The yuppie tech-entrepreneur app-creator extraordinaire, carrying his Blue Bottle coffee like a torch and clad in his unzipped North Face Denali Fleece jacket, strode stiff-legged down Clay Street, yammering on importantly over his AirPods, his iPhone X nestled safely in the front pocket of his tapered jeans — knees expertly ripped just right by low-wage workers in Taiwan — as he gesticulated animatedly in the throes of some banter about the ever increasing and decreasing value of his Bitcoin stock. His black pec-tight t-shirt read, “selfie whore” in pink letters. His fitted baseball cap was emblazoned with googly eyes and the phrase, “My eyes are down here.” He was moving at what could only be considered a brisk pace in his white Nike Air Max, a slight swooshing sound issuing from his gait.
“I can do it from home. We’ll just get Postmates to get it, bro. No worries. I got yoga mats for the new hires, and there’s Brita water in all the fridge stations too. We’re gunna be rollin’ in differentials. Keurig and Kimchi burritos for all. Shit. I mean, it’s like, we’ll just put off going public then. Build up expectations, you know? Let the suitors come a-fucking-calling. Sit on all that funding until we really squeeze one out. And now with these tax breaks like a motherfucker for us one percenters. And it’ll be like, cha-ching! You know, bro?”
He was immersed in his culture. Abstraction wasn’t conclusive enough for interior contemplation of what his “next big thing” would mean for the lives of others. His mind was trained to “hits” and “views” and “clicks”: the fashions that drove his world and added commas to his bank account. If he could just implant a chip in people’s brains that would “juice them” every time they interacted with his app…well, that was the ultimate goal: to draw advertisers with the promise of eternal clicks in the sunshine of consumers’ imploding minds. But that was beyond his realm, and left him feeling overdrawn, cut with some dread too. He gulped down a swallow of coffee and stopped for a moment on the corner of Stockton.
Traffic was backed-up for blocks. MUNI buses idled, all lined up, bored on their trolley poles, as pedestrians scrambled and darted and milled from all sides. The usual mid-day congestion clogging up the city’s arteries. He stood and marveled at it: all those lives being lived, untapped resources, squiggles on a PowerPoint presentation’s graph begging to be turned into dollar signs. “What a waste of life,” he thought as he lifted his coffee and sipped it elegantly from the lid’s mouth slit. “They should all be sitting at home shopping and interacting on their phones.” He quickly tried to calculate the lost earnings of all these un-connected off-line beings, but grew weary with the immensity of it.
He took out his phone, which recognized his face instantly and opened up its screen to him. His thumb swiped and darted over his apps, from Facebook’s red badges to Twitter to Instagram; and then, not immediately spotting anything of interest, he sighed, checked his weather app to see what it was like out, and then placed the phone back his pocket where it continued emitting RF energy as it tried to stay connected with the nearest cell tower.
Privacy was obsolete.
His face flushed and a tingle went through his limbs as his phone vibrated and made that high-pitched ding that meant someone, somewhere had sent him a text. He resisted the urge to check it, letting his dopamine levels rise in anticipation. A slight breeze squelched in his ears behind the chatting voice of his fellow app-maker on the other end of the signal. He paused. He took his AirPods out. He stood on the street corner. He just stood there.
His gaze drifted east. Chinatown was stirring and full of life. Up above the Transamerica Pyramid was shooting up above it all with its spire of aluminum panels, its obelisk body of crushed quartz and thousands of panes of glass shimmering in cascades of coruscating brilliance and shooting out blinding slivers of refracted sunlight. A rhomboidal frame between skyscrapers shaped a cut of the bay bridge. He shooed away a few butterflies and swatted at a hummingbird. Pigeons scattered from the eaves of tenements and power lines in search of scraps.
He just stood there. Sounds berated him in differential unison. The stiff flute-squeak of car horns, the constant babble and gurgle of construction noise, the whine of buses whirring to halts on their clanking trolley poles, manhole covers rattling, voices struggling to be heard in desperate atonal pitches that carried and got lost and strayed to the fading temporary struggle for meaning and purpose. Scrums of people gathered on street corners waiting for the lights to change, eying their phones, trapped in their little ideas of what the world currently consisted of: some flashing lights on a screen to occupy their attention, to distract and inveigle, to let them bask in that singular joy of being entertained and fawned over, to be duped into a feeling of togetherness, of being a significant part in something much grander and more rich than their tiny lives.
He put his AirPods in his jacket pocket. For a moment, there, he didn’t do or think a thing. The scent from the vegetable stalls rose, all musky and pungent and sickly sweet, rot and yeast and bleach and fish — a sour aroma that clubbed his senses like a shot of mace. He scanned the sidewalk for litter and thought about how trash never really went anywhere, it just moved around from one place to the next, once it became trash, which wasn’t really a transformation like moving from life to death, but more like a different way of being seen, of having a certain meaning attached to it by an onlooker, a subjective appearance of what reality consisted of to an individual such as, well, himself.
“Who am I?”
It was a stupid thought. Indecent, almost. The thought of even having such a trite thought made him cringe and wobble, and then laugh at himself for being such a sap. “There’s not much to this. I just go from one place to the next. Trade in one thing for another. Keep my playlist on random in my head. Make money. Build a fortune. Let my watch count my steps, flash updates and reminders. Be involved in the minute interconnected cogs of society’s constant grinding gears while others do the grunt work, caught in the all-consuming dragnet of it all to revel in the closeness of vast things. Information streaming in from all sides at all times. Living in a condo in the sky, high above all of these dregs of expendable masses. Clean. Untouched. I am of this. This is who I am.”
A plop of watery white pigeon shit landed a few inches from his shoe.
He banished these odd thoughts with a few quick shakes of his head, put his AirPods back in, and thumbed his iTunes library into existence, comforted by the thwack and pound of music now drowning out the world around him. The traffic signal told him to walk. He headed east as the world disappeared all around him, safely tucked inside the warm womb of imaginary interactions and purpose. He had 142 unread messages in his inbox, 1,114 new likes on his Twitter posts, and 788,211 followers eagerly awaiting his next thought. His face screwed into a twisted smile as he slalomed through the sidewalk’s crowds, avoiding the jarring noise and confusion and bodies of strangers. None of this mattered. Everything was happening as it should.