David Brin, Hugo award-winning author of The Uplift War, presents Chasing Shadows, a collection of short stories and essays by other science fiction luminaries. As we debate Internet privacy, revenge porn, the NSA, and Edward Snowden, cameras get smaller, faster, and more numerous. Has Orwell's Big Brother finally come to pass? Or have we become a global society of thousands of Little Brothers—watching, judging, and reporting on one another?
Partnering with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, and inspired by Brin's nonfiction book The Transparent Society, noted author and futurist David Brin and scholar Stephen Potts have compiled essays and short stories from writers such as Robert J. Sawyer, James Morrow, William Gibson, Damon Knight, Jack McDevitt, and many others to examine the benefits and pitfalls of technologic transparency in all its permutations.
|Tom Doherty Associates
|5.80(w) x 10.60(h) x 1.00(d)
About the Author
STEPHEN W. POTTS is a professor in the Department of Literature at the University of California at San Diego specializing in twentieth-century fiction and popular culture.
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Visions of Our Coming Transparent World
By David Brin, Stephen W. Potts
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 David Brin
All rights reserved.
AD JUSTITIAM PER LUCEM
Smaller and smaller
Nothing will stop them
Beware what you sign up for. Those user agreements ... ... can be tough.
MINE, YOURS, OURS
They wanted a piece of her body.
Emily was collating tax documents for a client when an urgent alert flashed red in her Corneal Window where, like so many things, it was impossible to ignore: an exclamation point in the shape of a stylized caduceus with the letters I.O.E beneath it.
Emily's heart fluttered and her breathing went shallow with anxiety. She pushed back from the workstation. Regardless of her exaggerated anxiety level, as Dr. Schafer called it, the alert from I.O.E. triggered an anxiety spike. How foolish she had been ever to submit her profile.
She wouldn't be able to resume work until she responded. Emily closed her eyes. It flashed in the dark.
She looked up. Sindhu Mahre, the department lead, stood behind her. "Are you all right?"
"I — I have to go home."
"It's illness. In the family. My mother."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Is it serious?"
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy killed Emily's mother, but that was long ago. A transplant organ might have saved her. Emily never forgot her mother's sudden absence, never forgot the empty body, a thing under the hospital sheet, not her mother but all that remained. Now it was Emily's genetic inheritance, a terror that might happen, even if it probably wouldn't.
"I'll log you out on family leave," Sindhu said, being kind.
Emily joined the I.O.E. to alleviate her "irrational fear," as Dr. Schafer described it. Irrational but altogether genuine — one of his stock phrases. His solution was the anxiolytic, Nardil. "A mild one, Emily. It leaves you in charge, just better able to relax a bit. Evaluate." When she declined, the prescription processed through anyway and appeared in her mailbox. Angry, she threw it in the kitchen cupboard, where she kept her vitamins.
Of course, Dr. Schafer did not approve of her joining I.O.E. But Emily was an adult, regardless of her anxiety assessments. Should she require a heart transplant, the International Organ Exchange would guarantee a donor. Guarantee she not become, like her mother, a thing under white hospital sheets in a room where the machines had stopped. But that guarantee required Emily to be a donor of at least one organ, should a recipient in need be a convenient match — a somewhat less remote possibility than Emily's heart failure. Two terrifying prospects ...
... and now the second one was happening. She could hear Dr. Schafer telling her. You shouldn't have joined I.O.E, not in your state of mind.
But she had. And Emily never imagined her call to donate would arise so soon.
* * *
The alert continued to flash as Emily made her way home on the rail. She could not disable it without severing everything else, friends, news feeds, all the world that came through her Window: Jenny's cat danced on one foot; Treva was outraged about Sudan (and everything else, it seemed); David had a weird dream; ten things you didn't know about drones; blink-link this quiz! The International Organ Exchange planted a red alert in the middle of all that.
Safe in her apartment, Emily removed her CW lenses. Immediately she activated the vapor screen in her nook by the kitchen. Jewel light projectors twinkled. An Aladdin's plume of digital smoke resolved into her feed — and here was the alert again, urgent, red, stabbing. But also friends, information, the world outside her head and beyond her walls.
