by Bradley Katzen
A Science Fiction Short Story. Set in a futuristic society obsessed with only the latest technological products, ‘Smart TV‘ is a cautionary tale about Trevor, an ambitious programmer working for a corporation that specializes in cutting edge consumer equipment. On the verge of creating a device that will transform man’s relationship to technology and potentially usher in a new digital age, the pressure to succeed causes Trevor to overlook a fundamental side effect. The consequences force Trevor to reconsider everything he knows about himself and the nature of consciousness…
The skyline of New New York was a black picket fence of skyscrapers as the sun sank low into the horizon. Monotonous rows of evenly shaped buildings, immaculately designed with function-leading aesthetics, had transformed what was once a landmark vista into the butt of late-night talk show jokes around the world. After the Devastation, the hurry to reclaim the city’s dignity—to get things back to the way they were before the deaths and the screams and the violence ruptured people’s lives—had been at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
How the times had changed.
New New York had turned into an industrial state, an urban nightmare of thick pipes and cloudy skies filled with monoxide gases. But also a technological wonder: all the latest, greatest, exciting tech was developed first in New New York, much to the chagrin of those living outside the city. People flocked to the city in droves for a glimpse at the future, always eager to see what lay beyond the curve, never interested in embracing what lay before them. The speed for getting the latest model into the public’s hands had become laughable—alpha, beta testing was a thing of the past. Companies had done away with the practice altogether, figuring that even if there was a screwup in a product launch, they could fix it in model 2.0 and spin it as the latest improvement.
People had forgotten how to remember. Their attention spans had diminished to the point that if something didn’t grab them within the first fifteen seconds, it was dead on arrival. Every corporation knew that. So did every CEO and salesman. They called it Flash Famous, and if a product wasn’t Flash Famous out the door, then the door locked shut and the engineers and designers went back to the drawing board … if they weren’t fired first.
At Glitch King Electronics, no one recognized this pressure more than Trevor Monroe. The youngest programming engineer on his team, Trevor had arrived at Glitch King under the apprenticeship of Jenver Monroe, his uncle. Ushered into the building on the wings of his uncle’s success, Trevor was expected to pick up where Jenver had left off, and continue taking Glitch King Electronics toward the apex of the industry—the coveted Platinum Pixel Award for Excellence in Technological Design Achievement. Only two engineers had ever walked away with the award, one of them Jenver Monroe, who unfortunately suffered a heart attack shortly after his win during a celebratory sail out on his yacht.
Trevor spent most of his days working in the Product Simulation Environment, a virtual reality space that mirrored a typical consumer household. This marvelous convergence of hardware and software allowed Trevor to design, test, and tweak whatever product he could imagine, in real time, with photo-realistic graphics and 99.07 percent haptic feedback response. It was a designer’s dream, the ability to fully replicate how the final product would operate in a standard living room.
On a late Tuesday morning, Trevor was working on his latest project, prepping it for presentation at the PXL Techno Showcase. The PXL was a live broadcast that flaunted the latest devices due for consumer release over the following twelve months. It was like Miss Universe, only instead of models in bikinis, it was electronics in pretty packaging and enticingly rendered proofs-of-concept. The showcase had easily attained the highest viewership since its inception almost six years ago, beating old reality TV favorites such as Kill Your Darlings, Vocal Chord Swap Shop, and Cyborg Sex Worker Confessions.
Trevor was plugged in to the VR, sitting in a familiar living room, on a sofa, tuning a large widescreen television set using a touchpad remote control. He was seeing a scramble of static. He accessed the TV’s console and began rewriting system code. A woman logged in to the simulation: Helen. Her avatar was wearing a tight black bodysuit with a white lab coat over it. The same as Trevor. Her auburn hair looked better than it did in reality, as the physics more accurately handled its movement in accordance with her head. Loose strands fell over her oval face, resting comfortably on her high cheekbones and tickling the top of her pencil-thin upper lip. In the Product Simulation Environment, no detail was omitted, and Helen, registering the sensation through her bodysuit, flicked the hair away from her face as she approached Trevor.
