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Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

When we started off with our data-analytical model — a mockup of course, at first — well, we had no idea what to expect, or at least we did not expect what we started to see in the first trial runs of the thing. The response from users was, well, overwhelming. What shared experiences they were having (we’d come to refer to them as “alone-time meanderings” for reasons which will become clear later) had a leftover impact on what the users were initiating into the traffic sources. Impartial observers in all behavioral models were left out of the final tallies, of course, but still, what causal deficiencies prompted the high-proficiency “gliding” of users was, to us, a red-white-and-blue herring of enormous site-time potential. Users were jumping back and forth to the site in what was adding up to be constant blurts of attention, as, it also seemed, they were afraid of what they were missing out on since they had last logged into the site. Some internal mechanisms of the basic user-understanding modes were making people feel, well, less lonely and more connected with the lives of others. The figures drew the same picture. We were elevated in hit-to-view status all throughout the boards.

The demoralized populace was coming to us as a place of solace — a place where they could “get away from it all,” as that famous 80s sitcom was so fond of saying in their theme — but still be (or at least, feel) involved in that same “all.” Our banners and notifications were content to let them gather, you could say, as we slyly gathered their specs and grouped data. And so there we sat, high if not mighty, allowing their personal information to be reaped and stowed for future use on our platform as we saw fit. We were in the business for the same reason anyone else was: profit and power. And it seemed we’d struck into that proverbial gold mine of other’s minds.

Now, to say we started out with “good intentions” would be disingenuous at best. We knew the sort of catch-‘em-all field we were dragging our net through. Statistics to marvel at, to jaw-drop and drool to, to please the chart watchers at board meetings. We weren’t so concerned with clicks, per se, as we were with staying power, with the charm of our…let’s call them, well, doohickeys, for all intentional purported purposes here. More to the point, what it meant for these particular users to be alive in the world as they saw it at this very moment in the passing best and worst of times in their lives. But beside all that, with all the “nonethelesses” in the knowns, we wanted the abstract to rile the concrete, to make the “unreal” real, to chat the pants off weaker silence, and mow down java-script weeds to barer (if jarringly misconstrued or jangled to a pinpointed deliverance, so be it) emotional upkeep…or uptick, if you’ll bear with our seemingly ostentatious gestation period here.

User experiences showed that they were looking for validation, something that was sorely lacking from their most personal on-site patterns. Tasks were emerging that led us to believe possibilities for return engagement were, well, most bountiful, to say the least. Monopsony be damned. We were the sellers and the buyers, really, if you want to get duty-laced and goal-oriented about it. Ours? Ours was to be the “significant other” in every user’s experience. “3–2–1, blast off!” sort-of-stuff, you know? Click and be saved. That became our mantra. And then it was something akin to, “I’m not going to be some cardboard cutout for you to ping-pong your jokes off of.” That one did as much sticking as we’d expected. Bland was operable; savoring was for the delinquent subscribers. Rising through the durable restraints of a sordid institution was all of our par. The course? Stock options and free lunch. We rode electric scooters through the melee, brandishing smart watches and VR headsets while bathing in the light of advertisers’ and investors’ bright, bright, bright money. The old guard’s laws did not apply to us; we were part of the ether of experience. You can’t regulate a natural force. I’m not implying that we were playing the omnipotent card here. Godliness was the last thing on our docket. We just attended to things from an elevated and detached standpoint, letting ourselves off and down easy and soft as an overripe pear.

Bragging rights came out one-sided, as we expected. The location? Nearby. Or, at least, close enough to be relevant to the investors, for them to “care” about what loopholes the users may or may not have been using to get around being needed or nudged into longing or even metastasizing into being, well, clingy, if you want to get really esoteric about it. But me? I’m not adverse to naming names, as it were; it’s just that I get so damn, well, lonely, if that’s a word that’ll suit the occasion here. I flip open my laptop in the morning and try to find some connection with the world going on out there, just like most anyone else does. I want to be plugged into something larger than myself. That’s what was really happening. Users were getting satisfaction out of an “inclusive vibe” we were spreading like grapeseed aioli over their slightly toasted brioche buns. We were the keepers of all personal contact with the elements, those elements being taglines and pardons for the unbelievers in charge. Not to get too tactical about it, but we had them by the purloined statistics of their existence. That there, that was the incisive tool to make our stand-alone apps sort of, well, recharge or reconstitute, if you will, what meager aspirations we might have begun slicking the floors of our wherewithal with. Pompom your way through the dungeon, Mister. We are here to greet you every last time. You know?

