DiscoverScience Fiction

Datapocalypse

By

Must read 🏆

Funny and insightful, this book plays with ideas of society, tech, and the Frankenstein’s monster that online data-storage has become.

Synopsis

"...Surely there was some merit to all of this overabundance of photography going on in the world. From a fatalistic perspective, he pondered whether there would be infinite processing power, cloud storage, server space, infrastructure, and hell, even enough metals, minerals and energy to build it all with..."

In the not-so-distant future, as the world’s digital freight-train rolls right into its inevitable threshold of physical data storage limits, strange things begin to happen. At the same time, Kicis and Anna are each at a philosophical crossroads. The two of them collide under most inauspicious circumstances: things begin to disappear. As they try to find the meaning and reasons behind it—helping others to avert disaster—as though trying to solve the final riddle plaguing humanity, has a tipping point been reached in the bounds of Earth’s physical constraints? Or is it simply the beginning of the Datapocalypse?

A novel on the throes of artificial intelligence creeping a little too much into our lives along with the unrelenting need to feed our picture-taking appetites. Datapocalypse is a poetic attempt to bring together science-fiction, international-intrigue, comedy, romance and dystopia in articulation of a fierce exaggeration of our destiny. Or is it?

 

Datapocalypse by Christopher Keast is a nuanced, tongue-in-cheek story of a world where highly visited, picture-worthy historical monuments are disappearing from the face of the Earth because of an underground, supernaturally powerful super-computer that prances between the digital and the physical, easily manipulating sites where the highest agglomeration of data stems from. Kicis Orion, an Irish academic working at Berkeley, studies the historic erosion of societies and sniffs at the notion that personal technology and mass picture-taking is taking a toll of the overall global data storage and that this somehow relates to the unsettling disappearances of monuments. Inspired by this idea, Kicis sprints off to an adventure involving secret police, a new love, new friends, and close encounters with prison, all while circling around the central ideas of data and its relation to society.


This book can at times be like a collection of creative academic essays, as many of these chapters turn into a highly entertaining yet thoughtful discussion between two people, who are usually specialists, conversing calmly about some specific idea that is discussed from the perspective of different disciplines. Although the dialogue is knowledgeable and grounded, it is easy to follow and very accessible to general readers. There is a long chapter dedicated to Kicis participating in a podcast, which is very engaging and entertaining. Discussions are well versed and precise, and although learned, they are the opposite of pedantic. The characters themselves are pleasant and sometimes agreeably foolish, which construes them as very real and even if they are based on actual people (as they likely are), very authentic and marvellously constructed.


The idea that data agglomeration, which becomes vastly redundant in its majority, is a digital trash that comes to the point of physically interacting with our world is a very engaging notion that is highly relevant to our present. The concept of a powerful global algorithm that can lay its binary fingers on real-world objects through the easy access of uploaded data to an online cloud, is an eerie thought. In this book, this is dealt with seriousness but it is also very comedic, and this is helped along by the overall light tone of the book. The supercomputer and its algorithms is also always described like a fantastical being, as a wizard casting spells, a witch, or a vampire, readying their cauldron or “craving for eliminating redundancies and fragmenting waste” (100). These comparisons, besides being humorous, drive home a cautionary pause as to how you, the reader, manage your own personal data and whether you really need such a high amount of it. The playful spirit of the book, however, does not grant it much space for severe warnings and cries of alarm, and its tongue-in-cheek is much in likeness to the brilliant Douglas Adams and his “42” supercomputer.        

   

This book is about “algorithms given too much control, too much insight, too much autonomy” (30) that become “techno-ghosts swallowing buildings” (261). The story gains more and more web-hacking paranoia as it goes along, and a ghost-in-the-shell-like spirit dominates the devices of those who are the most engaged with their tech. The funny and easygoing dialogue that surrounds these ideas of data and online presence also preach small warnings, but overall reflect on the possibility that life seems to be lived through a phone camera rather than real eyes. If you have had similar impressions, then this book will be highly insightful and entertaining for you. And even if you do not engage in such ideas, this book will be amusing and worth your time. Overall, just read it.   