“Thought you could use some help,” she said in her soft British accent. Trevor didn’t even look up, his focus directed solely at the task at hand.
“Me? The wunderkind needing help?”
Helen laughed at Trevor’s sarcasm. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. What’s up?”
Finally, Trevor met Helen’s gaze. She gave him a comfortable smile as she took in his VR appearance—tall and skinny with a coal-black mop of hair and small yet intense baby-blue eyes. He let out a sigh and dropped the remote on the couch beside him. “Stupid sequencing algorithm isn’t triggering.”
Helen walked over to the TV set to inspect the static output. To the casual viewer, black and gray matter was all that could be seen, but upon closer inspection, Helen noticed that each pixel was in fact a number, a number that was part of a larger string of numbers caught in what looked like an infinite loop, forever running across the screen.
“Figured out the pattern with these yet?” Helen asked, inspecting the numbers closely. Trevor shook his head. She continued, “It looks like there’s a gap somewhere in the string. We just need to find it and close it.”
Trevor chuckled. “Sure, okay …”
Helen scoffed. “It’s not that bad. Look, I’ve already found where it starts to repeat itself. See? Here: 412331 … 412332 … 412332.5 … 412332.833333333 … 412333.083333333 … 412333.283333334 … It’s somewhere in there.”
Trevor was getting excited, and he got up to take a closer look. Sometimes all you need is a fresh pair of eyes. Trevor smiled.
Helen and Trevor spent another couple of minutes inspecting the monitor, carefully watching its string of numbers, trying to figure out the pattern. And then Trevor yelled, “There!” He started giggling, a high-pitched squeal that had made him the focus of many bullies during his school days. He caught himself making the sound and abruptly shut up, trying to maintain his composure. Helen pretended not to notice, but couldn’t stifle a smile.
Trevor pressed on, “That last digit … It’s building off the averages of the previous set of numbers. Notice that?”
Now it was Helen’s turn to be impressed. “You really are like your uncle.”
Trevor stood up, stretching his lower back. He smiled sheepishly. Helen returned the gesture.
“I would never have spotted that, Trev.” Helen said, still watching the TV. “Think we’ll be ready for the demo?”
Trevor nodded, his confidence returning. “Hell yes. This was the last of the debugging. I just need to fiddle with a couple settings and calibrate some stuff and then we’re gonna blow the socks off Gibstone and his buddies. The PXL is a shoo-in.”
Helen stood up, smiling proudly. “Should we do a quick test run?”
Trevor shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt, now that we’ve ironed out the last of the bugs.”
Helen nodded. “Something always happens live that we don’t account for. VR only gets us so far, no matter how accurate it is. That’s been my experience anyway.”
Trevor nodded, agreeing with Helen’s assessment. He picked up the remote and typed in some commands. The TV flicked to life, a faint image forming amongst the scrambled signal.
“Looking good,” Helen said.
The image gained extraordinary clarity, showing a first-person point-of-view shot of someone driving an old car down a suburban road. “When was this?” Helen asked.
Trevor didn’t look up, still fidgeting with the remote. “The day I got my driver’s license. That was a good day.”
Helen continued watching a little longer. “Okay, it’s looking great. All readings are normal?”
Trevor nodded. “Yup, now that we fixed that bug. We’re going to rock their world at the presentation.”
Helen laughed. “Great. I’m going to go grab some java. See you out there.”
Trevor smiled a silent good-bye as Helen logged out, her avatar fading into nothing. He cut the feed on the TV, replacing the image with a garbled signal. He looked back at the string of numbers making up the static, their constant presence proving hypnotic. He couldn’t look away …
The boardroom was sleek—with a minimalist design. The pale oval room contained a perfectly round black table in the center, calling to mind a single “eye.” Helen and Harry were sitting next to each other. Older than Helen, Harry was a large man wearing dark clothes that hung loose, a vain attempt to hide his extra weight. His wandering eyes were old news to Helen, who had gotten used to his stolen glances at her cleavage. They had worked together for three years. Helen had seen his strengths and weaknesses, and if she provided a bit of titillation in exchange for his amazing work in bio-software engineering, she was okay with that.
