Two very short stories
Tales of the Unconnected (Part 1)
Quite a milestone. The leather creaked as he settled back. He couldn’t help the sense of satisfaction. Leaning to meet the glow of his laptop, he marked the day in his calendar. All those followers.
A preoccupation with the right type of content had grown in him, gathering people as he went. He tried to picture them. Not as individuals. As an anonymous crowd. A mass. On the front row he placed those who were most familiar. He knew their faces, voices, their email sign-offs. Beyond that, the crowd was a blur of faceless heads and shoulders. Sketchy, featureless, but intent.
Numbers like that are hard to imagine. Sports stadiums. He recalled once going to a football match with a similar attendance. It gave his imagination a reference point. Sports stadiums also needed heroes. As his mind wandered he pictured scoring a winning goal. Each post he typed was like that goal, he thought, as he brought himself back into the moment.
The TV was playing in the background. The early evening news. A technology segment. Recognising the primary coloured social media logos, he reached across to unmute. The report was of a “click farm”. As the camera stretched slowly outwards, he saw a wall covered in mobile phones. And then another wall. A whole room. Hundreds of phones. Each rapidly flashing away, automatically clicking and moving on. Not a human in sight. A swarm of flickering devices. Each click was part of a pattern. The devices were pushing in the same direction.
The reporter spoke hurriedly of the unknown scale of these click farms: directing, promoting, mimicking, imitating. As the camera roamed something caught his eye. He paused the TV and moved closer. His face almost touched the screen. At first it seemed too grainy to be sure. As he narrowed his stare the doubt drained.
His own profile picture illuminated one of the small screens at the centre of the wall. He pressed play and watched as the image flickered momentarily on one screen and then swarmed, in formation, across the other phones. It took only an instant. As the picture spread it disappeared as quickly. He played it back, watching the flocking of that familiar image as it moved and vanished. Squinting, he shook away the question that came to him.
You have a memory
This is what boredom feels like. It was the fourth time I’d watched Total Recall. I hit pause, Schwarzenegger frozen in time, to check the notification that had buzzed on my phone. You have a memory, the app told me.
It was both strange and a cliché. A picture of an anonymous sunny place. A glistening sea, a sandy beach, visibly hot. An arching light put the closely huddled figures into shadow.
My feed was telling me that I was there with them, two years ago to this day. But I’d never been to Malta. I didn’t even go on holiday that August. Not that I could remember.
A blur of activity followed. These weren’t social media bots. I’d seen two of them yesterday. A prank maybe? I couldn’t immediately dismiss it. Yet at least one of these people hated pranks. Anyway, the coordination would have taken too much effort. And then there was the very natural flow of interactions racing across my feed.
As I began to voice my confusion etiquette pushed my finger on the delete key. The comments continued. If I claimed not to remember it would come wrapped with two insults. I would be questioning their sincerity. Or it would sound like the trip was so forgettable that I had no recollection of it. I held back, letting the reminiscence continue.
A year later. The 26th of August again. Recirculated by the app, that bland image of the beach. After a slight hesitation, tentatively, I started with a non-committal emoji. Then by repeating a yarn from last year’s tales. A warm response. I added something new. As I fabricated bits of a story others joined in, tying the threads and filling the gaps.
Then came the next image. A photo of me by the arches of Malta airport. I zoomed into the photo, as close as it would allow, looking at the edges of my hair for a sign of superimposition. I just couldn’t be sure.
A stock-image bank. I downloaded a photo. A river side. An ice-cream vendor. Old-looking brickwork on the left hand edge. The background full of blooming wild flowers and a classic car filling a small gap in the hedgerow. Four people crammed onto a riverside bench, silhouetted by the setting sun.
I thought for a moment, then tagged some people to it and posted the image. Four people would work: myself and three others on the bench and another taking the photo. The message I added was something to do with me having just received a notification of this memory. A trip to Holland four years ago. A slightly nervous wait. It took a few minutes, then the likes and messages started to bubble.