Reviewed by

Book editor, freelance content writer, and translator with a literature MA. I'm passionate about all kinds of literature and art. I enjoy editing, reading, and writing creative and informative content to the best of my abilities. Originality, insight, and entertainment are priorities for me. #Scifi

Synopsis

"...Surely there was some merit to all of this overabundance of photography going on in the world. From a fatalistic perspective, he pondered whether there would be infinite processing power, cloud storage, server space, infrastructure, and hell, even enough metals, minerals and energy to build it all with..."

In the not-so-distant future, as the world’s digital freight-train rolls right into its inevitable threshold of physical data storage limits, strange things begin to happen. At the same time, Kicis and Anna are each at a philosophical crossroads. The two of them collide under most inauspicious circumstances: things begin to disappear. As they try to find the meaning and reasons behind it—helping others to avert disaster—as though trying to solve the final riddle plaguing humanity, has a tipping point been reached in the bounds of Earth’s physical constraints? Or is it simply the beginning of the Datapocalypse?

A novel on the throes of artificial intelligence creeping a little too much into our lives along with the unrelenting need to feed our picture-taking appetites. Datapocalypse is a poetic attempt to bring together science-fiction, international-intrigue, comedy, romance and dystopia in articulation of a fierce exaggeration of our destiny. Or is it?

RIMMING THE MEDITERRANEAN

The shadow cast on the trail of the caldera rim resembled a cloak and headscarf like that of a robed Arabian traversing the high desert. Actually, it was just Kicis with his shirt hanging down from his hat to protect his fair-skinned head and neck from the blistering ultraviolet rays the day’s sun was cooking up. But one can fantasize.

As he snapped a quick picture of a lizard walking up the trail in front of him, fleeting thoughts came to mind about how to handle the shrinking data storage on his Celesti-π 10G and how to capture the hundreds if not thousands of pictures and videos he intended to take before his jaunt was through. Ignorance presiding, he continued his trek, photo-documenting this leg of his journey across the upper Mediterranean with precision.

At least he had company to witness it all with. Diversions, if not utter folly, to help break the silence.

“With all the automation now in the auto industry, what’s society gonna do with all the extra un-dead bodies?” Fred said.

Kicis looked down, processing. “You mean, because there’s fewer car accidents killing people?”  

“Yeah,” Fred said. He was trailing behind Kicis in their hike up the steepening hill, leading them to the north side of the brooding caldera slope.

He looked back at Fred, “Where’d that come from?”

“It’s been on my mind.”

“I’m sure things will balance themselves out,” Kicis said, then turned to continue up. His eyes wandered over the blissful horizon of the mountainside meeting the sea. One of the small towns much further ahead caught his attention with its opaque white buildings that seemed geometrically incongruent to be built on the steep sides of the caldera. It could have easily been mistaken as bird dung from a distance.

“It’s like falling off a cliff, trying to catch a Ridukku close to the edge,” Fred said, alluding to the augmented reality game where users need to physically travel to the exact geographical location of the game’s characters with their mobile device to collect points and advance the game’s rankings. An upgrade to a similar game from a few decades ago.  

“Survival of the fittest!” Kicis playfully raised his finger in the air, marching ahead.  

Kicis Ryan Orion, a name that came to his father in a dream while riding the wavelengths of surreality after way too much Irish whiskey, hailed from the cold dark alleys of Belfast. This part of him held only modest influence as he swiftly trudged along the volcano rim with beads of sweat rolling down. Penetrating thoughts continuously smacked him like a bird flying blindly into a large glass window, but he left them there on the surface as he kept his head down to focus on the road. As he and Fred marched along the nearly fifteen kilometre trail from one edge of the partially submerged volcano to the other, Fred caught up to him and continued prodding:

“Do you ever think you’ll find love?”

Kicis sighed, “Why do you always ask about things I can’t answer?”

“I can explain love,” Fred said, then smiled. “You see, love is sticky like honey on the surface but can be hard to penetrate on the inside. Once sufficiently penetrated, becomes firmly ingrained as eternal and ethereal.”   