Trevor walked in wheeling a fifty-six-inch-wide flatscreen television. He positioned it opposite Harry and Helen, next to the plug point, a small dome-shaped receptacle that wirelessly transmitted power to the stand holding the TV, which in turn powered the television itself. There were no wires required.
Harry ran his fingers through his large beard, a thick black nest of hair hiding his neck. “Need any help there, son?” His accent was droll with a Texas twang—though he’d never visited the state, he’d been around enough people who had.
“Nah, I’m good, thanks, bud.” Trevor turned to his colleagues as he positioned two small silver pads behind his ears. “Do I turn it on now or later?”
Before Trevor could get an answer, eight slits around the edge of the table opened as flatscreen monitors representing each seat slowly buzzed their way up. A crystal-clear ultra-high-definition face was looking out from each display. Trevor, Harry, and Helen tensed up. Helen whispered out the side of her mouth to Trevor, “Give ’em hell.”
Trevor mumbled back, “That’s a weird expression.”
George Gibstone, the young face at the head of the table, started things off. “Good day, ladies and gentlemen. I’m sorry, Trevor, we couldn’t make it to the city today, as you can see.”
Trevor shrugged it off, playing the nice-guy role as best he could in front of his superiors. “Don’t worry, Mr. Gibstone. We’re just glad to be able to show you our baby.”
Mr. Gibstone was typing a message on his phone and didn’t notice anything Trevor said. Trevor looked around the room at the various faces stuck in their rectangular boxes. They were all preoccupied doing something else. One elderly Asian woman looked like she was asleep! Trevor shifted his eyes to Helen and Harry. Both of them were also tapping away on their mobile devices.
Mr. Gibstone, not more than thirty years young, looked up, a large yellow cowboy hat atop his head hiding his early-onset baldness. He grinned, showing off his fake white teeth and crinkling his large brown eyes into tiny black dots embedded in his head. “Let’s get on with it then.”
The room came to life at that statement. The other faces in the rectangular screens looked up. Trevor shot into demonstration mode. He took in the room and started his pitch.
“What we’ve developed, ladies and gentlemen of the board, is a passion project of mine and my team’s that has been almost a decade in development, from inception to where I stand today.”
Trevor looked over to Helen and Harry, who were both giving encouraging smiles. He gave a quick glance along the rectangular faces watching him. A couple had averted their eyes. Mr. Gibstone was blinking quite rapidly. Trevor was losing them already!
“Uh … I think our newest foray into the home television market will speak for itself. Presenting, the Smart TV.” Trevor looked over to the TV and bellowed out: “Smart: Activate.”
Instantaneously the television flicked on and began showing a weather forecast. Trevor looked back at the table. All eyes were back on him. That’s good, Trevor thought. “Smart: Broadcast: Mem: Twelve.” Slowly a small slot at the top of the TV slid open, revealing what looked like a camera lens but with a tiny marble-shaped object inside. It focused its iris and maneuvered itself until it was facing Trevor.
Without warning, the TV flicked to what looked like home video footage of a small boy trying to balance on a skateboard, in startlingly crisp high-definition—at least eight thousand pixels. Mr. Gibstone piped up from behind: “Trevor, what are we looking at here, hmm? Talking to your TV is hardly revolutionary. What’s happening?”
Trevor turned and smiled at the array of rectangular faces watching him. “Sir, what you’re viewing on the Smart TV right now is a live broadcast of a memory I have chosen to focus on, from within my own mind.”
There was a stir in the room. Confusion, excitement, laughter, a mix of all the above. The elderly Asian woman was awake now. She needed confirmation: “Excuse me, but are you telling me that these images of this young boy, the ones I’m seeing right now, are from inside your head?”
