From Here To There
There is a particularly dull aspect to life as an adult where all of the rough edges are rounded off through self-imposed peer pressure. Tentative steps at negotiating a path between your own impulses and inner life with the unstated expectations of the very serious adults around you turn into heavier and heavier footsteps on a road. Days turn into months turn into years and that road feels like a six lane highway with sound proofing walls running along the side and no off-ramps in sight for miles.
And you may ask yourself; well, …how did I get here?
John James hung onto the metal pole as the Metro train slid smoothly onwards from the station. The retrofit of the Metro system to a maglev system was expensive, but made the ride smoother and a little bit faster. After the upgrade the cars had fewer seats in them — sitting wasn’t healthy for an able-bodied adult anyhow — and a lot more ads. Visually the walls of the car were a bit of a mess with figures jumping back and forth in a cynical effort to manipulate your peripheral vision. It took some energy to focus. John remembered his Uncle Ray who used to complain about just about everything in the world, including advertisers increasing dominion over the environment. Ray seemed to really enjoy winding himself up over how awful it was that t-shirts went from simple plain unadorned pieces of clothing to billboards with logos, slogans and brands.
The Metro came into the station downtown. Somehow, despite turning over their operations to computers, the trains still managed to jerk him back and forth as they stopped, just like in the days when humans were still involved. John bumped into the woman standing next to him. He muttered an apology. Both of them had headphones on anyhow, he thought. He checked his bag, compulsively moving the already shut zippers together along the seam. He felt inside the bag for the thin, rectangular slab that was his laptop computer. He moved with the crowd out of the train onto the platform, weaving through people towards his station exit.
It was a bland, grey Fall day outside and he half-heartedly wished he had brought an umbrella. On the other hand he was never too precious about his off-the-rack work clothes. They never seemed to last as long as they should anyhow. There was just enough mist in the air to make it uncomfortable and John tried ducking between overhangs and canopies as he walked onwards. As he approached the office building where he worked, he went through his morning enter-the-building checklist. Electronic devices in his bag, lanyard and pass cards around his neck. He unconsciously rubbed his hands together. He usually skipped the main entrance with the array of guards and went in the back door for staff. He held his building pass card up to the black box mounted by the door, waiting for the yellow light to turn green. As it did he waited to hear the slight click made by the door as the lock disengaged and he went inside the small entry room. From there was another door to pass through. John walked up to it, put his fingers on a small ledge by the door and his eye up to another box mounted at eye level. There was a beep when the internal security system had received the scan of both John’s fingerprints and iris. And then the inner door clicked as well and John went in.
Upstairs at his desk, John put his right index finger on a small glowing piece of glass on his computer. After a second the computer screen woke up and John typed in a password. He had a cubicle with five other employees in a large, ornately detailed room in what was a very old, and very important building. It wasn’t ideal but you got used to it.
John pulled up his email and quickly sorted out the fifty or so unread items in his inbox. Email was cumbersome in many ways but the agency he worked for was extremely conservative in its approach to technology and the Internet so there were countless tools that they were officially prohibited from using on their work system. He opened the document he had left off working on the night before. John looked at it again and sighed. He was just not ready this morning for another day of serious, dry and analytical writing. Assessing and filtering the almost infinite amount of information available on every topic John needed to cover in the scope of his job was just exhausting. Exhausting to the point where John was sure that if he was allowed to access better tools he might radically change how he would approach the job. But as it was, you had to dig in there, relying almost entirely on your own brain to make sense of it and create something useful out of the ocean of data.
He figured he would spend some time looking for new information; that was in some ways the easiest part of the job since there was always more information you could assess. He pulled up regional reports in his email; quickly scrolling through them, looking for items of interest to his current projects. A lot of similar material to what he had found over the last week which was comforting but not particularly useful to getting his brain unstuck on the actual task of finishing his own work.
“Huh,” John thought as he stumbled on a new story in an email summary of updates from China.