Before Digital Dreams

Come sit on Nanna’s knee, little one, and I’ll tell you a story about when I was young.

Back in the old days, before even my parents were born , they didn’t have palm discs. They had no access to the HiveMind at all.

I mean, they thought their technology was cutting edge, they really did, but if they wanted to find out something, or speak to someone that was further away than you are from me now, they had to use a machine. The machines started off big and clunky, and were attached to the walls of the house with wires, you couldn’t take them with you anywhere. They were useless really, you had to read information off of a screen and everything, it must have taken ages to learn things. But without them we wouldn’t have the advantages we have today. Like the candle being the forerunner to the electric light.

Now, the more a person uses something, becomes accustomed to it, the more they tend to rely on it. It was that way with the forerunner of the palm disc. The mobile, I think they called it. People got fed up I suppose, having to get to their home or place of work to be able to find out a fact, or listen to a song, or talk to someone in another part of the world. They began to create smaller and smaller devices to do the job, tiny versions of their home machines, that ran on something called battery power, although don’t ask me how that works as I’ve no idea. All I know is that to keep the devices powered, they plundered the world’s natural resources, polluted the air, poisoned the water. There were many more people back then, in cities a bit like ours, and small settlements called villages, all over the globe. They were scattered across the entire planet, grouped into tribes and communities and peoples, not united into a few cities like we are. Imagine living so divided from people. Awful.

They fought terrible wars over the resources. The lucky few lived a life of luxury while the majority starved and suffered and died. So many human lives were lost in the Great Resource Wars. It’s hard to imagine the scale of loss. You’ll learn more in your history downloads, I should think, when you’re a little older. Killing each other over water and fuel and land like animals. Thank tech we have evolved since those dark times.

Soon their technology had developed to the point where they could speak to people all over the globe, listen to whatever song they liked, and find out any fact. They called their network The Internet. But it was onerous compared to the HiveMind ; to find the exact thing you wanted took time and patience. People started to abuse it, use the network to humiliate and bully, to watch unsavoury things happening to less fortunate people. People got so used to hearing news of others suffering that they became desensitised to it – they decided that those less fortunate than them deserved their fate – that they had earned it through greed and laziness and unworthiness. The misinformation grew, distorting and magnifying with every retelling, turning people against each other, dividing people. The network turned from a positive, ground breaking way of drawing people together to a dark underbelly of illegal and immoral behaviour. Even their rulers, the people in charge, used this “Internet” to advantage themselves, waging great propaganda wars to ensure they stayed in power.

You see, there was no one group looking after us then. Every country had its own rules and regulations, but the world as a whole didn’t, as such. What was acceptable in one culture was unacceptable in another. Not like now, with The Chairman overseeing things; their Internet was a lawless beast back then, and it profited those who knew how to best use that advantage.

The debate over the use and policing of this Internet was already raging when Urizen first floated the idea of the palm disc. They argued since theft of the mobile devices caused security issues – financial mostly, since most people used their devices to access their money, but personal too, with intimate photos being stolen and released on their Internet, the safest way to ensure peoples security was to stop the devices from being able to be physically taken away, link them into our very DNA. Having the tech implanted would also make people more responsible for their words, and therefore less likely to bully others or incite violence, a real problem in the lawless days of anonymous internet postings. We are so lucky that they helped us quell those unsavoury aspects of our nature. Homo sapiens were a vile and violent bunch.

There were rumours that they tested the palm disc first on animals, then on convicts (do you remember your crime and punishment download?) before finally floating the product. The company’s staff members already had the palm discs installed, and could all give testimonies that the product worked well, that they did not inhibit use of the hand, and indeed were even friendly to the environment, as they were recharged by the body’s own electric charge, no need for batteries. That was another hot topic of the day, my mother told me; we were, after all, a lot more dependent upon the environment then. We used to go outside almost every day, and we had no control over the weather at all, can you imagine?

