Archive for February, 2006

then at work

February 27, 2006

Steve’s boss called him in to his office one day to give him slightly advance notice of an impending re-organization. As part of it Steve will be getting more responsibility. He maybe even get moved into another position at a better salary. Things were looking up.

A week or so later, the re-org was announced. Lots of changes would be coming soon. Department-level and executive personnel changes were detailed at the initial announcement, more detailed changes were to follow. A branch office in another building downtown will be closed. A lot of people who had been working there will be transferring to Steve’s ofice and folded into the departments there. One of these people was someone he’ll be working with a lot. He got several messages about it both from his manager and the equivalent manager in a parallel deparment. The next Tuesday the other manager came by his desk to introduce this person, whose name was Barbara. He recognized her as the woman he had seen on the street several weeks ago. And his first thoughts were of the fantasies he had had. He realized he was going to need to be more guarded with his thoughts.

He mulled over this encounter after work as he was travelling to his plugin center. The main thrust of this morning’s experience, as he analyzed it for plugin contribution, was simple recognition, but with a tinge of embarassment. If he was going to be seeing her a lot, there was a good chance that she was also going to be seeing him. And it occured to him that she might recognize his memories if she came across them in the mnemoscape. The possibility seemed remote to him, though.

Moving on from the experience, he began to contemplate the woman herself. Phenomenologically she gained a great deal of strength by appearing a second time. She gave herself a reflective surface, to double herself, and double the double, and multiply herself infinitely until she was a Deleuzean current running swiftly though his mind. As a single instance, a point, a singularity, she established in his experience only a spherical field, weakening by the inverse of the square of his distance from the encounter in time. But with two points she was established as a line, a direction, a current, and a pulse.


woman on the street

February 24, 2006

Steve was downtown, coming out of an office supply store at the end of his lunch hour. He let go of the glass door and put his hands in the pockets of his long overcoat. He started down the street and began to regret not wearing a hat. He dodged the other people on the street, fumbling his scarf into a position to better warm is neck, and he sees coming toward him an attractive blonde. She had a long rectangular face. Her nose was straight – by no means perky – a little longer than average, but not much, and not bulging. It went straight down. The nostrils flared just a touch. She wore one of those knee-length sweater/coats, dark tan. It brings out the darker colors of her hair. Definitely an autumn. The sweater doesn’t look warm enough, and it hangs casually open. Her office must be nearby, and she must also be running a quick errand.

His mind exhaled a Julia set of erotic fantasies that any man generates when he looks at a woman who is in any way attractive. Not a very remarkable incident, other than that she is one of the more attractive women he’s seen in the past few weeks. As some would take a mental note, he takes care to put a Husserlian frame around this little encounter, as an experience that will be added to the mnemoscape on one of his subsequent plugins. He needn’t dwell on it – the servers will likely draw it from his subconsious. He lets the sighting slip from his mind. He has no reason to think he’ll ever see the woman again.


February 22, 2006

Dan walks by – a tall figure in a black coat. Black, slightly curly hair is all long enough to kiss his jaw. A neatly trimmed beard paints his face with the bold strokes of an ink-dripped brush. Although his skin is tan, one can see a paleness swimming underneath, wistfully waiting to break to the surface, and spread, to cover it.

He walked past on the far side of the patio, but as he walked he scanned the tables, and when he found Steve he flashed him a smile just before he went into the front doors of the coffee shop. Coming out of the shop by the side door to the patio about three minutes later with a medium-sized to go cup in his hand, he quickly scanned the patio again, then threw Steve a brief wave and tramped over to Steve’s table.”Hey,” he said. Steve saw that though he though at first that all his clothes were black, they were really several colors, but all dark. They were also slightly ill-fitting, and a bit worn. Gray dockers, black sneakers over white socks, a dark brown sweatshirt and a loosely hanging black trench coat. Although from the distant glimpse Steve had as he walkef into the coffee shop he looked to be dressed formally, Steve saw now that this was nowhere near so. Dan dressed like a student.