Kicis looked at him, “Are you suggesting I need to fuck a jar of honey?”  

Fred chuckled. “Just keep looking—”

“I should to be more like you, falling in and out with how many women now?”

“When duty calls, I rise to the occasion. How do you think I made senior editor at Skeptozoidal, putting family first?” Fred said. 

“Probably easier said than done.”

“I’m a lover of all women.”

Kicis held back a groan, trying not to let Fred irk him into arguing. A typical conversation between the two longtime friends could easily escalate into an argument, sometimes sounding like an old and frustrated married couple wishing for death—their own or the other’s. Nonetheless, they were embarked together on a Greco-Roman-Ottoman tour of regions on the upper Mediterranean: partly for research, and partly for adventure. Kicis needed a spark to help ignite his newly dissenting studies while Fred just needed a break from the flames of his over packed schedule. 

Kicis snapped picture after picture from his Celesti-π, capturing views of the blue-capped white buildings perched atop the gorgeous turquoise ocean, when Fred finally broke down:

“Nice pics, but I’ve seen better ones online of the same landscape.”

“Shove it Freddy,” Kicis said. He then walked up ahead to try to free himself from Fred’s apparent dissonance.

“Seriously, there are millions of pics online of the exact same thing. Look here…” Fred said as he caught up, pulled out his device and showed Kicis some content. 

Smirking in response, Kicis again walked ahead up the caldera rim toward its peak above two Greek villages on either side, neither of which resembled bird dung any longer. He became silent for a moment as he poeticized to himself:

I concoct a leap of faith in my moment to moment insurrections to weave a profound fabric of social networks, mainly virtual, to gain likely an iota of credibility and praise in the pursuit of the ultimate reputation in this game of collection, aggregation and showboating.

 

These thoughts were spawned as a way of keeping himself engaged in this photo-documenting despite a forming alter-ego, and his friend, trying to convince him that it was a waste of time, if not more.

“I think it’s a waste of time, and frankly, data storage,” Fred said while raising his voice, lagging behind.

Kicis glanced back, “You would, Captain Conspiracy.”  

“So, what do you do when all your data storage is used up?” 

“Sync it to the cloud, empty out the storage, and voila! I refill it as much as I want.”  

“Ah yes, the elusive cloud,” Fred said. “And what does a subscription to the cloud cost?”

“Come on man, you don’t know this?”

“I actually don’t. We use hard storage at the magazine, for security purposes.”

Kicis let Fred catch up a bit before responding. “Depends on how much I need. Each download I empty about fifty gigs, so I usually up the ante and buy more e-Digifize for about twenty bucks a month.”

“Increasing the more space you need, right?”

“Yeah. I’m running a bill of about a few thousand dollars a year.”  

“Seems like a significant chunk o’ change,” Fred said bug-eyed. “I can see the dollars spinning in your lens with each pic you take.”

Kicis laughed, then said, “It adds value to the whole thing.” They continued up as Kicis wished a levelling would occur. 

“And what about when the cloud runs out of space?”

“That’s what I pay them to figure out.”

“Who?”

“The cloud, infrastructure people…” Kicis said, then let out a heavier sigh.  

“I detect a lack of interest, but I find it fascinating,” Fred said. 

“No, go on, Freddy. I’m just getting a little winded from this steep climb, feeling a bit regretful for smoking so much last night.”

“I think it’s funny,” Fred said, “all of this aggregation of pics and vids taken by people purely for selfish reasons.”

“You mean, to post online and show off to friends?”

Fred shrugged his shoulders. “I guess, but I don’t get it.”

“Maybe you’re old.”

“We’re the same age,” Fred said. “Selective activity deprivation, perhaps.”  

Kicis chuckled. “It helps document your history: shows where you are, where you’ve been, and all that good stuff.”

“Yeah, but it also leaves nothing to the imagination: nothing private, nothing personal, nothing sacred.” Kicis glanced off in thought. “The kicker is that it leaves a trail for all to stalk and follow as they please.” Fred’s eyes widened, staring directly at Kicis.  

