Nothing To Hide: A Short Story
He caught the elevator to the lobby and waited irritably while the TSA agents searched him. The sign at the security station said, “Protecting those with nothing to hide!” in a nice, friendly font. Pino always held out hope that one day the agents would be friendly too, maybe a cheerful, “Have a safe walk, sir,” but no, regardless of what they looked like they all shared the same facial expression and demeanor. It said, “You’re either a terrorist or you’re relying on us to protect you from terror. It’s not our job to be friendly.”
He stepped out onto the street and Petra said, “Are you hungry? I’ve got a half-off deal on chicken wings at Hooters on 64th.” “Accept,” he said, and headed off in that direction.
“Petra, write an email,” he said as he walked. “To Jack Sutherland. Subject Project Update. Body Hey, Jack, Just wanted to let you know we should be ready for beta testing by early -- whoops!” He swerved to avoid someone directly in his path.
In theory the Visions, like the Glass IV and all other head-mounted personal devices, weren’t supposed to distract from normal line-of-sight activities. In practice, though, it was obvious that the frontal lobe became distracted even if the eyes were focused straight ahead. But for some reason everyone still tried to multitask.
Walking was the simplest and probably least dangerous activity that could be disrupted by a lack of attention, but people did all sorts of ridiculous things while using the headware: bike, drive, ski, you name it. Accidents had gone through the roof in the year or so since the devices had become ubiquitous, and personal injury lawyers were paying fortunes to serve targeted ads to the Visions of people with freshly broken legs.
Pino focused briefly down the street to gauge any further obstacles, and returned to his email. He finished it off just as he arrived at Hooters and instructed Petra to send it, pausing for the familiar confirmation: “Message reviewed for unpatriotic content. Message sent.” The voice -- not Petra’s, this one was much colder and more officious -- still sent a shudder of annoyance through him. Pino didn’t like his emails being read by anyone other than their intended recipient, much less the federal government. Even if it was only a bot reading them. Even if he did have nothing to hide.
The security agents at Hooters were exactly the same as the ones at the office, possibly even a bit grumpier in comparison to the relatively happy folks inside enjoying their beers. Once inside, Pino looked around and confirmed exactly how relative that happiness was. Every single person in the establishment had a headset. Every single one was using it, their eyes focused on the middle distance, their mouths, filled with half-chewed chicken, talking loudly on the phone or instructing their virtual assistants to scroll through Newsfeeds.
Pino felt a shiver come over him. He suddenly felt as if he were observing the restaurant from above, a momentary meta-contemplation of all it contained, including himself. He saw the roomful of automatons plugged into an endless cycle of artificial stimulation. Instead of people, he saw creators and consumers of data, the better to be mined and made use of. He saw its grotesqueness and its lack of human connection. For a moment he was overwhelmed by the surreal nature of the scene.
He shook his head to clear it and bring himself back to reality. There was a bar table by the wall and he hoisted himself up onto the stool. “Petra, get me an order of chicken wings and a Bud. Charge to Google Wallet.” “Of course, Pino,” she murmured, and he wondered if he was imagining the ever-so-faint notes of condescension and pity in her voice.