Plopped down in the chair opposite Steve, Dan glanced left and right. “Nice day, huh?” A breeze stirred the open flaps of his coat and tumbled the steam rising off of his coffee. A small laugh chuffed out his nose. “Anyway I like it. I always liked cool weather.” He then turned his head to look Steve full in the face and beemed. “So. Howya been?”

Steve’s face elongated in appraisal. “I been alright. And you?”

“Been great. Somebody told me you’ve been at the same job since graduation? How’s that going? You must like it, I guess.”

“It’s all right. I mean, it’s been good, but I- I’ll probably going to be looking to make a change pretty soon.”

“Really?” Dan’s face showed actual, real interest. He leanaed forward and put his elbows on the table and his shoulders in a half shrug. “What’s the problem? Things turn bad?”

“No, not really.” Steve shrugged with his mouth. “I guess I just feel that I could be doing more, but I don’t see the opportunities where I’m at right now. I don’t want to be stuck in the same place forever – I mean, I wouldn’t mind being at one company a long time, if I felt I was being challenged, and I had opportunities to do a variety of things. But as it stands right now, I don’t think I’m going to have those opportunities where I am.”

Dan smiled in amusement. “Ambition.”

“Well yeah. Ambition, and boredom.”

Dan’s lower lip pushed up against his upper lip. “I see.” He nodded.

Steve closed his eyes briefly, then shook his head. “Anyway. And you? Nobody’s told me anything about you. I mean, I haven’t heard anything about you for a long time. What have you been doing? Do your parents know where you are? Have you been in touch with your parents?” Steve felt the right to pry that far. The two of them had been close.

There was some hesitancy, but Dan kept his gaze full on Steve’s face. “Yeah. Yes I have.” He didn’t drop his smile, but it didn’t look as natural as a moment before.

“How are they, by the way.”

“They’re great. They’re good. Thanks for asking.”

“And your sister? How’s she doing?”

Dan suddenly and for an instant looked bored, tired, and cross. Then it was gone. Steve thought he saw the skin of Dan’s face lift slightly, like a theater curtain. “Rebecca? Doin’ great. She’s going to graduate from college this spring.”

Steve’s eyebrows went up, once again elongating half of his face. “Oh? Great. That’s great.” His eyebrows came back down. “So, you. What have you been doing again?”

“Well…” Dan leaned back in his chair. He put his left hand on the chair’s arm rest and with his right he picked up his cup of coffee and held it in front of his chest, poised to drink when ready. “Lots of things.

“When I left school I had gone to visit a commune that one of my professors was connected with. I stayed there a while, but it wasn’t really what I was into. Then I rode the rails for a while, through Montana and Wyoming – it felt like I did that a lot longer than I actually did. Let’s see… I worked part of a season picking grapes with some migrant workers. Then I moved back to the coast, to my old college neighborhood. I moved into a co-op and was working for kind of an underground newspaper there. I stayed in touch with that professor. He tells me I could probably go back to school there if I wanted.”

“Wow. You’ve done a lot of stuff.” Dan just shrugged and tightened one corner of his lips. “I would love to run across your memories of some of that stuff during a plug in session.” Steve was thinking back to their childhood attempts to pick up each other’s specific memories.

Dan’s eyes quickly and wariy looked at Steve from beneath their brows. “Yeah, well.” Dan’s speech slowed. “I don’t think there’s much chance of that.”

“Oh? Why do you say that?” Again with the eyebrows going up, stretching out the upper half of his face.

“I haven’t plugged in since I left college.”

“What?” Steve went blank. He forgot where he was for a moment. The air around him seemed to go white for a moment. A second later, he could remember it not going white and he could also remember it going white. “You’re, you… What? what was that?”

“I haven’t plugged in to a memory server, in fact I haven’t even visited a server farm, since I left college three years ago.”

“How did you do that?”

“What do you mean how did I do that? It’s not that I did something. I didn’t do something. I didn’t go into a server farm and plug in to one of the memory bank machines.”

“Okay…”, said Steve, in a tone that he would have used in granting, for the sake of argument, that aliens controlled the government. “But.” He sighed in exasperation, abandoning whatever he had just tried to grant. “But how can you live without plugging in?”

“Steve, people lived for thousands of years without plugging in. Thousands. Of years.”

