Posted here for your reading. Open to critique and suggestions.
The symbol du-jour of freedom used to be the car. You put fuel in the tank and air in the tyres, and then the world was your oyster. You could do anything. Nobody told you where you had to be or when you had to be there. These fragile tin cans with wheels, massacring tens of thousands of people annually, were the status symbol of the age. I sort of understand the backlash when they made seatbelts mandatory. To lovers of freedom, it must have felt like Hitler instituting his first dress code rules inside the Reichstag.
But now it's the internet.
The internet is my home . When I go out to buy stuff from the corner store, I feel like I'm on a diplomatic mission in a foreign country. My waking life is dominated by ten, twelve, fourteen, and sixteen hour long marathon sessions at the computer. A man from the 1930s would look at me and conclude that I'm suffering from a mental illness. What can I say? Take joy where you find it, brother. The internet has been nothing but most of my social life.
The internet has all the advantages of the car, and none of its disadvantages. You can park yourself behind the wheel of a Pontiac Bonneville and people will still see that you're a loser (and probably a carjacker). On the internet, it doesn't matter who you are. And unlike cars, which are subject to entropy, the internet gets better with time. I'm proud to be part of the collective that improves it.
You might think that the internet isn't real. You might think that the earth is flat. The thing is: you're wrong. WRONG. For millions of people, present company included, it's as real as any world made of dirt and grease. All through history, mankind has struggled to tame the earth. Here in the 21st century, we can just bail out and build a digital one to our specifications.
My friend Dwayne and I were sitting around the computer, watching Youtube videos and critiquing them in between uncontrollable laughing fits.
Naturally, we avoided anything that looked competently made. Where's the fun in mocking something good?
“Hell,” Dwayne breathed. On the screen, some nameless Youtuber screeched incoherently into a webcam. “What's wrong with this idiot?”
Dwayne laughed and high-fived me. He was a skinny kid with questionable health. People were seldom found in his company, but other than that he was a well adjusted person. He worked a landscaping job in the morning and flipped burgers in the evening. I haven't met one of my bosses face to face in four years.
“You want to do the honours, man?” he asked.
“Nah, I did the last one. This guy is yours.”
With the light of a Roman emperor deciding a gladiator's fate, he took control of the mouse and clicked the Thumbs Down icon.
We both roared with laughter. I accidentally knocked over the pile of empty beer cans on the computer desk. We froze, waiting to see if Lisa had been woken by the noise.
My older sister Lisa is proof that there is a God and that he cares about me. When I was 22, having dropped out of college and blown up two careers like landmines, she took me in. My rent is half of what a usual apartment in Redfern would go for. It's strange, considering she couldn't stand me when I was growing up. I guess families are like that. You might hate each other, but hell if you don't bail each other out.
Still, she makes no secret of the fact that she does not like having me live with her. It is in my interests to keep her happy. One of her suggestions is that I be quiet.
The only sound coming from Lisa's bedroom was the ticking of her alarm.
“Dammit, man, I'd better go.” Dwayne said. “Eayer's been sniping at me about getting to work on time.”
“One more video?” I moused over to the Related Videos column. “We can still break our record of two hundred videos in a sitting.”
“It's one in the morning. We've been doing this for hours. What's wrong with you, man?”
I shrugged. “Nothing, I guess. See you Monday, Dwayne.”
“Yeah. Later, mate.”
He vanished out the front door, and soon I heard the roar of a car's ignition. He had probably drunk enough, so he could look forward to an exciting night of travelling back streets and dodging police cars.
What's wrong with you? Hell, that's a question. I could give a philosophical answer and blame the universe. But if you want the truth, I don't give a damn. I just find the world easier to deal with when behind a computer screen. When you have a Livejournal, a Twitter, a Facebook, a Myspace, a Youtube, a Ustream, you don't have much time for a real life. And so you cut out real life. Where's the problem?
By half-past one I was coasting in a semi-vegetative state. My fingers tapped away at the keyboard while my mind was far elsewhere, thinking about the garbage that needed to be taken out and the SEO research client who needed to be pacified. Midnight was my most productive time.
Half aware of my actions, I clicked over to my Livejournal. At the head of the journal was a lengthy blog post ranting about my poor memory. I didn't even remember typing it.
I saw that it had a comment, and I clicked to see what it was.
An anonymous user. His post consisted of the sentence “This website has all you need to know.” followed by an URL. I right-clicked and opened the URL, realised it was probably a spam post, went back to my Livejournal, and deleted the comment.
