It is a warm May night, the clouds from earlier in the day have made way for the stars, and the moon, although the puddles still tell the story of a rainy day. I'm sitting on the edge of a bridge. I'm looking down at an abyss of about 40 meters, enough to kill a man, enough to severely handicap a man. I do not care. Life as it is now does not make sense to me anymore. Thoughts are racing through my head, just like they always have. They stole my life, my identity. I was introduced to this life as a blank sheet of paper, I now have become a book, which perhaps will soon be closed forever.
It is May 20th, 2020, 10 pm, Hamburg, Germany. Earlier in the evening, after a long day of work, I was sitting in my living room. I work as a concierge at a 5-star hotel downtown. It is a good job, and one of the few remaining that are not threatened to be taken over by the machines because there is human interaction involved. No machine can ever replace that, can it?
I know my work. I know it well. At least I am always told I do. I kind of even enjoy it, few people can say that anymore. Real wages have been decreasing since the early 2000s, since the first internet bubble burst, which left all the rich becoming richer, and the poor becoming poorer. Then there was the Euro crisis, and the discrepancy only became more significant. Few countries have remained in the Eurozone since then. Only Germany, France, Spain, and Italy (for some reason), the rest has escaped into the womb of their own currency with higher interest rates, and less patronization. They are now back where they feel comfortable. Curiously, the United Kingdom joined the Union after all the highly indebted countries had left. Now there are three rich countries, and two poorer ones remaining. Even they have their issues, but they manage to solve them usually.
The world is spinning, always spinning, and I am its passenger. Nothing I can do about it. I am just sitting here, hoping for the best, expecting the worst. I am 32 years old, and boy, has it spun a lot since 2013. We used to be free, I think. Maybe it was wishful thinking, maybe it was make-believe, but I really felt free back then. Before that, I felt even freer.
It all started with the internet, the evil blessing, which holds the world hostage ever since it developed a broadband connection. Faster data, faster living. Everything had to be better, more effective, less human, more robotic. This, however, was still manageable. But soon after, the iWatch was introduced.
This iWatch device has taken over our lives as we would have never imagined. It first entered the market in 2013, and conquered the world within months.
At first, this innocent watch was not taken seriously. It was merely looked at as a small gadget for nerds who did not know what to do with their money, and were called the early adopters.
Quickly it changed the landscape. Initially, it could not do much. It could only show the time and give a some information, for instance what the weather was going to be like, or whether this bar offered good drinks or bad drinks. But it evolved.
In 2018 the EU and Apple went into a collaboration. Apple was relieved from paying taxes in the Union, which they had never done anyway, and in exchange all parliamentarians received Apple products for free. This, and all citizens within the Union received an iWatch. Wearing it was not optional. They sold it to the people as a practical gimmick, as a supposedly less invasive procedure than implanting a chip for identification. If you take it off, you lose your identity. You pay with it. You depend on it.
So now my iWatch is beeping. Why is it beeping, you ask? I have not moved enough today. Well, the past week. It tracks all my movements, breaths, heartbeats, how much I perspire. It tells me when to move, drink, sleep.
I am supposed to cover a distance of 8 kilometers per day, approximately 6,500 steps. I live 200 meters away from my workplace, which is convenient. And there, I stand. Pretty much all day. Advising guests what they should see, where they should go eat, and drink. I have not covered my distance in two weeks, I owe my iWatch 10 kilometers. If I do not go running, my insurance company will give me a call the next couple of days and tell me that this is my third 10K-offense this year, and that my policy is going up. My data is past forward to them, the government saves lots of money because of that.
One of the biggest obstacles of the early 2000s in my country was, how we could reduce the costs of the demographic change that was occurring. German citizens were becoming older, the birth rates were low, and someone had to finance the social security provided by the government. They solved this issue by forcing a healthy lifestyle upon all of its residents by ignoring basic human rights, such as dignity and autonomy of the body. Nevermind the freedom of the press, this one has long been gone.
My average pulse is 80 heartbeats per minute. I can see my pulse every minute of every day. It is usually a little high because of my anxiety disorder. My blood oxygen level is great though, my watch says. At night, when I set my alarm, 8.5 hours before I have to wake up, iWatch injects a little dosage of valerian into my blood stream to help my fall asleep.
I had not eaten since noon. I walked over into the kitchen to the food printer. The first prototype printed solely chocolate. It was back in 2013 also, when the concept of 3D printers gained popularity. My friends quickly warmed up to the idea of printing food. They trashed their microwaves and ovens, and simply replaced them. It still feels strange to me.
I told her that I wanted a chicken sandwich. Yes, she has a name. Linda. Linda mixes all kinds of powders together, cooks, and fries them. The powder consists of all the basic structures of meals, imitates them. Very basic compounds, not a lot of greases used, much more healthy than self-cooked soul food. Linda also does not give me more calories than my doctor recommends. 2567 calories per day. Furthermore, she is connected to the food printers at work, so it is basically rendered impossible to exceed my recommended dosage of food.
The thing is, I need soul food. I want to exceed.
The end product is incredibly close to the real thing. It is, however, not the real thing. Killing animals was forbidden last year. The Movement of Vegans in Europe (MOVIE) has finally succeeded in making everyone live without meat.