“Yeah, okay – but they didn’t live in this society. I don’t see how you can live in this society without plugging in. But I guess you’re not living in this society, are you?”

“Oh come on. I’m sitting here drinking coffee with you. Of course I live in this society. Think about it. What about this society actually requires you to plug in? Nothing. When, why do you ever really need to plug in?”

“We had to plug in in high school, a certain number of times a week.”

“Well, we were expected to. I don’t remember any formal sanction procedures around it. And anyway, that was for four years, several years ago now. How about today. In your job, for example. Why would you need to plug in to function.”
Steve paused. “Okay. I can’t… think of any time when it’s explicitly required, but implicitly? I mean, it’s assumed in virtually every social interaction. I assumed it at the beginning of this conversation. Do you admit that you don’t plug in every time the subject of plugging in comes up, as you did to me? I assume anyone else’s reaction would be like mine, or worse.”

“No, I don’t admit it aevery time it comes up.”

“So you lie.”

“I remain silent. Don’t think you’re going to drag me into some Ethics 101 discussion of whether it is a requirement for society not to lie.”

“You conceal.”

“Of ocurse I conceal. Everyone conceals something. Did you openly discuss with your parents all the times you smoked pot in college?”

“Hmmmm, no. But this type of transgression seems more fundamental to me somehow.”

“Transgression? Smoking pot is more of a transgression than not pluggin in. Smoking pot is actually illegal. There’s no law outlining a punishment for refusing to plug in.”

For a moment Steve thought, “There should be.” but immediately saw that as repulsive. “Alright, setting aside whether or not it’s sanctioned, in either sense of the word – why would you want to go without plugging in?”

Dan smiled. “Ah. Exactly where I wanted to lead the conversation. Thank you.”

“Oh?” Steve’s eyebrows went up again, but only about halfway this time. It gave him a lowering expression.

“Yeah,” said Dan. “I want to try to convince you to at least try living without plugging in.”

“What?” Steve’s eyebrows slammed back down to an expression of skeptical shock. “Why would I want to do that?”

“Two words: freedom and individuality.”

“That doesn’t make any fucking sense. There’s nothing about plugging in that infringes on my individuality, and certainly not on my freedom, either.”

“I disagree. And to prove you wrong, I will just ask you why you would want to plug in.”

“Why would I want to plug in? You want me to recite all of the reasons, that we’ve known since we were children, that should have been reiterated over and over during the course of anyone’s life?”

“Why have we known them since childhood? Not because we discovered them, but because they were told to us. Reiterated because they were drilled into us.”

“No. Most if not all benefits are self-evident – if not through direct experience, some of the social benefits can be found by a careful observer.”

“Effects can be experienced, yes; benefits must be judged. I would not call these effects benefits. But I am jumping ahead of myself a little. To answer your question, no, I don’t expect you to recite all of the alleged benefits – just a few will do for argument.”

“Well ok. How about improved memory, to take the most obvious. Do you really not remember high school? Do you not remember the academic competitions where we got our asses handed to us by the teams from private schools, who plugged in together every day?”

One thing I forgot to put in was Dan’s criticism of the improved memory claim – .Dan closed his eyes breifly as he nodded. “I remember. But I don’t think that it’s been proves that plugging in actually imporvesmemory – I think rather that people are just given a lot more crap to remember. But I’m sorry, I asked you to humor me. Please continue.”

“Okay. The other obvious benefit I’m guessing you want me to state is increased empathy. This benefit, if not felt directly by one person, can be observed over time in a group of people.”

“OK, thank you for humoring me. As I said, I would not call these benefits. I would call them effects. Whether or not they are benefits is a value judgement.”

“You don’t think they are good in and of themselves, huh? Well what is the Good then, my dear Socrates? Individuality and Freedom, I suppose?”

“Touche. I didn’t want to go that deep with my argument. But I will say that as my own value judgement, individuality and freedom are more important than improved memory or even improved empathy.”

“So you’re saying that given the choice you’d like enhanced individuality rather than enhanced empathy.”