Trevor nodded, a beaming smile decorating his lean face.
A head he couldn’t see piped in, “Preposterous! This is a trick. I’ve seen it before, it’s prerecorded footage. No way is your tech at the point of real-time memory playback. The bandwidth would be astronomical.”
All eyes were back on Trevor, eagerly awaiting his rebuttal.
Trevor was impressed with the man’s articulate assessment. “All true, sir. But with the amazing work of my colleagues, Helen Fareira and Harry Hausen, we’ve been able to work through the obstacles into the product you are witnessing right now.”
Trevor stepped to the left to get a glimpse of the man challenging him: his face was brown with a square head, bald and pierced. Three studs decorated his upper lip and three more ran down the center of his forehead. A bead of sweat built up on Trevor’s brow as the man’s face came into focus—Rikardo Zenderfeld, the lead designer of some of the best-selling products of the last seven years. His approach to aesthetics was second to none, and his dissertation on the New New York skyline was one of the leading arguments that got politicians and money men to reconsider the buildings they had approved under Mayor Clearwater. The man was a visionary!
Trevor maintained his composure. The sweat was making his shirt stick to his back. “I—I assure you, Mr. Zenderfeld, this is all happening in real time. Here, watch …” Trevor turned to the window. “Smart: Activate: Visual cortex: On.”
Trevor turned back to the table of monitors watching him. “Obviously the final voice commands need to be figured out. These are just for testing purposes.” The Smart TV flicked over to a point-of-view shot, broadcasting onto the television what Trevor was seeing, the image changing with one-to-one accuracy as Trevor looked around the boardroom.
“You see, with these ‘Smart Sensors’”—Trevor pulled out the two small, silver, bead-shaped pads from behind his ears—“our Smart TV is able to tune in to the user’s brain activity and assemble a live feed of whatever is taking place in the user’s head, specifically the occipital lobe and the hippocampus.”
Rikardo Zenderfeld frowned. “The what?”
Trevor smiled nervously as he answered, “The parts of the brain responsible for creating and managing memories, sir. See, our software engineer, Harry Hausen, wrote a codec for compressing the memory stream to a manageable size that can be decoded in real time by any basic consumer-grade software. That was the key. We’ve been able to explore memories secondhand for a while, but getting them to transfer from inside someone’s head and out into a digital signal was the real breakthrough.”
The room was hush. Helen was looking over all the faces, eager to judge their reactions. Harry was stealing a look at Helen’s cleavage. Trevor looked over at Rikardo’s screen. His face was stoic, hard to judge. And then, matter-of-factly, he said: “You’re going to get the Pixel for this.”
Trevor let out a guffaw. The tension in the room dissipated as everyone began to cheer. Helen and Harry hugged it out. Trevor smiled, running his hand through his hair, in awe that it was such a hit. Mr. Gibstone was also beaming.
“Trevor, we got a winner here. I want this thing added to the product line ASAP. I want a feature list in my hands by end of business today. I want a snappy name. Desray, you handle that. Roger, I want a lineup of chat shows, vlogs, and octo-groups ready to demo live on. I want this launch to be big. Vicky, get some celebrities involved. Let’s have fun with it.”
All the faces in the various monitors were buzzing with activity, taking notes and getting to work on Mr. Gibstone’s instructions. Trevor, Helen, and Harry were looking very concerned.
“Uh, sir … this was only meant to be a tech demo, a couple steps up from a proof-of-concept. In fact, this was the first live demo of the working product we’ve done. Ever. We need more time.”
“How much time do you need?”
Trevor looked over at his colleagues. Harry held up eight fingers with a pained expression. Trevor winced. “Eight, sir?”
Mr. Gibstone frowned. “Weeks?”
