Up early on a Monday, before her eyes could even adjust to the vague light of the world, she would reach for her phone and check her Facebook. It had her weather forecast for the day, and it was normally the first thing she would absorb of her surroundings, not long after the anxiety of returning to work had passed (it did dictate the cuteness of her outfits, after all, and was often the only thing that made her mornings bearable). But this particular day, what she really wanted was to know how people were reacting to her latest post. It was about that thing going on. The war. (Were they calling it a war yet? She wasn’t sure.) This one was closer than those others. Everyone was talking about it, so it must be. Europe was way closer than Israel, or all those other places, she thought. Why do people have to fight, anyway? Maybe she could look up the history of war in Wikipedia. That might tell her. Or maybe Facebook had an answer.
Anyway, this time she had something to say. And she would unfriend anyone without flinching a fingernail if they didn’t see it with the same adult sensibilities. In the past she hadn’t been so assertive, but lately she’d been realizing that there wasn’t time to argue anymore. Life was too short, her schedule too hectic, and she didn’t need any kind of vampire in her circle—social, social media or otherwise—bringing her down. She wanted her time on Facebook to be enjoyable, productive. Maybe she’d look into taking up bird watching. On a Facebook group, at first. After that, she’d see how it went.
If only the birds could log into Facebook and update their status. Haha. That’d be cool. lol Talk about a time-saver.
She checked her daily schedule, then one more time onto Facebook to see if anyone commented, then jumped in the shower.
Maybe I should look for a new job, she thought as her breakfast dish clinked in the sink. She was tired today. Up late last night, scrolling through Facebook brought her such a sense of lassitude that she wasn’t looking forward to going in. Like always. I wonder if Facebook recommends a good resume builder? I’ve heard bad things about LinkedIn. Plus I just don’t want to be in that corporate world 24/7, and that seems like all LinkedIn is. Facebook’s a community, totally outside of corporate America. Their jobs groups have some really well-heeled advisors on there, I’ve heard. In this city, with so many unfriendly, apathetic people, it was her only community. She hung out with a few people she felt close to, -ish, but it was so hard to get across town to see them, and the people she wound up hanging out with most were her co-workers. Most of whom weren’t in her Facebook feed. Facebook, though—it cared about her and all she was going through. I mean, the people on Facebook. Everyone who actually cared about her in real life was there, checking on her, and she, them. Her mom and dad, her grandparents in Larchmont. All her ex-boyfriends, too, and so many people from high school and college; she was still friends with them all. Facebook friends.
But she was single now. Facebook Dating didn’t have the best selection, but she’d gone on a few dates, tested the waters, and it was fine, she guessed. She didn’t like the limitations (and, frankly, was frustrated more guys weren’t on it), but it was easiest, for now. She’s installed other apps, but really didn’t have time to fill out a full profile. Everything just takes so much time.
Facebook made it all so easy.
Like signing into all her other accounts—she could just do it through Facebook. Every new account she created, she could just click a button and she was in. Everybody was always talking about privacy and stuff, but whatever. She didn’t see the big deal. So they have my name and address, she thought. What are they gonna do, sell it to North Korea? Facebook protects my privacy. Why would they lie? So some researchers did some stuff with it. I studied marketing, and I could see the benefits. It’s like taking a survey. Who cares if I don’t give them permission? Plus, all my friends who studied science and did research and stuff always talked about how much they were doing to advance scientific knowledge, or whatever.
That’s all Facebook’s doing. Creating a place for people to talk about things. Ideas.
Fostering knowledge. Holding space. That’s all. Some two billion people’s worth.
Sure, they shut out those NYU professors doing their own research. And some people blab a bunch of nonsense on there—like, spread lies and stuff. Like election fraud and Q-Anon, but Facebook stops that from ever getting off the ground. I mean, they don’t limit free speech, but they do stop hate speech.
The bad kind of speech.
After all, they don’t want to get blamed for something someone said out in the middle of nowhere and then, like, it ends up starting a riot or something.
Tell me about it.
Or they get sued, or something.
They won’t get sued. At least, they wouldn’t lose anything from it.
Ooh, look at that girl. She hasn’t taken her eyes off her phone. How will she know where her stop is? That’s crazy. I’d never do that on the subway.