“You’ve taken the most extreme opposition possible among the two pairs, but all right. I don’t think the choice is between improving your individuality and improving your empathy. It’s between leaving both alone on the one hand, and on the other increasing your empathy while decreasing your individuality. And I believe that decreasing your individuality decreases your freedom, which is not worth enhancing any other positive. Freedom is more the Good than empathy or anything else.”

“First of all, as you said before, what is a benefit and what is not, especially in relation or comparison to other effects, is a value judgement. Second of all, as regards freedom, am I not choosing to plug in? If I think that more empathy is good, even at the cost of some of my individuality, am I not excersicing the freedom that you seem so knock-kneed worried that I’m losing?”

“If you were able to choose whether or not to start plugging in I might agree with you. But everyone starts plugging in as children, at the direction of others. However well-intentioned that may be, there is little freedom in it.

“As well, it’s like an addictive drug. You may be free at the outset to choose whether or not to start taking it – though even that may not be completely true, because without having experienced it at least once you necessarily do not have all the pertinent information. And without all the pertinent information, how can you really make a free choice? But even granting that you freely make the choice to try it, the experience changes you such that any subsequent choices you make to use it cannot be said to be freely made.”

“You think that plugging in changes a person in such a way that they are compelled to plug in again.”

“I believe so. Yes.”

“Exactly how does that happen.”

“I don’t have the exact mechanism in my head. I have heard a few theories – some of which I didn’t understand, others that I thought were wrong. But I have an intuition that it is so, an intuition that I trust.”

“Okay. Finally, if plugging in deprives a person of the freedom to choose not to plug in, then how is it that you have managed to stop plugging in? And what kind of sense does it make for you to try to convince me to choose not to plug in, if I in fact have no choice in the matter? Isn’t it futile?”

“I had feared it might be.”

Dan goes away

February 20, 2006

When Dan visited, he insisted on going to one or two places in that he had heard about all the way from his school on the other coast. A coffe shop, a couple of used book stores, and several theaters. Although Steve usuallly went to bars and music clubs in his free time, it wasn’t like he didn’t go to coffee houses, bookstores, and theaters. He did. But the places he went to were mostly filled with youth -most likely other college students – from his college or one of the several other colleges in the city. But people who were young, if not college students – and people who were carefree, if not young. However, in the places to which Dan dragged him the people weren’t necessarily young – many of them were in their late thirties or older. And they weren’t carefree – most of them wore deadly serious demeanours, with a few exceptions of people who seemed almost holy in their detached happiness.

Being in different cities, they naturally drifted apart. Dan took a trip overseas the summer after first year, so Steve didn’t get a chance to see him much during the year or during break. During their second year, their correspondence was sporadic – Steve sent Dan a message every two months or so, and Dan responded, laconically, to about half of them.

During college the focus or tone of Steve’s plugins changed. Starting with his friendship with Dan, Steve had been most concerned about plugging in as a form of communication. Was Dan going to receive this experience? Where did this memory come from? Am I getting knowledge that helps me in school? Those were his thoughts as he stepped in and out of plug-in berths through high school. This concern evaporated after his realization that all of his plugins, with their breadth and depth of emotional and intelectual content, did not inoculate him against new experiences, new ideas, and new modes of life. And once he realized that plugging-in was not the perfect communication medium, he was prepared to think of other purposes it may have.
During their third year Dan’s parents were contacted by the university he was attending. He had stopped showing up for classes. This made his parents really worried, since they hadn’t heard from him for weeks either. When he didn’t come home for a major holiday a week or two later, they totally freaked, and finally went to the police. Shortly thereafter they received a letter from Dan stating that he was fine and that they should not look for him. The police found traces of his skin oil on the letter, which did not contain the amounts and types of hormones that would indicate lots of stress. They concluded that their was no foul play, and looked no further. There was no evidence that he was in danger, no evidence of any crime, and if he didn’t want to be found, why spend taxpayer money to look for him.

Dan continued to send his parents letters to try and keep them from worrying. And then, one day, he sent a letter to Steve. This was three or four years later. Steve was a couple years out of school, still working at the job he had got right out of college, through the on-campus placement service. He had already been promoted in the time he had been there, but it was basically just to move him from being a peon to a position with some actual responsibility. He wasn’t making much more money, but now he could be called to account for certain things. He was feeling restless, wondering if he should go to grad school, as some of his friends had already done.