Emily turned away and made a cheese sandwich. Simply knowing her feed was running — that soothed her. The same way her I.O.E. contract had comforted her the moment she submitted her signature. But when she turned back to the vapor screen, there was only the insistent, pulsing red caduceus. Emily whimpered, a sound she almost didn't recognize as coming from her own throat. She tossed the butter knife into the sink, the sharp metal-on-metal clatter like the externalization of her impatience. "All right, all right."
She sat down and stirred her finger under the alert, which promptly vanished, replaced by the blue I.O.E. logo ringed by images of happy people around the globe exchanging toothy smiles with white-coated surgeons. A male voice spoke to Emily in a businesslike tone.
"Good day, neighbor Emily Vega."
Emily didn't bother replying, since it was impossible to tell whether the voice was human, recorded, or contrived by machines. Identify what you are, she wanted to say, but even that seemed a burden of inquiry she shouldn't be pressured to make.
After a pause, the voice continued. "Emily Vega, are you there?"
She sighed. It could still be a machine. "I'm here, yes. What is it you need from me?"
"Your right lung for transplantation."
* * *
Alvaro Samano's pulmonary fibrosis was no fault of his own. The agent from the Exchange made sure Emily understood that, but she didn't care, it didn't matter. "Alvaro's condition is idiopathic," the agent said, as if to assure Emily that Alvaro was deserving of the violation about to be inflicted upon Emily's body.
Emily smiled tightly. All she could think about was the operating table, like a slab on which they would lay her out and deprive her of consciousness, deprive her of identity while they cut her. Oh, she had reviewed all the details of the procedure. She was required to review them. "I don't need to know about that," Emily said, meaning Alvaro's innocence and the grisly details of surgically removing her lung.
"I.O.E. pledges full transparency."
Thank you, no.
Alvaro Samano was twenty-seven years old, married, a father, a participating member of society — fully invested in the social contract, Emily supposed, like her former classmates, like her coworkers. Not that she ever craved that sort of inclusion. She had her life, a perfectly valid life, with routines and privacy into which she did not want to invite strangers, be they neighbors or otherwise. Another catchphrase. You depend on your neighbors, so your neighbors can depend on you!
"I wonder," Emily said to the young woman in the business suit who had just told her about the pledge of transparency, who had just provided, unasked for, a biographical and exculpatory sketch of Alvaro Samano. "I wonder if a delay is possible."
"A postponement, I mean. Of the surgery."
The interviewer turned her empty hands palm up and smiled understandingly. "It's normal to be anxious."
Tell that to Dr. Schafer. Emily said, "You see, I never —"
"And I'm certain you can appreciate Alvaro's own anxiety."
"Participating in the International Organ Exchange is a cooperative investment in humanity, and I think it's wonderful that you've joined us."
"Yes, yes." Emily looked at her knees. "But ..."
"Is it, I mean — the urgency. Is the urgency necessary?"
* * *
Emily arranged for leave from her position at Moss-Waters LLP. They were very understanding. Sindhu congratulated Emily on her worthy participation in a vital program. "I'm so glad your mother is better, and now you're doing your part for a neighbor." Emily cringed inwardly, the lie rebounding in her face. One lie always led to another. Better to say nothing at all. Sindhu arranged the time off without depleting Emily's earned vacation days. "You'll be back in no time, the way these procedures are performed now. And you get a booster implant for your one good lung. Too bad the booster can't operate alone. Anyway, it's barely more than an office visit. My sister. ..."
* * *
Emily presented herself at Swedish Hospital the evening before the transplantation procedure. She believed she could do it, fulfill her requirement. But a lung, it was serious. A contribution that would restore quality of life to a stranger named Alvaro Samano. At least that's all the Exchange would ask of her. She had merely to endure it, and then a heart would be available if and when she required it. A heart was the most serious thing of all. Others in the Exchange, whose demands were less grave, were not required to offer up a selection from their living bodies.
When the nurse and the I.O.E. rep came into Emily's room to go over preparations, on her last night with two complete lungs, she said, "It's funny to be doing this for a stranger."
"But Alvaro isn't a stranger," the Exchange woman said, and the unspoken but fully understood and agreed upon addendum attached:no one is. The world is now a village. Emily had never believed that. Did that make her so odd? She had her feed, enclosed within her chosen privacy. What more did they want of her?
"Of course not," Emily tried to smile.
"He's your neighbor."
