Tom Critchlow
experiments in hypertext thinking
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Algorithms for Algernon

What apartment number do I live in?

Its an innocent enough question that I would have been able to answer 1.57 seconds ago. Now - my heart is racing and my mind is working faster and slower than it has ever done and I’m trying to figure out if it’s apartment 2A or 2C that I live in.

You see - 1.57 seconds ago my access to the net went dark. Offline. Out. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Since birth I’ve had access to the net subcutaneously - implants under the skin just under my scalp able to communicate directly with my brain. Two arrays of gigahertz processors with microtech Bluetooth.

At least that’s what I’d have told you 1.57 seconds ago. Now I’m barely keeping my shit together trying to figure out if I can remember which apartment I live in.

I round the corner of Kayes Street and I’ve taken to muttering to myself - the silence in my own brain is a thunderous cacophony and unbearable. Muttering under my breath helps a little. Distracted by my own mumbling, my legs don’t have to question which apartment I live in - they guide me to 2A comfortably and my hands go into auto-pilot, placing the keys in the lock and opening the door. I’m glad at least part of my body has it’s shit together because my brain is an unreliable useless mess right now.

It’s two hours later and I’ve dug up an old iphone - back before the microtech networks were two-way and instantaneous like how we used to use iphones to communicate. Now it seems laughably archaic but holding this slim piece of metal and glass in my hand I’m able to marvel at how slick a device this is and right now it’s a life saver. I rummage for a plug and put it on to charge. While it’s charging I look around my apartment and it’s like my brain is swimming through molasses. All of my memories, thoughts, ideas are like they’re half a second too slow. With access to the net everything happens instantly (or so it feels) - but now it’s like there are little men inside my head who have to go and retrieve files stored in cabinets and some cabinets are further away than others.

I’m back online. The glowing screen of the iphone gazes unflinchingly at me. I’d forgotten what this was like. I fire up blinkchat and am overwhelmed by the constant stream of updates and chatter - everyone is asking where I am, what happened to me and if I’m ok. As soon as I read an update, 6 more pop up on the screen. My stupid regular brain just can’t keep up - everyone else is sending these messages directly from their brains via microtech and all I have are these wet stumps of flesh called hands with which to type (type!) a reply out on.

This doesn’t seem to appease the beast and my iphone crashes as continuous updates and notifications overwhelm the poor device. Jeez - is that what used to happen inside my brain? No wonder life feels so slow all of a sudden.

I write my apartment number on my hand, just in case, and head out for lunch. My favorite vietnamese place is just around the corner. I walk into the cafe and head up to the counter - somewhere in the back of my brain I’m marveling at the number of things that are happening simultaneously in my body, walking, thinking, looking. See, this old lump of flesh and bones isn’t so useless after all! I’m starting to kind of enjoy this disconnection when the realization hits me like a ton of bricks. I look around the cafe in a panic. All around there are people - people that look like me, eating, drinking talking and being NORMAL. But I’m stuck. I spin around - remembering that a few years ago they got rid of the people working here - everything runs via the net. As I spin around looking around and feeling cut off a roomba spins past me carrying someones food.

It’s ok, I’ve got this. I walk up to a couple in their late-20s. They’re eating pho. My favorite dish (I think?).

As soon as the words are out of my mouth I realize what this looks like. I’m in a restaurant harassing customers, appearing like a madman, telling weird tales of being cut off from the net. The couple exchanges a glance - barely registering eye contact - and in that split second I realize that they have likely exchanged an entire conversation between them over blinkchat. My brain feels like a bike compared to their Formula 1 race cars. I feel my cheeks blush and I stammer something about being sorry to interrupt and rush out of the restaurant.

Hands deep in my jacket pockets I brace myself to the cold outside and walk fast down the street. I’m trying to make my brain go faster, better, to THINK dammit. What’s wrong with me? I can’t seem to focus at all - the dopamine loops in my brain have been optimized for so long to respond to instant, all knowing, information that I’m basically a nervous wreck without it. I imagine a mess of wires inside my brain all plugged into the wrong slots - connections firing without purpose, data flowing but me being unable to process the output. I imagine those poor guys pulling information out of filing cabinets in my brain. Sound the alarm! Red alert! We’re back in action fellas!

I’m still stung by the experience in the restaurant - the look in their eyes as they looked at me, through me - a horrific sub-human being incapable of ordering via the in-restaurant mesh. What happened to paper menus and human waiters eh? What was so wrong about all that?

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