As I was enjoying my sandwich reminiscent of chicken, my girlfriend of seven years entered the room. Her name is Ana, with one "n." She is very peculiar about that. She is the kind of person, when she introduces herself she says "Hi! My name is Ana with one "n." It's one compound to her, like it were her middle name. Ana Withonen Baxter.
She first came over from the US in order to spend one semester abroad. We did not meet at the university though, we met at a club on a Saturday night. I was drunk, she was drunk, we kind of hit it off. Ironically, now we only get along when we live under the influence.
She was going through a bi-curious phase when I met her. It was a thrill, because I was the one to make her change her life, choose men, once and for all. A dream for so many men. I had never thought of myself as a womanizer who could pull off this sort of miracle. She just fell in love with me, not my sexuality. The thrill of the new, however, quickly became a habit, the habit became second nature, and second nature became boredom.
She had (still has) that flowing, blond hair, which seemingly does not carry any weight whatsoever. Her body could belong to an 18-year-old, she is very into fitness, staying in shape. She goes swimming and running at 6am while I am still fast asleep. She has finished taking a shower before I wake up to use the bathroom.
Usually, as I sit down at the breakfast table, all I hear is "Morning!" It has been a long time since things were good. We used to be passionate lovers, barely able to separate for more than one or two days. Now we have disintegrated into being dispassionate enemies in the morning hours of every day.
I wonder if we still love each other. Love is such a strong word.
My iWatch tells me the first year we had sex 5.4 times a week. Yes, it tracks that too. Now we are down to 0.5 times per week. Tendency is falling.
It is gruesome to have numerical proof of the slow, but inevitable, destruction of a thing you love.
When we do it, it is over quickly. It merely feels like our duty to do so. A contract that you sign once you enter a relationship. She knows I need it more than she does, probably. I do not know if she is seeing anyone on the side. I don't. Anymore.
We usually lie in bed when it happens. Anything else would be too spontaneous, too much out of the ordinary. I start kissing her, she kisses me back. After a little bit of uninspired foreplay , I remove my boxers, she removes her slip. Shirts stay on. After a few moments of romping, groaning, faking enthusiasm, enjoyment and orgasms, it is all over. Back to the unfinished book.
As she entered the room, she said "Evening! How was work?"
"Same old, same old! Yours?" was my response.
"Well, you know," and off she went into the bathroom.
While I heard her washing up, I said to her "Going out for a run!"
"Alright, have fun!" No question why I went running at this hour of the day. She does not even fake interest anymore.
So I went jogging outside. Even that has become rare in a world with so many different home trainers. People look at me as if I were some kind of alien. I feel alienated from this society.
As I slowly increased the tempo, passing the buildings on the way to the little inner city island I run around, I started thinking.
I thought about what the world has come to. I am dictated by numbers, not by feelings. They tell me when and how much I should eat, sleep, have sex. The most intimate parts of my life are accessible for companies, so they can use big data to predict my next move. They know my next move before I know it. At least that is what they claim, otherwise they would have no reason to gather all the information. I have become an invisible man, all the light shines through me, I have nothing to hide. More importantly, I cannot hide anything. That is the social contract nowadays.
When did the people of my country become so blind, unconscious, powerless, indecisive, and comatose.
This isn't what my ancestors fought for. The French did not storm the Bastille in pursuit of liberty, just so, 230 years later, we would be totally dependent upon and controlled by the government. Seemingly unaware of the situation, incapable of grasping the lost freedom because we have forgotten what freedom feels like.
This is madness!
I felt this strong sense of plaintiveness coming over me. I don't feel comfortable in this world. I like to go where my heart tells me to go.
So here I'm sitting at the edge of the bridge that I always cross on my way to the island. My thoughts still circling. In the distance, I see the bright lights of my hometown, the IBM building glowing in the color of blue, green, and red. I wonder if anyone would miss me if I jumped. They would know as soon as my heartbeat stops. iWatch would tell them. They would locate me. Lift my dead body up. Bury me.
I don't feel alive as it is. This is what they don't know.
I look down, imagining myself crashing into the water of the Elbe river under me. The river I have known all of my life. How my bones break, hopefully my neck so it would be over quickly. I imagine the fall, a finite moment in which I could feel free at last. One last time before I go back into the Nothingness I came from.
I think of the Buddhist theory that life is like a river. That our life flows, and that everything we will become, we already are. When I die, I will become earth, or a stone. But the material I will become is already in my body. And the stone will be there forever, and the earth will be there forever, until the sun explodes, and inhales our solar system to become something I cannot imagine. But even of that something, I will be a part of it. This is how I reach immortality. I like that idea.
I edge closer to the brink.
I ought to be free. I cannot live like this. I am not ready to be a stone.
I think of Ralph Ellison's words, “I am invisible. Light confirms my reality, gives birth to my form.” So I escape the light, I'm off into the darkness of the unknown. This society was not made for people like me. It is made for people who want to live like a clock until the day they stop ticking. I unstrap my iWatch. It beeps. It doesn't have a connection anymore. I throw it into the stream of the Elbe river. Goodbye, dear friend.
They were watching me, but in reality, I am watching them.