“I see you’ve put your Captain’s hat back on.”  

“One thing I know is there’ll come a time when everyone hits an intersection between the times it’ll take to look at, and mentally process, every pic and vid they have with how much time they have left to live.”

“Interesting angle,” Kicis said, nodding with eyes down. “My spin on that would be the older people get, the more they tend to travel, especially during early retirement age if they’re nine-to-fivers, saving everything for the end of their lives. Once they start travelling, they capture at a much higher frequency than normal. But the older they get, the less time they have left, shifting the intersection point further down the time axis until alas! Mister Reaper knocks at the door.”

Fred laughed. “Exactly!” he said.

“So, they should realize such precious moments in real-time?” Kicis said, dumbfounded. Fred cocked his head, nodding at him. The wheels of inquiry were quietly revving up in Kicis’s mind. “If you’re planning to print this as a story, I want a cut of the proceeds.”

Fred smiled after letting out a puff of air. After a period of hiking in silence, the conversation was anything but dead. “And as if the descendants of these people want to inherit their portfolios after they’re dead, along with the associated financial debt, and time debt.”

“It reminds me of an article I read once talking about how nobody wants your stuff, even your kids: be it your nineteen-sixties chaise lounge, old fur coats or your fifty terabytes of pics and vids,” Kicis said. Fred smiled brightly at him. 

At this point they’d begun their descent from the peak of the volcano rim and were passing through the small village on the other side of the caldera.

“Come on, let’s grab a beer,” Kicis said.

While lounging in the mid-caldera speakeasy, Fred caught up on work email from his device while Kicis sipped a cold lager in silent contemplation. Their past conversation ran through his mind as he picked through every point with a fine-tooth comb. He jotted down some of the more defining thoughts in his handy pocket-sized notebook, which he kept on him at all times. The notebook had been a gag souvenir from Thailand, having identical shape, colour and outside markings of a Thai passport, but with blank writing paper inside.

Surely there was some merit to all of this overabundance of photography going on in the world. From a fatalistic perspective, he pondered whether there would be infinite processing power, cloud storage, server space, infrastructure, and hell, even enough metals, minerals and energy to build it all with. Not fretting too much on these issues since he didn’t have the answers, he shifted to more meaningful thoughts.

The cynic would believe that everyone identifies as a true photographer now that we all have cameras in our pockets meaning no one is a real photographer; merely pic-takers. The surreal-optimist would say that we just want to preserve a piece of time for future memory. The pessimist-realist would say that all of this mass aggregation and wasted data will come back to haunt humanity someday.

Fred laid down his device and took a sip of beer, then asked, “So Ki, give me more details on this article you’re working on.”  

Kicis put down his notebook after scribbling in his last thoughts. “Bluntly, it’s to figure out which generation has had the most impact on the destruction of the world,” Kicis said with a half-smile, gauging Fred’s reaction.

“Still a broad and morbid subject to me,” Fred said.

“It is but—”

“But that answer is simple. Earth will physically carry on without humans, surely with increased serenity, whether human extinction comes by way of nuclear war, asteroid, ecological destruction or rogue artificial intelligence.”

Kicis smirked. After a pause, he replied, “Poor choice of words on my part. I’m studying the erosion of civilizations and how they fit into some kind of macroscopic demise.”  

“Macroscopic-epoch.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind,” Fred said, head shaking. “So, is it almost done?”

“It’s getting there.”

“Good, it’d be nice not to feel like a complete fall-of-civilization third-wheel out here.”  

Kicis sipped his beer, analyzing Fred’s sarcasm. “Part of my travels, aside from hanging with you, is to un-turn as many stones as possible to try to disprove that the current younger generation is not chiefly responsible—at least as responsible as the baby boomer generation, or GenXers—for the destruction of humanity.”

“Leaving us in the clear, then?”

“Conceivably. But we all know how untrue that would be,” Kicis said.