There was no longer any need for tedious searching for that song whose name you could not recall, for if you hummed a few bars the song would play, note perfect, directly into your brain, and the details of the song, composer, writer, singer, instrumentalists would be available to you. This was before Urizen perfected it of course. Every piece of information would write itself in your brain, like your FriendFeed and NewsFeed do now, in Commontongue, and you would have to read it. Things have come along much further now. Progress is the way of Homo Digitalis.

In the olden days, before Urizen, if you wanted a story about – I don’t know – a mermaid and a hairpin, you would either have to search for one or create it yourself. Can you imagine? If you wanted to know what life was like in one of the other cities, or even the more far flung places, you would have to read about them, find out, maybe even go there. I know it is difficult for you to understand, young one. These words are all from so very long ago; even I don’t fully understand it. I am just telling you what my mother told me. But she said that just wondering was not enough to gain you knowledge. You had to learn, sometimes over and over again, before you could confidently recall information, or a new skill. Now of course, if I want to know what the weather is like in Apiary2 today I know it is 11 degrees outside with a southerly wind and scattered showers before I even finish the thought.
Some people resisted the idea of the palm disc, people always resist change, don’t they? And the elite at the time were those that had spent years gaining knowledge, knowledge of course being power back then, and they were not happy about the democratization of learning. People were easier to control when they knew only a little. But of course, the resisters can’t hold back the tide of progress.

Soon every adult had been fitted with their personal palm disc, older children too. Different companies started to spring up with their own versions, but Urizen was by far the most popular, the original always being the best. They ran a competition, your great grandfather was one of the winners-not that he knew it at the time- and they gave out ten thousand palm discs to new-born babies. Of course, now disc fitting is as standard as cutting the umbilical cord, but parents groups at the time were outraged, and your great grandfather’s mother was even spat at on the street for allowing her baby to be fitted with the disc. People were convinced that the problems they had had with the internet, most notably unsuitable images, would transfer to the palm disc, exposing the babies to terrible peril.
Urizen protects us, and of course they ensured no such thing could be seen. The Chairman would simply not allow it. They studied the ten thousand carefully, and six months after the first trial they announced their findings.

Before we had the palm discs, babies could not communicate at all. There’s no need for that look, I’m not telling stories. Honestly, all they could do was cry, and the poor parents had to attempt to extrapolate from the tone, the time and the duration of the cry what the infant’s needs were. All very stressful and time consuming.

Now that the babies were connected, they had merely to think of sustenance and the caregiver would know immediately to feed them. They had but to feel tired and they would be put to bed. Their intelligence, when compared to other babies of their age without a palm disc, was astounding. Whilst non-palm babies could not even speak at six months, palm babies could hold, and sometimes win, entire debates on multiple subjects, sending thoughts directly to the sender.

Within weeks of the findings being released, millions of parents turned up at Urizen offices around the world, demanding their babies be fitted. The government – the people who ran the country before Urizen, you remember from your history download?- they were concerned that poorer children may miss out, so Urizen made the basic fitting free, with apps and downloads costing extra. Even at the beginning, they have always looked after the people. We are so lucky.

Demand surged, and the poorer people who had had badly fitted palm discs fitted at cheaper, imitation companies, clamoured to have their old discs replaced with shiny new ones by Urizen.

Within maybe three years of releasing its product, Urizen had a disc in almost every palm in the world.

We use our discs to communicate, to learn, even to moralise and learn how to behave. Can you imagine what it was like for people back in those dark ages, never truly knowing right from wrong? Constantly having to decide for yourself? Thank goodness we have Urizen to keep us on the right track. We would be lost without them.

That is of course, the real reason Urizen became the leaders of the world. Because we need them. Without them we are animals in the dark, relying purely on ourselves for guidance. Can you imagine the loneliness people must have felt when there was only silence in their heads?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not for a second suggesting the terrorist attack was a good thing, not at all. But without the virus, Urizen may not have come to power when they did, and who knows where we would be now. It was a blessing in disguise.

