Friday, February 14, 2014

At 130

I'm on the road this week and so am sharing an updated story. I'll be reading this piece live at Boskone's Flash Fiction Slam on Sunday morning. If you're in Boston, feel free to say hi!

At 0: the first computer fills a large room with thousands of coiled wires, billowing steam and punch cards. It crunches numbers. It will help perfect the hydrogen bomb.

At 20: government workers rely on computers the size of desks for data entry and records.

At 25: 72% of respondents don't know what a computer is.

At 35: an assassination plot is stopped thanks to information shared between computers in different countries. They're connected by some kind of web.

At 40: diagnostic x-ray machines enable physicians to see inside their patients. Many patients fear side-effects.

At 50: fearing children who are not computer literate will be left behind, an affluent school district takes out loans to buy as many computers as it has pupils. The computers outweigh their incoming class.

At 55: multiple miniature cameras are deployed inside a surgery patient, minimizing size of incision and granting a radical vision of the living body.

Also at 55: a teacher receives a phone call in his pocket.

At 60: a student finds an answer on her cell phone faster than the teacher can pull it up on Encarta.

At 65: a physician releases nanomachines into her own bloodstream. They collect images and data about her cardiovascular system that she releases to the public domain.

At 75: a protein-based computer smaller than a pimple is revealed in the brainstem of a leading mathematician. It solves equations as fast as he can think them.

At 85: legislation to ban “internalcells” is overridden in the Supreme Court. 49% of respondents disapprove. 32% are undecided. Wall Street sees record highs.

At 90: fearing children who are not e-literate will be left behind, parents race to implant “cell chips” into the heads of newborns.

At 101: the first class of children whose motor skills are entirely pre-programmed by their “cells” attend their first day of school.

At 120: less than 3% of respondents under twenty do not have “at least some” of their emotions digitally regulated.

At 130: the prodigy who bought too much, including a large room full of wires and punch cards, executes a command. Everything turns off. He goes outside without shoes or socks and feels the grass between his toes. Without wifi, his natural hearing is so weak that he misses all the grinding and screaming around him. He wonders what this feeling is called. For the first time in his life, auto-fill does not answer his question. For the first time in his life, he has to wonder.


  1. I like the ambition of this piece Jon. I wonder if the nanontechnology et al really will affect mankind's evolution

  2. Even at this early stage, we are "plugged" into technology far too much, in my opinion. Turn it all off, I often tell my kids. Find a book to read. Or how about do something totally revolutionary: go outside and play with the other kids. Get a little mud on the jeans while you're at it. A good reminder for all of us, John.

  3. Spookily accurate prognostication. Our ability to remember things is the first to go.

  4. Scarily true. And I hope it gets the reaction it deserves at the reading. Have a great weekend.

  5. wondering will be good for the prodigy!

  6. I really like the ending. It was eerie and scared me a bit.

  7. What's scary is that might actually happen like that.

  8. And that's the really scary bit, that one day the technology we all come to rely on may be just shut down.

  9. It's scary how quickly technology is taking over - this story is a good illustration of what could be…. My first job in the early 60's with within the Computer Division of The Marconi Co. There was a whole room dedicated to the computers that reached from floor to ceiling and ticker-tape (punched hole tape,) was fed through. ^_^

  10. Progression and evolution might lead to regression and devolution with time. It's horridly fascinating as much as it is worrying. Curious what the listeners tomorrow will think of this strong and very much realistic piece. Hope they step outside for awile. At least until they have time

  11. Nice one! This reminded me of "The Machine Stops" by EM Forster (yes, Howard's End EM Forster). Info here

  12. Cool story, John, I hope the reading went well! And I hope it all turns out a little differently at 130.


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