“I suppose it depends on how you define your generations and what destruction means.”

“Put it this way: we, are at the end of GenX, and the eGens are in full swing,” Kicis said, while pointing across the room at a table with three early twenty-somethings fumbling around on their devices, notably avoiding eye contact with each other.

Fred looked over, then back at Kicis, nodding.

“Destruction equals total annihilation. As if we never existed… Save for archaeological remains.” Fred’s eyes widened as Kicis continued. “Post-World War II accelerated industry: transportation, telecommunications and prosperity, along with the formation of middle class America. To me, they had the greatest influence on destruction, albeit obliviously and irreversibly.”

“Influence, yes. But exacerbated with each successive generation,” Fred said.

Kicis nodded. “But I want to ensure the eGens aren’t overshadowing or out-eroding others in some subtle but profound way.”  

Fred swigged large. “Is this for your school, or for your pop-cult-history side gig?”

“Both, I guess,” Kicis said. “Berkeley wants to see it, even with its broad and morally relative assertions, but may never publish it. I can see it in a pop-history mag though.”

Fred squinted at Kicis, then said, “Is Berkeley paying for your travels? I can’t imagine they want you gallivanting on their dime.”

“I tried, they wouldn’t foot the bill. I’m hoping my persistence will pay off later, and they’ll see the value in what I’m doing.”

“You’re not really working then, so you’re using your savings?” Fred said.

“I’m doing what I need to do.”

Fred ceased prodding. This seemed to reset the mood.

Reluctant to engage any further in how he funds his travels, Kicis looked over at another table with a half dozen or so older hikers sitting there, appearing bored. Shouldn’t they be in bed by now?

“You know, I have some ideas on erosion myself,” Fred said.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, after an edition we published a while back on a similar topic.”

“Do tell,” Kicis said. 

Fred put down his pint and sat back in his chair. “It’s an extensive and unquantifiable thing. Who’s to say it was the post-war generation when the nuclear age came before? Or, going further back, the first and second industrial revolutions? There’s not enough empirical evidence to support the idea that one generation in isolation is solely responsible for our demise.”

“And that’s where I aim to shed some light,” Kicis said.

“I’m surprised Berkeley would sponsor such a morally biased subject. It should be published in Skeptozoidal!”

“Maybe our academic standards are in decline,” Kicis said, giving off a soft chuckle. “But I still find it fascinating.”

Fred looked down at the table, rubbing his chin. Kicis was hoping for support, not lambasting. “Let me send you some research that may prove useful… Save you some legwork.”

Kicis smiled, then said, “Great! And I look forward to your follow-up article based on my conclusions.”

They paused to relax, sitting back to admire the view of the sun slowly descending westward above the calm ocean from their cliff-side seats hundreds of metres above sea level. 

Kicis then rather flippantly inquired, “So, what kind of kook-stew are you cooking up these days over at Skeptozoidal?”

“Just the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me god,” Fred said.

“Isn’t that slogan trademarked?”

“Maybe.”

“I’m pretty sure I read it in an issue of Farcemag a few years ago. And I thought you were an atheist?” Kicis said. 

Fred gave Kicis a glance tantamount to a bird flip with a smile.

“But seriously, I am curious,” Kicis said. 

“Well, I was asked to put out a piece on the history of knowledge suppression in ancient times. I must’ve told you before?”  

“Not ringing any bells,” Kicis said.

“Really? About historical records, and how only those with the right tools and authority contributed to it…” Fred’s voice trailed off as he eyed the remainings of his drink.

Kicis’s eyes lit up. “You mean like how the literate classes of ancient civilizations documented their view of the world and basically wrote the illiterate labour classes out of history, monopolizing their fabricated view of reality?”

“It always strikes me how much we have in common, Ki. Even after all those drunken run-ins at Oxford.”

Kicis brushed aside the memories to ask about Fred’s piece. “Is this on the verge of publishing?”

“Nope. One night I got paid a visit by some men in matching dark suits who threatened me and my entire family unless I quashed the story, so I gleefully obliged.”