Urizen had been running for nearly a decade, were already in a position of power, lobbying the government, richest company in the world, all of that. So when the virus struck, they were already positioned to help. I know there were conspiracy theories at the time, there always are of course, but I know The Chairman would not have put us in any danger, and nothing at Urizen gets past him.

The virus was truly terrifying; you’ll understand more when you are a parent yourself. It only affected the children, you see. They went to bed as usual; palm discs glowing blue like little nightlights while the overnight downloads began. They were automatic by then, we’d pay a monthly fee and get our pre-scheduled downloads at night time. Palm discs were no longer the shiny new technology they once had been; they were as commonplace as the tin opener by that point. I suppose, had they been entirely new, we may have gone a different way completely, had them all removed and gone back to the inefficient data machines of old. But we were reliant by then, we didn’t know how else to be.

My mother told me about it, I was far too young to remember, but she said she had never actually felt her blood freeze until that moment, thought it was just an expression. She had gone to fetch me from my bed when I didn’t respond to her message that I should come down for breakfast.

I was laying there, palm disc glowing red instead of its usual blue. My eyes were open, but you couldn’t see the colour in them, she said, nor the pupil. Just a milky white glowing blue. I was buzzing she told me, like an insect, and I didn’t respond to her messages, didn’t even respond when she spoke, touched me, shook me.

She ran to get help from the neighbours, and found was the same story in every house on the street, every street in the town. Every child under sixteen frozen in their beds, glowing blue, buzzing. The adult’s palm discs were fully functioning, except that they would not connect to the child’s.

My mother is an opinionated woman, always was, and she set off on the march, protesting and demanding help with all the other parents. The Chairman came out personally then, to address them. Told them it was a global problem, terrorist mind hackers were suspected, and that he would fix it, personally.

We were in suspended animation for over 24 hours, and my earliest memory is my mother sobbing hysterically, pulling me from my bed and holding me to her. I have that memory saved, I’ll send it to you. I’ve set a reminder. Naturally, I couldn’t understand why she was reacting like that, I had no idea of what had happened you see. Thought I had just been asleep. We all did.

After the culprits had been found they were tried for mind terrorism. Turned out to be a rival company trying to discredit Urizen, Globolink, I think they were called, working with a small group of anarchist anti-corporatists. The culprits were easy to catch; every thought they had ever had was stored on the Urizen database. No need for inefficient, prejudiced police, outdated courts and corruptible juries, we had direct links to the thought of the hackers, we knew they were guilty.

We weren’t really using the old fashioned prisons then either –usually people connected to the HiveMind don’t have criminal thoughts. The terrorists were stripped of their palm discs, and exiled.

Some people say that they live, out in the world somewhere, that they breed and thrive, but it can’t be so. How could you survive out there, no disc to tell you how to cook, what sustenance your body most needs? No disc to soothe you when you are sad, switch you into sleep when you are weary? No fertility boosters to help you have children. The survivors are a story, made up to frighten small children. You are too old for boogie men now.

We would have still accepted Urizen as the world’s leaders, of course we would have. But I often think that the virus, awful crime as it was, helped to get them into power. After the other companies were banned and disbanded, people soon realised there were no need for governments at all. Urizen provide all we need keep the peace, prevent crime. We didn’t need governments anymore. The people handed over the power to Urizen, and we are all the better for it.

I know you are getting sleepy now Nanna’s little pixel, I can see your thoughts getting fuzzy round the edges. No, I can send you those memories tomorrow, I have updated the reminder. Let me upload you a lullaby, my pretty Rose, from my very own memory banks. We can talk again when you have recharged. Don’t worry your little head about viruses; they are a thing of the past. Urizen takes care of us now. Urizen keeps us safe.

The original version of this story was published in 2012. To find out how the story has developed since, check out Victoria’s Current Projects page.

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Author: Victoria Pearson

Victoria Pearson lives behind a keyboard somewhere in rural Bedfordshire, with her husband, her four children and her dog. She writes very strange stories.

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