And then he got this letter, somewhat out of the blue, from Dan. After some bland pleasantries it asked Steve to meet Dan at the coffee shop, on a certain weekend morning. Which is why Steve was sitting there on an autumn morning after a rain.

growing up

February 17, 2006

Steve and Dan remained close through high school, though not at the expense of other friendships. They didn’t clique up – in fact cliques were very rare. When Steve’s literature and film class studied The Breakfast Club in his freshman year, a lot of people had a hard time understanding it. The class was given special permission to try going without plugging in for a week to try and better understand the characters in the movie. Normally the students at his school were requred to plug in a certain number of times every week. Plugging in too much, however, was frowned upon, although there was no formal restriction. It was said that after a certain point the advantages of plugging in were purchased at the expense of the exercise of your own faculties.

Some schools had their own server farms, said to be specially configured for the advantage of their students. Steve’s school didn’t have one – he and his classmates used public centers in their neighborhhoods. Even so, sometimes facts seemed to flow unbidden from an automatically adjusting source. Sometimes, if one of his classmates studied something one week, Steve would know it the next week. That would happen most often when the classmate frequented the same server farm as Steve did – like Dan. Sometimes everyone in his class would suddenly know something that none of them had studied.

After high school Steve and Dan went to different colleges. Steve went to a college in the city about an hour-and-a-half drive from their suburban childhood home. Dan went to a school on the opposite coast – a four hour flight away.

Steve was surprised when he got to college by how many experiences he found new. He thought that he had been exposed to most eveything that humanity had to offer, drifting through the mnemoscape during his plug in sessions. But at college he found himself living in a different mode of life – he discovered the possibility of living life in a different key. And the new tone colored all of his experiences in a way that he couldn’t recall coming across in his plug in sessions. It was the difference between contemplating a single tile in isolation, and contemplating the same tile as an individual tile but while it is in its place in a mosaic. The relations between it and the pattern in which it is placed form part of a gestalt which bleeds a part of itself back to each individual piece.

Dan came to visit Steve once or twice during his first two years at college; Steve couldn’t afford to fly out just to visit Dan, but when Dan came home to his parents’ during his college’s slightly different holiday schedule, it was fairly easy for him to drive out to visit Steve. Steve got the feeling during Dan’s visits that Dan too was discovering a new mode of life – but one obviously different than what Steve had found.

best friends

February 15, 2006

Steve’s back yard was fairly narrow, a strandard rectangle. Looking back from the house, the garage hulked on the left, almost hiding the birdbath behind it. About level with the end of the garage, in the middle of the yard was one of those fast-growing trees from which all the lower branches had been cut years ago, making it pretty well useless as a climbing tree. What he could do with it was run from behind the house or the front of the garage as fast as he could to that tree, hoping that the enemy spies in the other yards didn’t see him. From there he would quickly sprint to the bushes on the far side of the yard, where he could crouch behind them, then inch his way to the far right corner of the yard.

Now came the tricky part. He would creep along the edge between the yard next door – Mr. Genn’s yard – and the one facing it, that belonged to the house on the other side of the street. He tried to stay on the exact borderline between the two yards, without stepping on either one. As big as Mr. Genn’s yard was, he only had to go about half-way across it until the yard on the opposite side ended and he could step in to yard next to it, which faced the further half of Mr. Genn’s. Now he could run up the bushes on the side of that opposite yard, dash across to the back door, and knock. “Can Dan come out and play?”

Dan and Steve were the same age. Their moms let them go to the plug-in center together – sometimes Dan’s mom would drive, sometimes Steve’s. Pulling out of Steve’s driveway one day, they saw Mr. Genn pulling in to his. “He’s getting out of his car! He’s looking this way! Duck!” Steve and Dan lay their torsos down on the back seat, foreheads almost clunking together.

“Mr. Genn is actually a very nice man,” said Steve’s mom. “I don’t know why the two of you are so spooked by him.” The two giggled. She smiled and shook her head.