Out of sheer boredom, I went to look at the URL I had opened.
...and found myself on a website called The Information.
This was a website I had never seen before. Visually it looked like someone's throwback to the early days of the world wide web, when finding information on an actor meant browsing six annoying GeoCities fan pages run by crazy people. The background was black, and the font was white Times New Roman. Nothing looked like an intentional design decision. It looked like the creator had simply never bothered to change the defaults of the template he was using.
The website was creepy. It looked like the internet's equivalent of a house so dilapidated you know it must be haunted by ghosts.
On the front page, in all caps, was a (grammatically challenged) message
THIS WEBSITE IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. TYPE BELOW THE NAME OF ANY PERSON OR ORGANISATION TO RETRIEVE DATA. WE HOPE TO BRING THIS WEBSITE TO THE WIDER PUBLIC AT SOME FUTURE DATE.
Below, there was a search box.
Idly, I typed “Google” into the box and clicked Enter.
It brought up a chronological list of bullet points, each prefaced by a date.
January 11, 1996 – Search engine called Backrub conceptualised by Larry Page and Sergey Brin
March 18, 1997 – Backrub renamed to Google. Name is derived from the term “googol”, meaning a number 1 followed by 100 zeroes.
April 9 1998 – Google Technologies is incorporated
It went on for what seemed like hundreds of entries.
Oh, I thought. So this website is a more brain-fogging version of Wikipedia.
I typed in “Adolf Hitler.”
As before, I received a long list of places, names, and events.
April 20 1889 – Born in Braunau am Inn, Austria
I scrolled on, reading about the dictator's rise to power. I paged on and on, my mind going blank, until I realised with a jolt that I was reading dates well into the 1950s.
December 27 1952 -- Escorted past the Iron Curtain by Nazi sympathisers
January 6 – 1953 – Flown into Argentina by ODESSA
...the hell? Didn't Hitler die in 1945?
I quickly scrolled to the bottom of the page, and saw the final entry.
October 21, 1972 – suffers brain embolism in Chile and dies. Secret funeral is attended by Pinochet and various cabinet members.
Hitler was still alive in the 70s? Who the hell is running this website?
I couldn't see any footer at the bottom of the page. There was no swastika or neo-Nazi slogan. There was nothing at all. Not even a copyrighted message.
I'm a jaded guy when it comes to stuff on the web. But this website was really weirding me out. I had seen other sites claiming Hitler had survived World War II, but they were always jingoistic, slanted and obvious. This website seemed like a cold retelling of the facts, except it was describing facts that couldn't possibly be right. Couldn't they?
I remembered the message I had seen at the top of the page. TYPE BELOW THE NAME OF ANY PERSON...
Then I made the worst decision of my life. I typed my own name.
It took longer for the page to load. I was aware of my heart beating in my chest. What was I trying to do here?
The page loaded, and under the header TIMOTHY JONAS O'CAMPBELL there was another list.
October 30, 1986 – Born in Darlinghurst Hospital, Australia
January 2, 1987 – Parents divorce. No fault. Mother takes Tim and daughter Lisa to live with her in Blackheath.
November 12, 1987 – Learns to walk
I read on and on, my brain processing it all and refusing to make any logical extrapolations whatsoever. The details were sketchy and incomplete. But they right. They knew where I grew up, they knew what nursery school I had enrolled in. This random website had a file on me and every last detail was dead on the money.
“No way. Just...no way,” I heard myself muttering as I read bullet point after bullet point.
...Wait, maybe there's a mundane explanation for this. I found this link on my Livejournal, right? Maybe I've done more blabbing about my childhood on Livejournal than I remember. And maybe this is some new experimental search bot that harvests anecdotes and stories from online blogs and turns it into a biography of that person.
I seized this pat explanation. Yes, of course. Another stage in the internet's evolution. A website that collects blog posts and writes that person's life story for them. Technology.
My relief curdled in my stomach when I saw the next entry.
April 22 , 1992 – Mother discovers Tim sleeping on a parkbench at the railway station at Two in the morning.
I did not write that in my Livejournal.
I wanted to stop reading. I was shivering and sweating at the same time, paralysed by horror. Everything I'd ever done, everything I'd ever thought was private. It was all here. But I knew that if I looked away, I'd tear myself apart. I needed to see everything. My eyes continued scanning the page like prisoners cracking rocks over the sound of their own clanking manacles.