Here. Let me describe a tree to you. It is a city tree. Perhaps a peppermint willow or a weeping bottlebrush. It grows from a dirt square cut from the sidewalk. Some would call this square a treewell. The roots are bulky and push up from below the cement in places. City workers take care of it: trim it if it needs it, make sure its branches don’t interfere with power lines or bop any pedestrians on the melon. There are multiple ways of engaging with street shrubbery in cities. People either choose to or do not. They can plant trees, if they wish, but they’ve got to follow certain guidelines about what trees will grow well in the climate and will be on the neat-and-tidy side, not depositing too many little fruits or seed pods or mounds of dead leaves all over the sidewalk. Height is also a concern, and getting enough water, of course. Complex root systems beneath the cement terrain can be hazardous to both the tree and the cityscape. Beauty is another thing to think about. How will this tree affect the neighborhood’s singular glow? Citizens have to take consideration for society as a whole when doing things in a civic environment. They must all abide and live together in the way that works best for everybody, not just them. Selling their services, their labor, is the best available option for, well, getting along and getting by. Capitalism forces them to be nice to each other. If you want me to drive a bus and pick up riders at all the stops, well, you are going to have to give me something in return, otherwise why would I be so nice to all these strangers to give them a ride to wherever they’re going? Anyway. That’s what the whole purported purpose of our “tree” was. We needed people to be nice to each other, to be open to others’ emotive capacity and in turn feel empathy for them, and vice versa. It was a manipulation machine that once turned on could never be powered off; it ran on its own energy, in a sense. The dream of perpetual motion, now achieved in binary form. We were not kings, merely jaw bridge operators. Pike turners for the masses. Conduits for users to do their exploring through. I don’t say this pejoratively, or did we take the task lightly. “Guiding lights,” we’d say, and then log in to the network for duty. Onward braver sons and daughters. To where? Sweeter thoughts than any hereafter you’d ever get to know, if it let you.

And so, as it was, or were, as it might’ve been…sure. She’s not calling you back, say. Who? Maybe just some other body you’ve spotted coming o’er the rye, again. Just like that, right? Courage welling up to do something outside of the safety of your ordinary boring routine. Something different. Something better. Or that makes you feel better about the paths and routes you’re now taking, perpetually, or maybe not at all, going nowhere. And so we step in and tell you all about her. What’s happening with her over on the concourse of life’s semi-private glimpses and glares. What’s making this sob story so different on one end. What led her and you to this mutual conceptualized space together, and then not so together at all. Was it true? Well. Whose “anymore” was it to have anyway? Both parties would have to confer over that one. One gal’s sad truth is another lady’s funny sorrow. People made fulfilled by technology’s little whispers. Sorry about the odd punctuation, but I’ve been out on my own way too long to care. Nobody’s readily standing by to watch or take care. Living slow and dying old. Sure. Look. I mean, listen. We were in the business of connection, of bringing folks together, of making their lives seem worthwhile, even while we knew, from our end, that they weren’t. And, you know what? It worked. For a time. And we were really raking it in too. Over a hundred million users in no time, and all of them active hourly, showing deep interest, backup singers for a multinational live music stream.

But me? I’m just a viola solo on a warped 45 that nobody’s listening to anymore. So, well, forget about it. I made my money. I got in at the right time. Then I got out before we overstepped privacy concerns and got greedy with our fictional exemption from all pertaining laws, and the whole ramped-up thing came to a sudden crumbling end. I waved goodbye with both hands to that ridiculous soul-sucking life. The way I think about it is, well, like this: who are we except what we’ve done to others? I needed to start to do and think better things. Now I’m strumming along with those better things and thoughts in Tucson. The train sounds pummel you with anticipation as sunrise dazzles with pink tints and traces of amber caught in rusty sapphire-tinged bursts; these skies here, well, they’re like shredded circus tents spray-painted by a thousand juvenile delinquents, and I create my own particular and divergent ways and paths beneath them. Eloped alone, out here on my own, nobody left to care about me or for me to care about. Shooting skeet with washed-up yuppies, retired gym coaches, self-employed architects of waste facilities, and has-been postal clerks; drinking Jefferson’s Nickle Beer; and dreaming about all of this long, wide expanse of land running the course of this huge pockmarked country of ours smothered to blazes with sunset’s pastel rags; and this vast array of all these people who are called Americans, who never bring such small things as just a destination with them for the ride, moving along back and forth all through the blight and shine of The Land of the Free/Home of the Brave, again and again and again.

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