At the center they didn’t go into berths at the same time. They always used the same berth, one after another. They took turns for who would go into the berth first. While one was in the other would sit nearby playing a portable videogame, or reading a book. Afterwards they would compare notes, starting in the car ride home and sometimes lasting until they were called to dinner. Did the one find what the other tried to remember to him? Once or twice – only very rarely – Steve thought he got a glimpse of the book that Dan had been reading the day before, or an action from the space fantasy they had been play-acting in the yard the other day, but from a perspective different than what seemed natural to his internal theater. This flash or two always appeared near the very beginning of his plug-in session, and were quickly engulfed in the violent swirl of the entire world, which was waiting for him inside the machine.

They never could make their bond of friendship more explicit through the servers, though each of them held a buried intuition that the servers tied them to each other in a deeper friendship than could otherwise have been possible. But, as they were boys, they did not deliberately, consciously explore any aspect of their relationship. Testing the communication possible through the servers was simply a matter of camaraderie.

plug-in with Mom

February 13, 2006

One early memory, however, sticks out – and aside from vague impressions or hazy earlier memories, these same things happened to everyone at some point in their early childhood, and for everyone this is the earliest clear memory of plugging in. This was around four years of age.

His mother was near the window in the kitchen. As he walked toward her he moved into the beams of sunlight it let stream in. Their brightness blinded him to her featurs as she truned to his question. Her pose and voice were kind, though, as she asked him what he wanted. “Mommy, why do I have to plug in?”

As his eyes adjusted to the light, and her features became clear. Her forehead crinkled in worry. “Don’t you enjoy plugging in?”

“It’s boring. I don’t want to plug in anymore!”

“You used to like pluggin in. Is it no fun anymore?” He shook his head. “Why not? What don’t you like about it?”

“It makes me tired. And it’s boring.”

“Hmmm. Well Do you think you might be old enough to handle a special kind of plug in?”He lowered his brows in skepticism. “What kind?”

“You’ll see” said his mom. She tousled his hair. Her smile reassured him. “We’ll go the day after tomorrow.”

As the car crunched the gravel of the plug-in center’s parking lot, she said to him over her shoulder, “We’re not going to use the usual berths we use for you.” He thought about his walking through the cool late afternoon air toward the wide, slant-roofed building. Maybe they would go into the adult wing – wow! Maybe he would get to go past all the older kids he saw when he came to plug in at the kids section.

His anticipation gre as they went through the sliding glass doors, which hummed not from the clumsiness of their automation, but from the sound of so much surface sliding against so much surface, deep under the ground and high up into the ceiling. But they didn’t turn left into the adult berth wing, they turned right as usual into the kid’s wing. “Mommy! This is the same place! You said we were going to the grown-up berths!”

“I said we weren’t going to use the berths we usually use. And we won’t. Just hold on a second.”

In fact they turned left to walk deeper into the building, past berths of graded sizes to a closed door with some kind of label at the other end of the long room from the window that looked out onto the parking lot and the tree-lined street beyond it. His mother pushed open the door and on the other side was a small room with only two berths. They looked new.The plastic was much whiter than in his usual berths. They shone like when his dad waxed the car. “You get in that one, and then I’ll get in that one,” his mom said. She helped him in and he lay down in the berth. He was careful getting in. The lid had a sharply defined edge that almost gleamed, it wasn’t worn smooth like his usual beths. He didn’t want to get something like a paper cut on it. He had gotten a paper cut before. It hurt.

He felt the mental click he always felt as the conenctions engaged – but instead of the sensation of plunging into a running river that had always immediately followed that click, he felt blank, as if he were hanging in the middle of the air. There was a mechanical feeling of anticipation, like a humming that he could not hear. Then there was another click, and suddenly he was in that river. The river, however, was different. Before, the river always seemed to be taking something from him. Thoughts and images streamed away from him like white paint in a strong current. He never felt that he was left thirsty, though, or that he would lose these images that were being summoned out. They were not the kind of resource that is depleted by use.

