This is your cyberlife -- nothing in it works
BY JAMES LILEKS
YOU WAKE up late, wondering why the alarm didn't go off. After
all, you programmed your alarm to dial up the Atomic Clock
during the night and set your alarm within a nanosecond of the
proper time. Isn't technology wonderful? Unfortunately, the
connection crashed your alarm, and not only does it just keep
blinking 12:00-12:00-12:00, but all the DJs on the radio
stations are muttering nonsense syllables. You reboot the clock
and head to the shower.
Ah, the water's hot, the water pressure is strong. You have a
good connection this morning. Lucky you. In the middle of
lathering your head, however, the shower head goes dry, and the
indicator reads: ``BROKEN PIPE. TRY AGAIN LATER.''
Well, it happens. You sit on the edge of the tub and turn the
tap on and off until the water starts again. It comes out slow
and cold. Of course! This is the time of day when everyone on
the West Coast is hitting the showers. Slows everything down.
You go to fetch the newspaper from the porch. It's thick today.
But a couple of pictures are missing from the front page, with
little question-mark icons where there should be a picture of a
car wreck -- but hey, that happens. When you turn the page, it
takes one minute for the words to appear. While you wait for
the paper to become legible, turn on the TV and catch the news.
The TV has fancy plug-ins that enable it to display words,
pictures and video -- imagine that! There's a RealAudio WebCast
on flooding conditions in your neighborhood, so you pay
particular attention. Unfortunately, too many people are trying
to watch the same program, so the audio's a little sketchy.
`` . . . -lood -ater SKRCRR eaded toward SKRCHRR esidents
advised to evacuatSKRCHRCHC efore certain deat SKROSSSH orrible
loss of . . . ''
Hmm. Doesn't sound good. Maybe you'd better catch a cab for
work before the disaster strikes. On the way outside, you
remember that you have to mail a letter; it absolutely has to
have today's postmark. Hmmm. The mailman is slumped on the
ground unconscious. The mail slot is welded shut. A little sign
says, ``Mail is currently unavailable; try again in 15 minutes.''
The cab ride is speedy, but the driver keeps telling you that
your address is not valid. You keep repeating the address:
day.work.office/cubicle/mychair.html, NOT cubicle.mychair.
Eventually he gets it. Stupid driver. He tells you to go to
After a productive morning working with pen and paper, it's
time for lunch. Perhaps you should try America Out to Lunch --
a fabulous restaurant with food from every culture on earth,
and AOL has an all-you-can-eat buffet for $19.95. Why not give
it a try? After all, you've already paid for it. They sent you
dozens of free menus until you signed up, and since they're
charging your credit card, you might as well have a bite.
There are 300,000 inside the cafe, and thousands waiting to go
in. After you bang on the door for 10 minutes, it creaks open.
You give the maitre d' your password. WELCOME! he says. YOU'VE
GOT MAIL! (You still have the letter in your hand; all the
mailboxes are still welded shut.) You step up to the buffet.
Just as you have loaded your plate with a delicious repast and
are ready to download the food into your stomach, a bouncer
appears, grabs you by the back of your jacket and hurls you
outside. A handbill flutters beside you. ``For some reason,''
it says, ``you have been thrown out of the restaurant. If this
problem persists, please call Customer Relations, and listen to
some nice on-hold music for 40 minutes.'' Yet there's a man on
the corner handing out free menus to the restaurant. You're
Later you read in the paper that the restaurant is adding
tables as fast as they can, and as long as you don't intend to
eat for the next few weeks, you'll be fine.
That night, you recount the day's frustrations, and wonder when
enough things will work enough times to make the day feel easy
and seamless. Well, that's the future, and the future's not
available. That's what makes it the future. All you can do now
is dream. You close your eyes, initialize your id and prepare
to handshake with your subconscious.
Three hours later, you're still staring at the ceiling, waiting
for dreams. The busy signal is starting to sound like a lullaby.
James Lileks is a Newhouse News Service columnist.
Published Monday, February 3, 1997, in the San Jose Mercury
News. Copied with permission.