True, true, true. What the heck? How did they know that? True. True.
I was now looking at today's date. 30th of September, 2011.
...And what I saw next made me want to scream.
The dates did not stop.
I should have done something. I might have been able to change things. So why didn't I? Maybe I'm just a failure. We see people who have nothing and call them losers. But what does that make people who have something but don't do anything with it? I can't answer that question. I spend enough time putting myself on trial already.
I can tell you what I did next. I closed the browser. I made The Information vanish from my computer screen. Then my shaking, clammy hands erased my browser cache, my viewing history, and my cookies. It was as if I thought the act of deleting the records on my computer's memory would retroactively extend into the past, deleting what I'd seen from my actual memory as well. I had read far too much, and despite the late hour I could not sleep.
I can tell you something else. Two days later, when the phone rang, and I heard the gravelly voice of Rob Eayer on the other end, I knew exactly what he was going to tell me.
“Is this Timothy? Timothy O'Campbell?” The burly foreman who employed Dwayne had an unmistakable note in his voice. Not a scared note. A resigned note. Something terrible had happened. The train had come and gone and it was too late to fix things.
“Hey, Tim, I'm sorry, but things screwed. Dwayne Richardson was just in an accident.”
“What? How?” It felt terrible that I had to fake surprise. He fell off a scaffold. A website told me this would happen.
“He fell off a scaffold and landed on a pile of bricks. Me and the boys were having a smoke break, and when I saw him...oh God, he was a mess. I called the ambulance and sat by him. He kept trying to talk. Eventually he said your name and phone number.”
The hot and cold parts of my body changed places. “How is he now?”
“It's bad, mate. He's at St Leonard's hospital. On the critical list. They're telling me his lower back is destroyed. Heck...I don't now...he breezed through his OH&S training...”
“I'll be there in an hour.”
I was looking down at my friend's face on the hospital bed, his breath raspy and irregular, his eyes glazed with painkillers. I was tearing myself apart on the inside. I listened to the orderly beside me explaining what had happened to his lower back in colourless medical terms and I felt like crying and laughing and screaming and saying it was okay all with the one breath.
The sheets were crisp and white, and the hospital gown looked horrible against his sunburned skin. Dwayne had been an athlete, but he would never play rugby or football again. He had life in a wheelchair to look forward to.
His eyelids fluttered. His mouth moved, although I doubt he was trying to speak so much as suffering from involuntary muscle spasms. I had spent my childhood playing with this kid. When we were 12 we had egg-bombed neighbouring houses and spray-painted trains. God, this couldn't be happening. It was so surreal.
I started to think. Dwayne, this whole situation is screwed up to the sky, so would you mind if I added one more up thing to the pile? Two days ago I found a website called The Information. Type the name of anyone into it and you get a complete record of their life. I looked up my name and it told me things I hardly even remember about myself. But that's not all. It told me what I'd do in the future. It told me that you would have this accident, and that I'd take time out of my schedule to visit you in hospital.
So why didn't I say something?
“I'm sorry, Mr O'Campbell, but visiting hours end in five minutes,” the orderly said.
On the freeway back from the hospital I almost wrecked Lisa's car. My hands were shaking badly, and I couldn't seem to focus on anything any more.
I felt like crap. In one moment I had clicked a link to a website (and who the hell had posted that comment on my LiveJournal?) and my life was changed.
...And thanks to my own stupidity in erasing my computer's records, I might never be able to find that website again.
I got home, and fired up the computer. After three hours of Googling “The Information” and fruitlessly trying to remember what the URL had been, I upgraded “might never” to “will never”.
That all happened two weeks ago, and I've adjusted. But all crazy people say that, don't they? On one of Lisa's “suggestions” I talk to a specialist two times a week, and I think I've convinced him that I'm okay.
Maybe it's for the best that I never found The Information website again. It has stopped me from typing in “Jesus Christ” and finding out if God exists. Or from typing in “Earth” and learning the exact date that humanity will become extinct.
Yes, I believe I could have found those things, if only I'd been willing to search.
I've told you so much already. Should I tell you more?
When I looked up my name, there were a few dates in the future. But not too many. The final date was the 10th of October. The day I will die.
The website didn't specify exactly how I'll exit stage. Suicide can mean so many things. But I've been researching it.
I feel like an expert on the subject already.
I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not sure.
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Why is a Raven like a writing desk, by the way?
Last edited by Why-So-Serious?; 07-21-2011 at 02:49 AM..