This time images poured into him. He felt the current now pushing against him – gently at first so he was floating then gliding down a river as the current grew stronger. Then rushing. Finally it was as if he had been slammed to the bottom of a waterfall and he was being overwhelmed by the force crashing into him. He could hardly take a breath. And what was it? What was this force? It was love.

He was getting lots of images, and sounds, and sensations. And they were all fired with emotion. And they all featured his family. Some featured his parents without him – at home, or in a doctor’s office. But after those at the beginning, in almost all of them both he and his parents appeared together. Sometimes he saw one of his parents alone, but if it was his father at work then his picture was on the desk. If it was his mother on the street then she was thinking of him. Every scene was filled with their feeelings of love toward him. This love permeated the whole experience; it was the core of the force hitting him and pouring into him. It was what was overwhelming him.

early memories

February 10, 2006

One of Steve’s earliest memories, confusingly, was of plugging in. When you were plugged in, you couldn’t tell the difference between your memories or someone elses – one moment you would be immersed in a very powerful, physically rooted memory of someone you had never met, but the memory was so strong you were absolutely certain that that was who you were, who you always were, who you always would be – a sensation so peculiar it left if not itself the its effects on your mind long after the details of the specific memory were forgotten. The next minute you would be floating among tenuous associations of ideas, webbed together from the memories of several differect people: a summer job picking peppers, remembered in one person’s mind, would connect to memories of an cooking class in another person’s mind. Even connections between abstract thoughts, such as greed to lust for power to military conquest to Alexander the Great to Memphis to barbecued ribs – involved jumps from mind to mind as well as from idea to idea. In the middle of this you lost almost all sense of identity.

Flitting among abstract ideas, from one to another – landmarks on the way to the grocery store; the best way to hold a knife if you want to chop green onions; the structure of the sexual organs in a flower; the axioms of Peano arithmetic… Once in a while an association train would lead somehow to an incident from his own past, one of his own memories. Details would then explode and it became less of an exploration of associations but rather more like a searching analysis and reappraisal of every detail – like watching the Zapruder film over and over.

Steve couldn’t remember his first plug-in. It must have happened when he was a toddler, though. And he must have uploaded something in that session, musn’t he? There should then be memories of his from before his first plug in stored somewhere in the servers. There must be memories of his infancy, then that he could conceivably access.

He tried to get to those memories as often as he could. However, it was difficult to pull what you wanted from a plug in session. Moving through the mnemoscape was more like surfing than sailing. There was very little navigation to it. What you got was driven by association. Sometimes he felt that he could control it. Every next association seemed to be something that he proposed. There were other times when he felt like he was trying to propose associations of his own, but before he could quite recognize them himself they were shoved aside in favor of other notions – ans he was as it were pushed in a direction he wouldn’t have chosen himself. And there were yet other times when he was swept rapidly along a series of associations rapid fire too quickly for him to even think about making a choice – it felt like being swamped and carried off by a tidal wave. Some said it was like a lot of other things, it was like life – the more in control and on top of things you seemed to be, the less you actually were.

He didn’t know if there was some quality of these early memories that kept him from accessing them, or whether he just couldn’t exercise enough control over the movement through associations to get there. Occasionally he would catch glimpses of someone’s early childhood, but though the impressions were very strong, often the details were vague. And these were never during one of the association runs which turned out to be a fully detailed retrieval of one of his own memories.

So sometimes he would wonder if some early childhood memory he encountered was one of his and it just couldn’t trigger that kind of explosion of natural memories. But he kind of doubted it – there were a lot of people in the world, a lot of childhoods – the chances that one of them was his, without some kind of emotional evidence, was close to nil.

One early memory, which he knew to be his own natural memory, was easy to recall. It was from around four years of age. It was a thing that happened to everyone at some point in their early childhood, and for everyone it is the earliest clear memory of plugging in.

preferred memories

February 7, 2006

This state of mind, comprised of careful obvervation, mental note-taking, and surges of empathy, was characteristic someone who, like Steve, had just recently plugged in. Steve tried to make note of everything because he wanted to give anyone stumbling over this memory the experience he would like to have if he stumbled on it while surfing. If all he got during a plug-in session were bland memories with no details, he tended to be tired afterward. He would feel drained, and he started to think that life was pointless. He didn’t get anything out of it. What he liked was very detailed memories with strong emotions running through them.