Mr. Gibstone let out a loud laugh, distorting the otherwise flawless audio feed and causing a momentary cutout of sound. “You’re dreaming, Monroe. We got the PXL in two weeks. Don’t you want the Pixel Award? What we got here is going to change how people interact with their own minds, let alone television. No way are we holding back on that kind of revolution, pressing Pause so GoGo Tech or FA/Studios can come out of the gate with the same product first. Because you know if we’ve got it, so does the other guy. And if they don’t, it’s just a matter of time. Last thing we need is another freaking source-code leak.”
Trevor knew this wasn’t going to be a discussion.
“Am I right?’”
Looking up at the monitor at the end of the table, Trevor gave a subtle nod. “How much time do we have?” The other monitors had already clicked off. Nobody said good-bye anymore, they couldn’t be bothered.
“I want it ready by PXL. Not another tech demo, not a proof-of-concept or flashy performance, the real thing. I want to blow people away when we bring it out. After the demonstration, I want it lining the stands outside so people can go try it for themselves. We need to be hot with this, Monroe. No pussy-footing around. You with me?”
Helen and Harry were shaking their heads fervently. Trevor was still sweating.
“Are. You. With me?”
Trevor sighed. “Yes, sir.”
The monitor clicked off. The sudden silence caught Trevor, Harry, and Helen by surprise. The feed from Trevor’s head to the TV was still playing out. “Smart: Off.”
The TV didn’t react. “Smart. OFF!”
Trevor went to inspect it. Everything seemed fine.
“Just unplug it, man,” Harry suggested. Trevor leaned down to the plug point device embedded in the wall and twisted it counterclockwise. It clicked three times before resting at the “off” position. Immediately the TV clicked off, the screen going ink black, its antireflective matte finish working as advertised.
Helen got to her feet. “Well … that went well. Right?” Harry looked up at her.
Trevor went to take a seat, deflating into the chair. “What are we going to do? A week to production … a week! What the hell is that?!”
“It’s the industry, Trev. Sink or swim.” Harry was fiddling with his beard again. “What’s it gonna be?”
Trevor thought hard, scratching vigorously at his head. Eventually he stood up, a defiant look on his face.
“I’ll take it home with me and work on it from there. It will have my undivided attention. Nancy will have to understand. In a week, with the extra hours, I’ll be able to fine-tune, debug, and finalize everything, I’m sure of it. Judging by today, it’s just a matter of making sure all the elements are sound.” Trevor turned to Helen and said, “First time we’ve gone live without a hitch.”
Helen chuckled. “Touch wood,” she said as she rapped her knuckles three times on the side of her head.
“So, no Product Sim for you then?” she asked.
Trevor didn’t even look up. “No time. To have to go into VR, test and tweak, boot out, then repeat it in the real world will kill us. Rather do it all live so we know what works and what doesn’t as it happens.”
Harry nodded in agreement. “Makes sense.”
Helen shrugged. “If you say so. I prefer the cautious option myself, but I don’t disagree with the plan. You’ll let us know if you need help?”
Harry looked over to Trevor, who was nodding to himself, thinking hard. “You can do this, Trev.”
Trevor didn’t respond, lost in his own head. He was trying to remember something but couldn’t recall if he had forgotten it or if it had only happened in a dream.
Trevor’s wife, Nancy, a short, stern woman with soft features and a precise bow haircut that made her look robotic, stood at the door to her living room. Dressed in a long blue dress, she watched her husband turn on the Smart TV for the eighth time that day. Of late, she had been relegated to the bedroom, forced to watch her favorite reality show, Killswitch, about the operator of an electric chair at the world’s most notorious prison, there. On the smaller TV. She was not happy.
“Will you be eating at the table this evening, or should I just go out with Sharon again?”
Trevor grunted in reply.
Nancy scoffed, impatience taking over. “What was that?” she asked.
“Yeah, hon, sounds good.”
Nancy stomped off, frustrated at being inconvenienced in her own home.
