As John Francis sat down to his breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, he earned the achievement “One Year Without Bacon.” As if that wasn’t enough for him to feel good about himself, the congratulations began to roll in immediately.
“I’ve been trying for that one myself,” a friend of his told him, “But every time I make it past the one-month mark I fail!”
“Maybe you should get your doctor to sign you up for a more realistic set of achievements,” John replied, “One month without, three months without, six months…earning those early achievements is a great motivator.”
His daughter Cynthia came down the stairs. He turned towards her with a smile, then realized that she probably hadn’t seen the news.
“Honey, I did it,” he said.
“Did what, dad?” she asked.
“I did what the doctor said, I went a year without bacon.”
“Oh, was that today?” she said. “I forgot! Congratulations!”
“How could you forget?” he said, “I’ve been keeping track of it on the family calendar every day!”
She shook her head. “You know it’s harder for me to check those things than it is for you. Without an implant, I actually have to spend time looking it up rather than just thinking about it.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” he said, “Your 18th birthday is coming up, and your mother and I have talked about it, and we’ve decided that we’re willing to pay for the surgery for you to get one.”
“Thanks,” she said, “I appreciate it, but I don’t want one.”
John was stunned. “But honey, how are you going to be able to keep up?”
She shrugged. “I’ve done OK so far.”
“Do you really want to be chained to a phone or computer to be able to look things up or get in touch with people?”
She smiled at him. “I’m less of a slave to technology than you are, dad. I’ve got to go to school, I’ll see you later.”
As she left, John shook his head in disbelief. Most kids her age couldn’t wait until they turned 18 and could undergo the surgery to get their own implants. What was wrong with her?
He carefully considered the thought, then tweeted it. “My daughter doesn’t want an implant. What’s wrong with her?”
Amazingly, it took a few minutes before anyone responded.
“You should take her to a shrink!”
“Is she afraid of the surgery? Did you tell her it’s not that big a deal?”
“It’s her choice…but I sure don’t get it!”
The replies started coming in quickly, almost overwhelmingly. He was even starting to get responses from strangers. John had had his implant for years, though, and was used to sifting through the flood of information to weed out the useful comments from the crap. As usual, most of it was crap and none of it was any help. Finally, though he got a message from an old high school friend of his.
“I don’t think it’s such a big deal,” the friend said.
“What do you mean?” John asked him, “I’m worried about her. She’ll get left behind! She won’t be able to do as well in school or work as other people her age…I’m sure these days not having an implant guarantees you’ll never get a very good job.”
“Of course,” his friend said, “But she’ll learn that on her own. Every generation has its own ways of rebelling, but they eventually grow out of it. Even the hippies eventually cut their hair and went and got jobs. My son didn’t want an implant at first, either. It only took him a month after all his friends got one before he changed his mine.”
John was relieved. “Thanks,” he said, “You’re right, of course. I feel a lot better now.”
Later that afternoon, after Cynthia was back home from school and John was back home from work, he sat down to talk to her.
“Of course, it’s entirely your decision not to get an implant,” he told her, “But you do realize this will make life more difficult for you.”
“Oh, I’m sure it will,” she said. “A couple people in my class have theirs already and I can already see that they’re much better off than me in most ways.”
“Then why don’t you want one?” he asked.
“It’s just…I know people can turn them off, but nobody ever does.”
“Sure they do,” John said.
“When was the last time you turned yours off, except when you were going to sleep?”
He paused. “I…I don’t remember,” he said.
“Exactly,” she said. “It’s one of those things that once you have it, you can’t live without it.”
“But that’s because it’s so useful! You’re never alone, for one. You can instantly get in contact with your family or friends. And if you need to look something up all you need to do is think about it! Nobody ever turns it off not because they can’t live without it, but because it makes everything so much more…efficient.”
“It’s not really that much more efficient,” she said, “My phone has access to the same internet that your implant does, I just use my voice instead of my thoughts to tell it what to do.”
He shook his head. “It’s not the same, you can’t understand until you have one. It’s just so much…better.”
“I’m not arguing against that, Dad,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s bad, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it. I’m just saying that it’s nice to know that at least inside my head I can have some peace and quiet. Try it. Turn your implant off now. Remember what it was like before you were constantly connected.”
John considered it, then remembered what his friend had said and shook his head. “You’ll grow out of it,” he said.
In Sunnyville, every day was exactly the same. Every family would wake up at 7:00 AM sharp. The parents prepared breakfast, took the kids to school, and headed to work. At 12:00 PM came lunch break. Everyone in the town stopped what they were doing to open their brown paper bags to remove their perfectly cut pastrami sandwich. At 3:00 PM the children got home from school, and at 5:00 PM the parents came home from work, in time for dinner at 6:00 PM, after which the children went right upstairs to do their homework. At 9:15 PM the children would be tucked into bed. The mother or father would read a simple story out of the book on the nightstand, each story taking exactly 15 minutes, so the lights could be off by 9:30 PM. Afterwards, the parents rejoined each other on the couch in the den to watch a sitcom before the 10 o’clock news came on. The news anchors would report that everything was perfect, that everything was going along exactly as it should, just as it had yesterday, the day before that, the day before that, and so on and so on as long as anyone could remember.
There was very little excitement in anyone’s life, but they were secure, and they were happy. Or at least content, which is, when it comes down to it, good enough.
One day, by chance, the Trickster happened to come to Sunnyville. He stood on the hill overlooking the city and watched the industrious citizens go about their daily lives. He sat on the hill for days, watching, waiting for something to change, but of course, nothing ever did.
“This is disgusting,” he said to himself, “I can’t bear to look at a land so orderly and controlled. I’ve got to do something.”
The Trickster sat and thought to himself, trying to figure out the best way to disrupt Sunnyville. He brooded and he pondered, he dreamed and he imagined, he schemed and he planned. Finally, he realized that sewing chaos here would be simple indeed, so simple that he laughed at himself for not realizing it earlier.
Early the next morning, the Trickster awoke at 7:00 AM, just like all the other inhabitants of the town. Unlike them, though, he did not fetch the morning paper, pour himself a cup of coffee, feed the dog or scramble eggs. Instead, he walked straight to the central square of the city and stood right in the middle of the intersection.
Soon, the cars began to pour out of the driveways of Sunnyville, and for the first time in their lives, the people experienced a traffic jam.
It wasn’t like any traffic jam you or I have ever seen, however. The pleasant people of Sunnyville had never in their lives been held up like this before. Rather than getting angry or frustrated, like those of us who don’t live in perfect worlds, they were simply confused.
The Trickster stood staring at the central clock for exactly ten minutes. And then, he simply stepped off the street and left Sunnyville forever.
The people, still confused, tried to salvage the rest of the day as much as they could. While nothing went seriously wrong, they felt as though their whole day was thrown off.
The next morning, though, they felt much better. Most of them woke up at 7:00 AM sharp, exactly like every other day.
But some of them woke up at 6:59. And some of them woke up at 7:01.