No matter where you go, we want to ensure that every experience you have will be social.
Mark Zuckerberg, 2010
It was a cold, bright day in April and a soft chime from @winstonsmith32’s Socnet Glass told him it was 1pm. He hurried along the street, heading for Tesco. His HUD said 8ºC, but it felt much cooler. As he idly focused his attention on passersby, their disgruntled thoughts on the unseasonal cold floated across his vision. He decided not to add his own voice to the discussion; his Lytics informed him that, based on recent form, his post probably wouldn’t muster enough Retells to boost his Number.
Multicoloured special offers fizzed across his Glass as he approached the supermarket. A cereal that a colleague was enjoying; a soft drink that had appeared in a film he’d seen. Blue likes and red dislikes from members of his Tribe swarmed around the edge of his field of vision, clamouring for attention. As his basket filled, his peers’ approval or disdain of each choice nudged his Number up and down. Nobody liked the brie; clearly, his friends were healthier than he’d thought. He replaced it and his Number recovered.
Something was going on in the next aisle. An old lady had removed her Glass and was rubbing her face wearily, leaning on a freezer. In-store staff were already there, gently but insistently encouraging her to put the Glass back on. ‘You can’t get our special offers otherwise,’ they reasoned. ‘Don’t you want to save money today?’
‘They hurt my eyes, them things,’ she moaned. ‘All right, I’ll put them on, just give me a minute.’ Through the storefront, Winston could see a policeman – who’d no doubt viewed the incident via Winston’s Glass – mercifully deciding not to intervene.
He scanned the lady, @jordantaylor239. Her Number was pitifully low, like a child’s, her data embarrassingly perfunctory and factual. The older ones just didn’t get it, and missed out on so much as a result. But there were fewer and fewer of them now anyway. Now the non-verbal interfaces had been perfected, babies got their first Glass when they took their first steps. Winston was old enough to have attended school, but he’d been one of the very last. Whatever the subject, Glass taught it better and quicker than any human could.
Winston paid for his groceries, noticing his Number tick down as his relative wealth fell, and left the shop. He felt like a drink, and his feed told him that several of his friends felt the same way. He headed for a nearby bar.
Inside, the room was almost pitch dark – ideal conditions for Glass viewing. He sat at a Socnet booth so he could use nearfield gestures; unlike his younger colleagues, he found look-and-blink control tiring after a while. As he settled into his seat, the avatars of his friends around the world arranged themselves into a group within his Glass, their greetings floating across his vision.
He found the waitress, @juliaw2015, very attractive. Her Number was high, too – almost twice his own. A quick browse of her data offered some explanation: a popular MA student who’d spent months travelling. She’d finished an essay today and was feeling cheerful. Hopefully, he added her to his Tribe, but she did not return the favour. That would bring his Number down. But he still wanted to hand on to their momentary connection, even if only for a few minutes.
Winston had no illusions. His Number had peaked a few years ago and would not reach that level again. At 49, Socnet had decreed that he was over the hill. At least he’d reached a reasonably senior level before the rot set in. Some of the kids coming through now – third-generation Glass-wearers – had Numbers he’d not achieved until he was 35.
A newstrend flashed across his Glass, breathlessly describing a Ministry of Social plan to boost the Numbers of those who agreed to sterilisation. He watched the predictable swell of disapproval from ‘family values’ bores, followed by a more liberal counter-response. According to Lytics, he wouldn’t boost his Number much by joining either bandwagon.
As it happened, he knew the story was false, because it concerned the department of Minisoc where he worked. His plausible, convincingly worded rebuttal gave him a quick 10-point Number boost; that might double with Retells. Refuting false news always scored, but false refutations could perform almost as well. Ultimately, it didn’t really matter what was true, as long as your Number was up.
With a start, he realised that one of his Retells had come from the woman sitting opposite him. Their eyes met briefly as their respective Glasses confirmed their connection via Socnet. Winston almost spoke, but decided against it. His feed was showing new Retells from people with far higher Numbers, and they had to come first.
The woman had her young daughter with her. Winston guessed she was about seven. The girl was lost in her own Glass, tears rolling down her face. Winston knew that look; he’d been bullied over Socnet himself, many years before. He imagined the red, angular icons she was seeing as her former friends tore her Number apart like piranhas.
The woman looked straight ahead, impassively focused on her Glass. She could have been comforting her daughter through Socnet, but it was far from certain. Looking after your kids’ Numbers inevitably meant neglecting your own. That was why Winston had never wanted children. He Re-fed what he was seeing to his Tribe, adding a cheery comment about it being ‘all part of growing up’. His followers, unsurprisingly, agreed.
Somebody spoke and he went into a dream. Technically, he could remember life before Socnet, but his memories seemed false and unreal. Life must have been so slow and dull back then, he thought. And lonely. There’d been all that stuff about privacy and freedom at the time, but it had all turned out OK. In fact, he thought Minisoc’s original slogans still summed it up pretty well:
HAPPINESS IS SOCIAL
FRIENDSHIP IS FREEDOM
PRIVACY IS GUILT
He got back to his feed before his Number started to fall.