Information, questions, answers, assurances — and good luck. Then they left her alone. Emily lay on the hospital bed under tightly stretched sheets. On the slab, hovering, it seemed, over the same abyss that had swallowed her mother's light. Her fear was irrational, Dr. Schafer would have told her. Emily knew that. Couldn't she be allowed her irrationalities? She wanted her mother to come and tell her it was all right, she wanted to be held. So foolish, a grown woman wanting her mother's comfort. But Emily hadn't anyone, no family, her friends existing only on her feed. She didn't even allow herself a pet.
In the hospital bed, Emily reached for her handheld device, a slim keyboard no bigger than her palm. She thumbed a post, and her words appeared in her CW, bracketed by a flow of information.
— you'll never guess where I am —
When responses began to appear, Emily hesitated. She didn't want to tell them.
— i'm on vacation is all —
— oh where —
— that's my secret / someplace warm and happy and wonderful i can tell you —
— wonderful —
— fantastic emily —
Of course anyone who actually investigated ... who unleashed a curiosity worm into the mesh ... could find out the truth, where Emily was at this moment. What was going on. The fact that no one even cared enough to poke at her privacy façade, well, it hurt a little, even though it was the life she chose.
I have friends, but superficial ones. Sociable, but at arm's length. The sort of friend I am, to others.
Alvaro was a stranger. They all were. Of course, I.O.E wanted her to meet Alvaro, and of course she declined. She was meeting her responsibility; that would have to be sufficient. She refused even to view an image of the man. Let him remain nothing to her. That way she could direct her fear and resentment toward an abstraction, rather than a man. Alvaro, the abstraction, of course knew all about Emily.
In I.O.E. you exchanged more than organs. All the world was like that. Each level of participation in community, in convenience, demanded you surrender a larger portion of your identity. Was it any different than trading a piece of your body for the assurance you would continue to exist? Everyone remembered, or was supposed to remember, the bad times, the times when unidentified voices wielded disproportionate social leverage. The enemy had long been identified, and its name was anonymity.
Now there were no deep secrets, only the slim privacy that citizens gave each other out of courtesy. That seemed to suffice, for most — a "village" of reciprocal respect. But Emily looked back, with longing, at those vast, anonymous cities of old, where you might live forever a stranger, and possibly die alone, but it was no one's business.
And yet ... no one forced you to sign the I.O.E. contract, she chided. You made your own body part of the village.
Emily folded her hands over her keypad device, over her chest, and closed her eyes. The illuminated feed scrolled against the screen of her eyelids. In a corner, time rolled over, and Emily felt a weight upon her chest. She opened her eyes, her focus adjusting beyond the feed to the antiseptic details of her hospital room. She could hardly breathe, the weight was so tremendous.
Emily peeled the covers back before she even knew she was going to do it. She found her clothes in the closet and quickly dressed, afraid someone would interrupt her. As each layer of clothing covered more flesh, her anxiety subsided. No one accosted her on her way out. She had a right not to be there, after all. Or maybe no one noticed. People frequently failed to notice Emily.
* * *
Emily was eating lunch outdoors, holding the cheese-and-onion sandwich between the fingers of both hands, taking small bites. It was such a nice spring afternoon. She sat on a stone bench in the urban park between the building containing the offices of Moss-Waters LLP and two other office towers. The small green leaves of decorative trees flickered in the breeze. Then a man's shadow appeared on the pavement, and Emily looked up. The man was young and well-dressed, wearing a tie. He was also wearing a stylish pair of Window glasses. Some people didn't like the corneal lenses.
"Hello," he said.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"I'm Alvaro Samano's brother. My name is Thiago."
Emily nodded, waiting for words.
"May I speak with you?" Thiago said.
"I suppose so, but I'm not changing my mind."
He waved her objection aside. "Another donor has already been selected."
"Your canceling, it wasn't right. It was unconscionable, and that's putting it charitably."
"But it worked out." Emily's voice was as small as she felt.
The man stared at her, like he was staring at a strange bug he'd discovered in his garden. Emily looked at her sandwich, which she couldn't imagine finishing. She said, "It's just, at the last minute I couldn't go through with it. I wanted to, but it wasn't a choice. It didn't feel like one, I mean. I don't expect that to matter to you or your brother. For whatever it's worth, I've been punished."
"Expulsion from the Exchange, yes."