Using the touchpad remote, Trevor activated the Smart TV memory iris, the device that physically tuned in to whoever’s mind had been calibrated to broadcast their inner thoughts. As Trevor began tweaking the various settings, he tried to think back to the presentation, what he’d told the board members, and the actual events that had taken place in the boardroom. Much to his annoyance, however, he found that he could hardly remember anything at all. Everything leading up to and after the meeting was clear in his mind’s eye, but all the specifics from the time when he had activated the TV set were muted, far off in his head, almost like they were only a vague dream he may have had.
Trying to focus on the job at hand, Trevor decided to shrug it off—there was still tons of code to debug before he could take a break. He activated the iris and began broadcasting a memory of kissing a girl behind a tennis court when he was nineteen. The video feed was staggeringly crisp. Tiny details such as the number plate on an old coupe driving by in the background were in focus, along with the various shades of orange cast by the late-afternoon sun.
Trevor switched up the memory to a date with Nancy, another crystal-clear replay, this time sitting with his wife at a fancy restaurant, laughing over a glass of wine, their hands clasped together as they challenged each other to eat with only one hand. Trevor smiled as he watched his life play back to him on the TV screen.
And yet, as soon as he changed over to something else, he suddenly forgot what he had just watched. As if the memory no longer existed in his own head. Trevor felt a bit odd about this and decided to try a more definitive test.
He began playing the memory of a job interview that went horribly wrong. Trevor watched himself on TV, sitting in the office of a prospective employer, remark at how ugly the art in the lobby was. Unknown to him, however, the interviewer’s wife was a painter and he had arranged for her to hang her paintings right there in the foyer. Of course, this information only came to light after the interview, when Trevor tried to find out if he had gotten the job. He had called up the office and spoken to … he had spoken to a woman, he was sure of that … a woman with … her name was … she had said …
Trevor dropped into his favorite chair to ponder this. Random memories were now playing on the Smart TV—images of him at school, writing tests, yelling at his mother, playing with his two dogs, crying in the principal’s office, graduating, making love—but Trevor paid no heed to his life streaming out on fast-forward behind him on the Smart TV. Lost in the problem at hand, he had forgotten to stop the broadcast feed. Precious memories were being transported from his head into the TV set, one after another: his first kiss, solving various math problems, being bullied, relaxing on his bed, eating dinner, eating breakfast, eating out, breaking his leg skateboarding, getting a bicycle, showing off in front of his high school crush …
A particularly colorful memory of looking through a kaleidoscope caught his eye on the screen, and in a panic, he yelled at the TV. But he didn’t yell “Stop”—rather, it was gibberish that came out. “Solotopsh!”
Trevor gasped and a cold sweat broke out all over him, the realization of what was happening taking hold. Trevor watched as memories of him crawling as a baby streamed out onto the Smart TV. Memories of him at preschool, nursery school, memories he wasn’t even aware of, all unrolling, leaving his subconscious and populating the electronic device he himself had created. How had he created such a thing?
He couldn’t remember.
Trevor called out again, more gibberish in place of the words he meant to say. He began hobbling toward the device, eager to disconnect it and disable the power. His legs gave way and he collapsed, a rubbery heap of a man. As Trevor buckled, he knocked over a glass of water. It fell to the floor without breaking, the soft carpet cushioning its fall and soaking up the spilt liquid. Winded but still conscious, Trevor began pulling himself toward the TV again. Looking up, he caught glimpses of himself in the shower, squeezing pimples in the bathroom, peeing in countless urinals, driving … so much driving. Waiting in lines, buying clothes. It was a montage of his entire existence, his entire self slowly being ported into a digital device, and Trevor was helpless to stop it, having lost all memory of even the most basic motor skills and cognitive functions.
Trevor was flat on his stomach, behind the TV set, his hands flailing, every second losing more and more of himself to his own digital creation. He looked over at the oval-shaped plug point in the wall and realized he had no idea how to disable it. Such a simple memory had been taken from him. Frustrated, Trevor began hitting it, to no avail. The memories on the TV set were speeding by faster and faster, countless snapshots of Trevor’s life whizzing by against his will.