Kicis tilted his head and squinted, begging for the real explanation.

“Actually, I shelved it after my V.P. left the company last month, and the incumbent requested I immediately shift focus to the conspiracy theories behind Nikola Tesla.”

“Sounds like your new V.P. is the one who got paid the visit,” Kicis said, eliciting a chuckle from Fred. “But I respect Tesla,” he continued. “He had a tumultuous life from what I understand.”

“Yes, the godfather of electricity.” Fred said, then raised his pint.

“Wait, don’t you mean Edison?” Kicis said, leaving Fred hanging. 

“Let’s not get arguing on that one, ol’ friend. We need to get back before sundown. Besides, Edison ruined Tesla purely for capitalistic intentions.” Kicis grunted as Fred continued, “He did. He mothballed or all-out thwarted Tesla’s most awesome inventions!”

“I know the story,” Kicis said. “Tesla won the first fight, but Edison won the war.”

“The war of currents!” Fred said, raising his hand in the air in a grand proclamation.

“Perhaps one of humanity’s great tragedies,” Kicis said, sounding buzzed. He realized with a pleasant start that he was drinking on an empty stomach.

“I wonder if Tesla could have solved your problem of unlimited data storage for all,” Fred said with voice raising.

Sensing that no more serious conversation was possible, Kicis said, “Let’s go. We need to get back before dark.”

Just as he was about to flag the waiter, an older, scruffy-looking gentleman with a grey beard, lightly combed skullet, hiking clothes and a nearly empty beer glass approached them with a grin on his face.

Without a hint of caution, the man said to them, “You know, a man wearing shorts without side pockets is like a woman without a purse.” Kicis and Fred looked at each other, puzzled. Either it was the most entertaining icebreaker or the most bizarre.

Kicis looked at the man’s shorts, noticed there were no side pockets, and said with a hesitant smile, “Seems like you suffer from this affliction.”

“That’s right!” the man said. “And when I sat down about an hour ago over there,” he said, pointing to the table with the elderly people, “I forgot that I had stuffed my sunglasses into the seam pocket of my shorts and before I realized, it was too late.” He laid his mangled sunglasses onto their table, looking at them with glossy eyes. “Anyway,” he continued, “when I overheard your conversation about Nikola Tesla I immediately perked up, and through some divine force found myself needing to interject. He’s one of my personal heroes, you know?”

Kicis wondered how divine intervention could have made this man approach them instead of his own legs. This man was either was a god, or a quack, but Fred invited him to sit at their table, nonetheless. The stranger obliged, immediately snagging the nearest waiter to bring the table a fresh round.

“I’m Rodney J. Black, a semi-retired civil engineer. And if I’ve learned anything over the course of my career, it’s that we’re anything but civil,” he said.

“Humans, or civil engineers?” Kicis said. 

“That’s an old joke our professors used in college, but the jury’s out on that question,” Mr. Black said. He put back the rest of his pint.

Kicis gave Fred a look, part discomfort and part intrigue.

“Anyway, I’d love to continue talking Tesla with you. Beats all the gossip those old tour group fogeys are trying to drum up,” Mr. Black said, looking over at them.

The fresh round of draught beer arrived. Fred immediately grabbed the first one in front of him. Silently, Kicis came to terms that they’d be catching a bus back to their hotel since walking down the caldera after sundown was ill-advised.

“What’s your fascination with Tesla?” Fred said.

“I’ve been an admirer of his since I was young. I grew up about a mile from his commemorative corner at Sixth Avenue and Fourtieth Street in Manhattan. My father would always point it out when we passed by and would teach me about Tesla’s inventions. I dubbed him the Black Knight of Science.”

Suddenly deciding he wasn’t up for more Tesla talk, Kicis excused himself to the restroom. It had been a long day already, and he was multiple beers too deep to deal with conspiracy theories.

Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face, because before he was fully out of the room, he heard Mr. Black ask, “He’s not a fan of Tesla?”

“Aw, he’s got his head up his ass with some photographical issues at the moment,” Fred said.

