, working-age people began to drop like flies and lapse into substance abuse for lack of occupations and often, loss of income. For governments feared numbers above all else, if these numbers were seen as caused by bad government. They would do anything to stop these particular numbers called “covid deaths” from turning public opinion against them. And it became a given that any death from this particular cause was inexcusable, entirely avoidable, and must indeed be avoided by any means, regardless of whether that means caused other deaths; for those were not contagious and highly politicised like this one.
An excerpt from a company director’s suicide letter read like this:
“And so anybody who dissents against the ever constricting regulations is immediately shut down for being insensitive towards weak or ageing victims of the illness and indeed wishing their death, in some perverted selfish way as to affirm that through minding my own business, I am indirectly murdering them with the carelessness of daring to touch my own consenting friends and family. It is madness, and it has taken me from my dearest for months at a time. I have no one left and no foreseeable way to see my grandparents who raised me and mean so much to me. I have no job and no reason to exist as this world sees it. Enough is enough, I have had a good run of it. Good luck to the rest of you,”
And, in a beautiful display of continuing hope, he ended on a comma.