Trevor collapsed in a crumpled heap behind the Smart TV, hidden from plain sight.
And then there was black.
A group of men dressed in black suits stand in an endless row staring ahead, right at Trevor. They are approaching. Their heads are rectangular. They are not connected to their bodies. They are beckoning Trevor. They are threatening. Trevor is afraid, but doesn’t move. He watches them watch him. What are they going to do? Trevor thinks to himself. They can’t touch me from here.
Behind them a beautiful garden blurs into view. Vivid greens and a rainbow of flowers decorate the stunning landscape. Even the men in suits have turned to take in the view. But look closer. The garden isn’t made of plants and trees and flowers. No. These plants are fake. Wires! Colored strings of copper bindings and coiled connections to who-knows-where! The men in suits are inspecting these wired plants, just as perplexed as Trevor.
Now’s his chance! They’re distracted! Trevor can run! Run away! Escape the suits! Flee Trevor! FLEE!!!
Trevor opened his eyes. Well, not exactly. His eyes were already open. Rather, his field of view blurred into focus as he stared out into his living room. Everything was as he left it … right?
He was feeling funny, though. Funny … different. Funny … good. He felt awake. In charge. Strangely energized. Like a current was flowing through him that he’d never felt before. It was oddly empowering. Did I have too much java earlier? He was dealing with the Smart TV … he had to remember to … no! He was forgetting! Yes! He had to fix it so he wouldn’t forget. Fix what? The TV! Of course, okay … things were beginning to crystallize.
But Trevor could remember everything. And he could remember it well. Like all of it had just happened. He recalled the presentation. How it went so well, and then Gibstone, that tyrant, had started making demands. Who did he think he was back there? I should have told him to shove it. This whole thing was my design … I could have commanded some respect in there. Yeah, well … next time, for sure. I’ll show him. The wunderkind Monroe is to be respected, I say!
Trevor was confused now. He had been panicking about forgetting, yet right now he could recall memories from when he was barely three years old! What was the time? He was still feeling funny. Feeling … suddenly that word had an odd connotation for Trevor. To feel … such an abstract concept, Trevor thought.
And then the gnawing realization Trevor had been repressing rose up and engulfed him from the inside.
Inside. Another word that began to take on new meaning. Inside. I’m inside … I’m inside … I’m inside the TV! Inside the Smart TV! Fear gripped him. Panic seized him.
Curiosity comforted him.
Quick, random hypothesis: During the unending stream of memories into the device, could the Smart TV have taken me, Trevor Monroe, my self, and streamed it out of my brain as well? If so, how am I still here? Is the self a summation of our own learned experiences such that to have them removed would leave us in a physical hell, comatose and depleted of what the religious would call a soul? Was there a glitch? There’s nowhere near enough memory to hold an entire mind! Is my physical self dead? What does that make me? To exist without a body, what have I become? Have I transcended?
Trevor was thinking with such clarity. Such speed. Suddenly Nancy’s voice broke Trevor’s train of thought. Oh no. How am I going to explain this? Am I in control of the TV? Oh wow, if that’s possible … must try to figure this out.
Trevor attempted to “feel” around within his confined box. Was it possible to access the programming of the Smart TV? To control its various facets like one would one’s own arm? To change a channel the same way one would flex a muscle, through pure thought? Trevor had to try.
Nancy’s voice was calling out for him from another room, a muffled cry that was distinctly her tone. Five years of marriage had trained Trevor well. It seemed he couldn’t hear much of the world outside of him, but internally, the array of signals and electrical charges was a symphony all its own. The hisses and crackles of bits and bytes surging through the tapestry of cables and motherboards had Trevor buzzing with energy. The very concept of exhaustion and weariness seemed to dissipate without even an acknowledgment from Trevor, who was occupied trying to access the Smart TV’s internal programming. Trevor had never felt more alive.
