On the occasion of the 54th anniversary of the original production date: 06:09:1961
The first structural improvement (disregard the tonsillectomy, which was simply a part removal, six years in) occurred eleven years out.
Who knew that trees had leaves? That the blob in the classroom had a shape; that her hand moving across the slate was tracing out sharp lines, making words, numbers, assignments? Not I.
In an earlier time, I’d never have made it. The seeing world takes vision for granted. Those generated with defects can’t understand a world with clear borders, rich colors, meaning that crackles. If you can’t see beyond your outstretched arms, you can’t prepare for danger, can’t read a parental expression beginning to boil, can’t see the seams of the underhand toss, or the bully’s right cross.
Sure, the other bots, not programmed to tolerate difference, mocked the buck-toothed Four Eyed freak, but I easily outdid them. I stomped on my frames to prove they were unbreakable, snapping them at the bridge, sending myself back into the smear and smudge. Two weeks in class with the drooping lenses conjoined by band-aids wrapped tight over paperclip supports. Fuck your Four Eyes.
Later in high school, I caught an elbow while trying for a rebound and once again that shadowy world took over, laughing faces falling out of focus and away.
Next structural improvement was completed in my late teens.
Eight extractions. External head brace, eighteen hours a day, that locked into sockets at the back of my upper jaw. The other bots didn’t have to say a thing. Why bother? The dude’s got a coat hanger bowed out in front and blue underwear bands trisecting his skull. Adolescent bots might feel awkward. But this dude was awkwardness incarnate.
Every month, another tightening, another set of bands to hook from one side to the other, wrenching the jaws against each other, food filtered through gleaming metal, wire, and pain.
We live and we die in our faces, but who cares, really? It’s all shit anyway.
The long, deep stretches of darkness are rarely broken now by other mood-states.
Braces off. Contacts purchased with busboy savings. A double upgrade.
The other bots open their eyes and automatically see like this?
The external shell now hews to the norm. Inside there are storms, ruinous conflicts, a loneliness that feeds on itself, a pit of darkness that has the power to swallow all that is seen and unseen without warning.
It is decades before the next structural improvement.
When the pills arrive, the feeling is like being on the prow of a submarine as it rises to the surface, bursting into a new world with sky above, ocean below, and a shimmering surface all around. Impossible image, of course—no captain navigates the deep from outside the ship, but everything about this earlier incarnation suddenly seems beyond imagining.
Is this what it’s like to be normal?
Where once there was simply fathomless descent, life among the bioluminescent monsters unseen by those who swim on the surface, now there’s buoyancy, a buoy bobbing and bouncing in the lazy rise and fall of a sea responding to the moon’s loving pull.
The improvement is catastrophic, of course.
Courses mapped out in the darkness crumble at sea-level.
In dreams, bots reboot, memories wiped, and roll on.
On the grid, though, it’s not so simple.
After the wars, the prosthetic networking device weaves a new world of ties, weak and strong, spun with words, wisdom, wishes, and wanton desire. The past ceases to be only an accusation; the present only something to be deferred.
Along with the distractions, disruptions, disappointments, and devastations, the network offers a felt sense of connection that no community of onsite bots has ever equaled. Artists, wits, jokers, video jugglers, critics, pundits, pranksters, prodders, trolls, friends made in the flesh, friends made in passing, friends made with a passing remark—they are brought to life in the kinetics of exchange, in the living circulation of a mysterious good will.
Do neuronormal bots always assume there’s a world below, loving arms outstretched?
Moving through a world controlled by monetizing bots, the prosthetic memory device wraps me in words and music, skinning off the intrusions of my looping inner life. It’s yet another set of lenses, filtering out the signals emitted by my fellow bots going about their days. In place of decades of relentless auto-critique leading nowhere, there’s a global university, staffed with on-demand teachers and tinkerers, thinking the thoughts that make the future crackle with promise and dread.
The movement monitor prods daily: why so still? Get out of your room; occupy your body. In two weeks, the food monitor reveals more about my daily feeding habits than I learned on my own over all the previous years combined.
I don’t want to live forever.
It is still not uncommon for me to welcome wakeless sleep, but the biochemical safety net means such thoughts are just clouds moving across my attempt at the blue sky mind.
Being a node in the global network means being exposed to the daily atrocities of our collective inhumanity. That’s true. Every day a fresh horror.
But it also means having access to resources that make soldiering on appealing: friends, music, ideas, daily contact with the kids, and glimpses of a future that isn’t preordained. That’s also true. Every day a fresh start.
This morning, I was sitting in a café with a friend having coffee. The commuter train unloaded a stream of people, a face floated by in the crowd, smiled, and said, “Happy birthday.”
“Who was that?” he asked.
“No idea,” I said.
But my prosthetic memory device knew. It was a Facebook friend, a virtual connection momentarily made real, and that most wonderful of all gifts, because entirely unexpected.
Is joy really always so close at hand?
I don’t think so.
But it’s nice to be able to entertain the question .