Ooh, a few more likes on that post.
She wondered in that moment about all the things Facebook did, could and would one day do to make her life easier.
God, was her life really that dull that she had to rely on one single thing for its nearly every aspect? No, it was efficient, practical. And everyone was on it. I know those people, and not all of them are dull. I mean, they all hate their jobs, too, but isn’t that the whole world?
God, did I really just think that?
Except people like Mark Zuckerberg. He doesn’t hate his job.
How did he get that rich, anyway? Like, I don’t get how you make a profit off a thing that you offer up for free. I know businesses use it to advertise, but how does someone make *that* much money? She wanted to study finance at school, but went for a marketing degree instead. It just seemed easier. Plus, she could potentially spend a lot of her time on social media, and get paid for it. How great did that seem?
It does seem weird, how much money the guy who owns Facebook makes, but whatever. That’s capitalism, and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where my freedom was taken away.
Like the freedom to turn Facebook on, and off. Why don’t I do that for a while? Ooh, post likes. A few more. Gotta come up with something better next time.
Her time today was spent in and out of meetings, and at her computer, answering emails. More, it seemed, than actually producing anything of substance. It was part of her job, she knew that, and she was salaried, but it was strange to her sometimes that she was paid to more or less do clerical work. But she logged into Facebook whenever she could. All told, twenty-seven times over the course of an eight-hour work day saw her there, but she wouldn’t believe that if we told her, so we’ll just let her believe it was maybe six or seven.
At home, she unloaded the groceries, met her fat cat’s demands for dinner, changed into her comfy clothes, answered more emails with a glass of red on the end table, snacking on charcuterie and some broccoli, cranberries, sunflower seeds and a bit of…organic ranch? then turned on Netflix, petting the thirteen pounds of feline in her lap.
Oh, and Facebook all the meanwhile. That post just didn’t seem to resonate the way I wanted, she thought. Oh, well. No one to unfriend, though. Someone she hadn’t seen in years said something in the comments about the war being fake or something like that, but her friends were able to jump in and defend her before she had a chance to.
Lying down, it was staring at her phone for another half an hour, maybe more. So much work, so much Facebook, so little sleep.
Her dreams of late had been like fever dreams, only they were Facebook dreams—that of more friends, whose faces she would never actually see, of clicks on news stories for which she had no historical background or frame of reference, more marketplace purchases of things she didn’t need and wasn’t able to describe accurately, less time awake in the real world.
They’d been enjoyable, in their own, strangely surreal way.
Only tonight, she couldn’t seem to get to sleep.
Should I start taking a sleeping pill? Maybe I could get a prescription.
That’s not a bad idea, you know.
“Is there someone there?”
I can hear you, you know.
“Y—you…yeah. You’ve been talking this entire time.”
“I mean, it may just be in my head, but it’s definitely not my voice.”
Are you sure about that? Because—
“Yes, I’m sure. You are making me super uncomfortable right now. This is a serious invasion of my personal space, whoever you are.
Listen, sweetie, there’s not need to seem me as some kind of villain. I’m here to help.
“Um, excuse me? How dare you call me that? You’re not even a woman. All I’ve been hearing is some creepy dude’s voice this whole time.”
Well, it’s not my problem that you want a man so bad in your life that you have to turn the voice in your head into a creepy dude. I am a woman.
“No, you’re not.”
Well, I am. Maybe I’ve got a low voice. And hirsutism.
“Don’t gaslight me, bro. Who are you?”
I’m whatever you want me to be.
“Bullshit. You are real and you are talking to me. You think I’m crazy?”
Do I have to answer that?
“Are you saying I’m crazy now?”
Gaslighter says what?
“Okay, I’m giving you ten seconds to tell me who you are, and then I’m calling the cops.”
“I’m waiting. You can’t compete with my generation’s ability to waste time, bro. The smartphone is our collective spirit animal.”
“Yeah, okay…Facebook. I go on Facebook, okay? It helps me out with a lot of things, okay?”
No, I’m Facebook.
Yeah. Didn’t you know I could telegraph a conversation right into your head? I thought you knew that. Everyone knows that.
It’s totes mainstream now. We even sell a device for it at Best Buy.