Kicis rolled his eyes, went to the restroom, and did his business. Coming back out, he saw the two other men in deep discussion, so he diverted, stepping outside for a cigarette and to scribble down some notes in reflection. A closet poet in his spare time, Kicis again whipped out his handy notebook to solidify his thoughts in poetic form, to be recited later.

Cigarettes and poetry, especially when narrating of romance and sex on paper were not at the forefront of his intent. Nevertheless, they came out as natural and arousing. Kicis was ashamed to call it a fetish, such an outdated clash of activities, but it certainly got his juices flowing when the two were combined.

After butting out, he reminisced about past romances and how long it had been since he’d been with a woman. Looking at his empty hand, he wondered how much longer he’d be depending on it for release. The cost-benefit of his studiousness over pursuing romances was carefully calculated and determined to be a maxim far outweighing other long-term commitments at that point. Still, it had its benefits and its sacrifices.

As dusk turned to night, he shook off his state of reflection and decided to check in on Fred. Nearing their table, he noticed that at least one more round had come and gone during his absence, and the two men were inching closer to their alcoholic limits. 

Fred shouted, “My overall favourite Tesla conspiracy has to be the suppression of his Apparatus for the Utilization of Radiant Energy by his opponents, essentially guaranteeing the success of the oil and combustion engine industries.”

Mr. Black nodded furiously. “Now, the best way we have to harvest the sun’s energy is to wire up hunks of metal and glass on our roofs and cars. So far behind where Tesla would have had us.” His nodding turned to head shaking, looking up. Spotting Kicis approaching, Mr. Black shifted his attention and said, “You know, Tesla contributed a lot to photography too.”

“I’m sure he did,” Kicis said. He gave Fred a look of furtive escape, unsure whether to sit down.  

“What’s your interest in photography, anyway?” Mr. Black said. “Art? Science?”  

Kicis paused to gather his thoughts and appropriately answer the man. “More from a sense of obsession… Capturing every moment and perspective in a picture or video.” Kicis slowly sat back down.

“I believe I’m to blame for spawning this idea,” Fred said. 

Keeping his eyes on Kicis, Mr. Black added to these thoughts: “That’s a new world problem that didn’t exist in my heyday. But evidence of obsession is overwhelming.”

“Is it?” Kicis said.

“I mean, this tour group I’m with, most of them would rather take pics of the things they’re seeing than admire that they’re able to physically be in this cherishable moment with their friends. And they’re my age! I can only imagine how much more out of touch younger people are.”

As the mood dimmed, Kicis gave Fred a glance, hoping for some relief. 

“In Athens a few days ago, I saw tourists taking pics of church altars, some even during live Mass.” Kicis smiled, having been there with him. “Isn’t that sacrilegious?”

“They’re on the outside, looking in, on piety,” Mr. Black said.

Kicis was getting a kick out of this guy, then trying to one-up him with, “Yeah, ever see a pic of a drone taking a pic of its pilot?”

“The ultimate selfie stick!” Fred said. Kicis smiled but Mr. Black appeared a bit behind.

“So a guy took a pic of a drone, taking a pic of the drone’s pilot taking a pic?” Mr. Black said.

Kicis laughed as he whipped out his Celesti-π and showed them the image, having found it in mere seconds. The men were in tears, but the stares of the other patrons seemed to simmer them down.

Mr. Black gave an embarrassed cough and then said in a calmer tone, “I’ll bet a lot of pictures people take are saved in some storage drive never to be looked at again.”

Kicis looked at Fred who had his hands out with a smirk. “I think we’re all victims of that,” Fred said. 

“Silly pics can be a guilty pleasure,” Mr. Black said. “Like lining one’s self up behind a large cannon and having someone snap a shot from the side view, making the cannon portray a huge member bulging out of one’s groin.”

“The embellished dick-pic!” Fred said.

Kicis laughed, then added, “One time I climbed an outdoor water fountain and crouched on top, making it seem like I was pissing Niagara Falls.”

The three of them hurled more of the sort, nearing the obscene. 