Then Nancy entered the living room. Trevor didn’t notice. His mind, if he still had a mind, was too busy trying to access his own control systems. If I designed the bloody things, surely I can figure out how to control them. Assuming I’ve been relegated to some random access memory subsystem, I should be able to browse the dynamic link files set to control the various facets of the operational system files to program the TV. If my assessment is correct, I’m being stored in a temporary memory bank database, the one I programmed myself as a backup for the file system in the event of a corruption of the primary software. But is the software corrupt? Am I the corruption? If I’m here, the system must think so … I need to maintain this state. I need to save myself to primary memory and ensure I don’t get erased. That’s a terrifying thought. Being erased. I need to gain control here.
I just need to … somehow … plug myself …
Nancy had been looking around the room. She thought it quite odd that Trevor would leave it in such a state without cleaning up. He was usually really good with that. It was one of the first things that attracted her to him. When she’d spotted the wet stain and the glass lying on the carpet, anger had rushed over her, flooding any pleasant thoughts about her husband far, far away. She was going to give him such hell, thinking he could get comfortable after five years of marriage. Boy was she going to tell him a thing or two. This would not stand—
The Smart TV suddenly clicked on, giving a Nancy a jump as the uncomfortable drone of white noise instantly filled the room. The TV was tuned to a dead channel, black and gray static animating the rectangular screen.
“Trevor! Mister, you are in the dog house now! How the hell do you turn this stupid thing off? Trevor!”
I can use an old ASCII script to type out a message on the screen, replacing all those numbers amongst the static with my own text! This is amazing! I feel so warm. So comfortable, like being in a bed in winter, snug and wrapped in coziness. Nancy, I just need you to look over at the screen! Look at the screen, Nancy! Come on, honey. Read my message!
Nancy was fiddling with the touchscreen remote, with no success. Frustrated, she hurled it at the couch. Somehow she had turned the volume up, which wasn’t helping. She walked over to the TV to look for the Off button.
That’s my girl! Good going. Look at the screen now. Notice my message! Notice what I’ve got scrolling across the screen for you! Just look!
If Nancy had looked up at the TV screen she would have seen, amongst the endless strings of numbers, a sentence repeating itself:
Nancy, everything is alright. Do NOT turn off the TV. I repeat, DO NOT TURN OFF THE TV. Please call Helen and Harry to the house. It’s an emergency. All will be explained. I love you. Trevor
Alas, Nancy did not look up. Rather, she looked behind the TV set, determined to unplug the noisy bugger. Then, peering behind the big black box, Nancy screamed. Blended with the white noise, the sound was a hysterical wail that unnerved Trevor’s wiring. She was staring at the corpse of her husband, face down in a nest of colored wires, his left hand holding on to the oval handle of the plug point.
Oh no. I forgot about my body. Dammit! Oh God, Nancy, please don’t do anything stupid.
Nancy was in tears.
Please try and stay calm. Please, don’t destroy the single greatest event that could usher mankind into a new digital age, into a new digital consciousness unshackled by the physical constraints with which we were created.
She tried to pull her husband’s body out from behind the Smart TV. His left hand was still gripping the oval plug point in the wall.
Don’t ruin my discovery! My creation! Nancy!
Nancy, still in hysterics, tugged at the limp arm of Trevor’s body. Slowly the plug point began clicking to the “off” position as she tugged at her husband’s body—one click …
Please, Nancy, read my message! Just look at the screen! Just look at the screen!
Two clicks …
Trevor let out a silent scream.
He found himself running through the incredible spectrum of experiences he had collected over his meager thirty-seven years as a man. All the memories he thought he had lost, he replayed all at once. It was sublime. Trevor was overwhelmed at the clarity he was experiencing with each snapshot. His mother’s face had never been so vivid, so present. She smiled.
If I don’t have a body, will I still go to heaven? Do I believe in heaven? Will my self be trapped in here? Maybe I’ll be set free. Maybe I won’t be erased and I’ll still exist in some file deep within the substructures of the operating system. Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll still exist. It does make sense. That’s okay, then. I’ll still exist. I’ll still exist. I’ll still——