Of course, everybody knew everything. It didn't take a curiosity worm to find out about a major broken promise. A village sin.
"I can't blame them," she said. Sometimes Emily thought that without secrets a person wasn't really herself but simply what her neighbors thought she was, vocalized she was. Alvaro's brother was still standing there, staring at her from behind his Window glasses in that strange, almost predatory way, so she asked, "Is there something else?"
"Alvaro was very upset. You should know that. He's not as strong as some people. He's frightened, and will be until the operation is over."
"I can understand."
"Oh, can you? You never met, since you wouldn't allow him that courtesy, but for Alvaro it felt like he'd gotten to know you. And then for you, a neighbor, to disappoint him like that."
"I'm sorry." But he doesn't know me and neither do you.
"I have upset you?"
"I'm not upset." She was, though. And now she was distracted by a post on her private feed:
— em, did you really duck out on that guy like they're saying —
"Goodbye, then," Thiago said, but she wasn't listening. Messages had begun to cascade down her feed.
— that poor man —
— i heard he died —
— my god em by now aren't you even an adult —
Emily's feed was clotted with messages from critical strangers. They overwhelmed her friends, until her friends became strangers themselves.
— is it true you did that —
Emily was relieved to return to her cubicle, where she surrendered her CW lenses to the orderly, impersonal repetitiveness of assembling tax documents.
At five o'clock it was time to stop. She had hopes that it would be over. Hesitantly, she switched back to her private feed, and the onslaught resumed. Emily discovered, to her horror, that she was trending. Her perfidy was trending. Was she the first person ever to withdraw from the International Organ Exchange, for goodness sake? Hadn't her neighbors anything better to talk about? Again, a tremendous weight of anxiety pressed upon Emily's chest. Her lungs, her lungs, labored for breath.
We all breathe the same air was the ubiquitous slogan, suggesting the planet's atmosphere was the common ocean in which they all swam, all the world's neighbors. The shared pride of nine billion souls who — as a village — worked together to repair the atmosphere, the seas, the land. A better world, for the most part ... but not for people like me.
"I do my own breathing, thank you," Emily sometimes said, alone and unheard in her apartment, listening to the phrase in her mind, or out of her feed, sometimes unable to make a distinction between the auditory memory and the streaming admonition.
She stumbled to the rail station. Thiago Amano tagged her in a post that blink-linked to a video loop recorded from his Window glasses. The clip showed Emily sitting on her bench with her sandwich held delicately between the fingers of both hands: " ... I'm not changing my mind ... I'm not changing my mind ..."
— so callous —
— honestly em —
— never really knew you I guess —
That was true. No one really knew her. Why did they think they had to? The flood of critical comments created tributaries off the main topic, surging with uninformed opinions. At home, unable to stop looking, Emily witnessed the final indignity: Dr. Schafer's self-interview on the general subject of mood and anxiety disorders, intended, he said, as a public service. Though he never mentioned her by name, Dr. Schafer's tag represented him as Emily Vega's Personal Therapist. Of course, that's what guaranteed a million blink-links.
Excerpted from Chasing Shadows by David Brin, Stephen W. Potts. Copyright © 2017 David Brin. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsIntroduction: Private Lives—James Gunn
AD JUSTITIAM PER LUCEM
Mine, Yours, Ours—Jack Skillingstead
Insistence of Vision—David Brin
The Right's Tough—Robert J. Sawyer
The Circuit Riders—R. C. Fitzpatrick
The Werewolves of Maplewood—James Morrow
The Road to Oceania—William Gibson
I See You—Damon Knight
Your Lying Eyes—Jack McDevitt
The Disaster Stack—Vernor Vinge
LIES AND PRIVATE LIVES
First Presentation—Aliette de Bodard
AfterShift Memories—David Ramirez
Private Life in Cyberspace—John Perry Barlow
BIG BROTHER, LITTLE BROTHER, VILLAGE
Street Life in the Emerald City—Brenda Cooper
The Eyes Have It—Stephen W. Potts
NOT PLACE TO HIDE
Public Domain—Scott Sigler
To See the Invisible Man—Robert Silverberg
The Disconnected—Ramez Naam
LOOKING BACK . . . AND LOOKING UP
Sport—Kathleen Ann Goonan
Elephant on Table—Bruce Sterling
A Tsunami of Light: Afterword—David Brin