Sometimes it was okay if a memory has sparse details, if emotion shot through the diaphanous scene. Then, feeling at least provided some novel external structure to his own thoughts as they rushed in to fill the vague gray vacuum. He could reflect on that emotion in his own life, and on how he handled it. This was perhaps afterward, in the post-plug-in hours… but at least it gave him something to think about.

If there were no emotion, but a wealth of detail – then he could just revel in observation. As he let arbitrarily-grained stimuli wash over the geometry of each sense, or as he delved into almost hidden corners within the folded paper of appearances, his own emotion would naturally well up unbidden.

But with both detail and emotion – those memories were best. Surfing was then like reading a most captivating novel – the most captivating novel. Were these rare? When he found them, he treasured them. And for them he felt profound gratitiude, and wanted to give something back to the great ether of experience that had given him this wonderful jewel. If one of these gems were his memory, and someone else stumbled upon it to savoured it in the same way… then, he felt, he would have left his mark, a good mark, and maybe his life would not have been in vain. Maybe it would have been a better thing that he had lived than if he had not.

Could he record a memory jewel of detail and emotion? He didn’t have many strong emotions in his life, unless you counted this taste for a particular kind of plug in download – but it was to obtuse to count, just a predelicton, really – spread out in a series of incidents and some occasional deeply moved inflection. But besides these periodic discoveries of a gem, which he didn’t feel he could really count as one of his emotions, this taste, this inclincation, never flared violently upon a single instant of time. It took its force from an accumulation of a great many mild impressions.

But if he couldn’t call up or depend upon the emotional aspect of what would make a great memory – composed like a great symphony – at least he could work on noting as much detail as he could. These memories even without great emotion would hold some worth in themselves, and if he trained himself in noting details, then if or when he did live through a scene of violent feeling (which, when he was honest with himself, he admitted to dreading), perhaps he would automatically – through the force or gift of habit – note all the details that would make its memory one of those seperlative experiences waiting for plugged in mnemonauts drifiting unsuspecting through the emotional ether.

One of Steve’s earliest memories, confusingly, was of plugging in.

Server Farm opening scene

February 5, 2006

Steve arrived early for his appointment, which gave him an opportunity to pick out a good seat, after ordering his coffee. He chose a seat outside. The metal furniture looked like it had a film of dust, but that may have been an artifact of the spray paint job done to color them. It had rained the night before, in fact through to earlier in the morning – one of the autumn rains common to this city. Wet leaves stuck to the tabes and chair legs where they had been caught by the falling water after being blown there by the wind. Steve noted all of this in his mind.

He noted the chill on the high ridge of his cheeks and the tip of his nose – a chill evoked by the cool wind. The wind was like a cold drink, more refreshing than the bitter coffeee which was so hot yet that he could barely sip it from the lip of his paper cup, but its heat didn’t seem to affect the coldness of the rest of his face. He noted all of this, and the shape of the table – it was round, with a mesh surface, and he noted its color – it was black. He made an effort to remember it all in as much detail as possible, to remember it… correctly. And he wondered how other people might view this memory – what would they think about it, how would it resonate for them, what associations would it evoke?

At one of the other tables sat a man in his mid to late forties – black curly hair, salted with grey. Large round glasses covering like a pot lid half of his thick face. An equally thick sweater huddled his arms and shoulders like cords of heavy rope. Next to his sandaled feet lay a black labrador, wearing the expression of having given up. What was that man recording right now? How was he thinking about the morning? What sensations were registering on his bright field of awareness?

At another table was a young woman in a beige corduroy coat, bell bottoms and a multi-colored woolen cap. She clutched a notebook to her chest and as she puckered her lips to her coffee cup, she seemed to be staring intently at — nothing at all. What was she recording right now? How might her life experiences filter the sensory data moving now through her mind, selecting some things, letting others flow on past?

This state of mind, comprised of careful obvervation, mental note-taking, and surges of empathy, was characteristic of someone who had just recently plugged in.