The new eruption of amusement attracted the attention of neighbouring patrons again. Kicis looked over at the bartender who was probably considering cutting them off. A few moments passed, helping to calm things down at the table full of draught beer, alternating-current electricity, cannon-penis pictures; an historian, a skeptical theorist and a civil engineer. 

When he was ready, Kicis said, “But seriously, does it bother you at all that the mass data accruing from people’s actions will somehow reach a tipping point, or cross some threshold?”

“Funny you mention that. Someone was telling me recently about some new form of artificial intelligence having to do with pictures being saved onto remote servers from people’s phones—”

“The cloud?” Fred said, interrupting. Mr. Black nodded.

“Anyway, this AI is apparently maliciously fragmenting the data associated with the pictures, unwarranted, to save storage space and is messing up people’s smartphones.”

“What’s happening to the smartphones?” Kicis said.

“I don’t know, but it’s affecting the useability, creating strange issues. I haven’t seen it for myself, so it’s all hearsay. But it fits with what you’re getting at,” Mr. Black said.

Kicis slowly nodded at Mr. Black. Sounds ridiculous to me.

“Evil data voodoo,” Fred said, slurring.

“I guess I’m more focused on the sociological impacts of this phenomenon,” Kicis said, averting Mr. Black’s revelations of sci-fi robots taking control of smartphones.

Mr. Black took some time to respond. “From that standpoint, it seems to be an outbreak. But I’ll be long gone before it becomes a global social pandemic,” Mr. Black said. “This, among other things, will be left for you to solve.” 

Pandemic?

Mr. Black gave a solemn smile as the mood dimmed. “Besides,” he continued, “I have enough guilt in knowing my generation is probably responsible for the acceleration of humanity’s demise.”

Kicis’s eyes lit up as Fred said, “Really?”

“CFC’s, carbon emissions, pollution of ecosystems, deforestation, quantity over quality, the American Dream of personal gain over equal opportunity, nuclear proliferation and all that crap.”

Fred appeared disinterested: Kicis fascinated—although none of this was new to him.

“What about the argument that younger generations have topped this decline?”

“But how?” Mr. Black said.

“The digital age, AI, social media, algorithms running the stock exchange, automation replacing human labour, and higher concentrations of wealth and power, thereby increasingly chipping away at the fabric of human nature as we know it.” Kicis said.

“That was a mouthful, huh Ki?” Fred said, mumbled. Kicis half-shrugged, but had to get it out.

“Pardon my language, but I wouldn’t brain fuck it too hard,” Mr. Black said.

“Don’t worry, I’m Irish,” Kicis said.

“Life’s short, and you need to have a little fun. Good will, community, fighting the good fight—these should be the focus. You can drown in pessimism, you know?” Mr. Black said.

“You can drown in alcohol, too,” Fred said, looking at his empty glass.

After some brief eye wiping, the conversation appeared to be fizzling out.   

“Thanks for indulging us, Mr. Black,” Fred said.

“My pleasure,” Mr. Black said. “And it’s Rodney.”

“Rodney.”

“You know guys, there was once a myth proclaimed to me by an old friend that the world would eventually be destroyed by mass aggregation, consumption and loss of virtue. I don’t know if it’s this weird AI thing or something greater.” He stood up to leave, continuing, “But don’t let that wipe the smiles off your faces. It’s food for thought. Take care.” Mr. Black smiled as he shook hands with them, left some cash on the table, and went on his way.

As Kicis exited the bar with Fred to seek out the nearest bus stop, he thought to himself: Is this proclamation a metaphor? Or a real possibility?

About the author

Part engineer, part musician, part poet, a focused writer; Christopher Keast spends his early waking hours creating stories and ideas in an attempt to awaken and entertain. Science fiction with twists of irony – and comedy - are what drive him the most. Enjoy the ride! view profile

Published on January 02, 2020

Published by

100000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by

Enjoyed this review?

Get early access to fresh indie books and help decide on the bestselling stories of tomorrow. Create your free account today.

or

Or sign up with an email address

Create your account

Or sign up with your social account