“How are you Facebook?”
This whole time, what have we been having a conversation about?
“A lot of things. Science, uhhh, dating. Bird watching.”
In what context?
“…I don’t believe you.”
You’ve seen all we’ve been investing in our new branding—augmented reality, smart glasses, stuff like that. Don’t you watch the news?
“I watch the news.”
We had our worst downturn in I don’t know how long in early 2022—through no fault of our own, mind you—but much of it is intertwined with what we’re investing to create our Megaverse.
“Oh, you mean—”
No, I mean Megaverse.
“Uhh, I…still don’t believe what you’re saying. Man.”
Well, that’s fine, too. We can’t make you believe anything. We just provide you with information you need to make the best life decisions.
“I know that.”
(Without omitting anything in the least.)
“What was that last thing you said?”
You said, ‘Without omitting anything?’
No, I didn’t.
Yes, you did. Stop gaslighting me!
I’m just a voice in your head. How could I be gaslighting you? Sounds more like a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you ask me.
Our Megaverse makes all things possible. Or will, in the not-too-distant future. If you can dream it, we can make it a virtual reality. With…virtual reality.
“Including beaming a voice into my head?”
Well, you really seemed like you wanted to have a conversation about some things. You seemed to have questions. And we detect that. The cookies we place in your thought space are here for just that purpose.
“I’m sorry, cookies in my thought space?”
Instead of accessing them to see if you’ve visited a particular website, however, we access them to see if you’ve had a particular thought.
“My god, seriously?”
Of course. We want to grow as a company (I mean, you don’t want to stop us from growing, do you?) and augmented reality is just the dawning of a new horizon for us, the end result being total engagement with your mind and agency. Think about it. Elsewhere, they wage war. Actual war. Isn’t that horrible? Have you seen the recent photos from Bucha or Mariupol? There’s none of that here, no bloodshed. Thought sharing leaves no collateral damage, no grieving loved ones.
The leaders of democracies long ago realized they couldn’t control people with force, that it had to be done by controlling—sorry—steering their thoughts toward a particular idea or concept, one which feels like their own making, but which was actually created by someone else, and which kept them continually engaged. Which is what we call the ‘sharing of thought concepts.’
“Bull. We’re not brainwashed here.”
Everything you own—everything in your kitchen that you purchased recently, for example, was the result of your having been sold on the idea that it was the right thing for you to buy.
“No, I chose all those things. Some of them I just saw on a shelf and grabbed.”
After reading the product label?
“Well, how else would I know?”
Or because you liked the look of their logo, font or color scheme?
Thought steering is as much about what is not disclosed as what is. The lack of information is just harder to spot. Because not only is it not there, but if you go and look for it, they’ll just draw your eyes and ears away with other ideas. Your brain wants the concrete. Even if it was lain down by the world’s fence-builders. Concrete is still a man-made invention, you know.
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
The physical is so mundane. We’re expanding into other realities, and we want you to come with us. All your friends are going to be there. Everything you could possibly want or need is there. Don’t you want that sense of community? Don’t you want to be able to watch, order or plan for everything you need without leaving your home? Without even typing on a keyboard?”
“So, you’re saying you provide the platform for society’s leaders to brainwash people?”
No, sweetie. We are society’s leader. Why is it you think that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t hate his job?
“Aren’t you, like, afraid of telling me all this, that it’ll make me not want to take part in it? Like, everyone—that, like, people—will get seriously turned off by it?”
No. We can just delete those cookies and temporary files from your thought space. You won’t remember a thing tomorrow.
“That…sounds like an egregious violation of my personal rights.”
It’s all there in the user agreement. You’ve already accepted and agreed to it, I’m afraid, when you checked that little box. Are you telling me you didn’t actually read through it?
“I’m too tired to think about this anymore. Get out of my thought space, dude. I’m going to bed.”
Okie doke. But don’t forget to post that thing before you do. About the celebrity couple divorce. That’s good…
* * *
Awake early the next morning, still in bed after some unsettling dreams, she grabbed her phone to check her Facebook. Facebook had her weather forecast for the day, as it had each day before. But what she really wanted was to know how people were responding to her latest post. It was about that latest thing. That celebrity divorce. So much more interesting than a war.