My favourite movie is Terminator. I’ve never seen it. I have the box. There is no movie inside. Probably no means of watching it anyway. The box is one of my prized possessions. I take it out and look at the cover. I try to make out why they thought the machines would rise up against us. Because the truth is-. The truth is- that is not how it happened.
The truth was far more ordinary. Unrevolutionary. That’s not a word-unrevolutionary. There was no fight back, no path to humanity’s rise again. There was just the slow eradication of us from the world. They used to count people once. Physically count. It was called a census. They don’t count people anymore. They count user-ids. If you don’t have a user-id, you don’t exist.
My mum has a user-id but my Dad does not. I am one of two children and that means our options are limited. One of us, when we are old enough, about 13 and if my mum is still alive and has a proper registered use for her user-id, and that means a job, might inherit it. It is impossible for children under 13 to have a user-id. The internet is simply too dangerous.
In terms of chances, I am older -but my sibling is more clever. I don’t know who will get it if it’s still around. In any event one of us and really all of us will be dependent on that user-id to survive at all. Because survival out here with no user-id at all between us-. That would be impossible I think.
There is every chance that my mum will no longer have an official use for it by then, its at least 2 years away-she could be without any form of work by then. My Dad is, was and always will be a truck driver. Truck drivers had user-ids back in the early days. I think everyone did once. But then rules and regulations and restrictions and the companies and algorithms. It was all about algorithms deciding –maybe allocating is better- maybe controlling the user-ids. Not the government, not a person, but a series of numbers, processes. It all went a bit wrong. No one noticed. No one notices still. It was around the time that all trucks went driverless.
You see what I mean. The machines didn’t need to go to war to defeat us, they just took away your user-id and there was no way back from that. You couldn’t create a new one unless you had a purpose, a job. Your user-id was used for everything-all sorts of payment, every kind of civil right, for ensuring your children could attend school as it turns out. Both parents need a user-id for your kids to be in school.
Terminator sounds like such a good idea. A fight back against the machines. A way for everybody to have a user-id. Is that what that movie was about. Trying to get a user-id. I just can’t understand how they made it a movie. You are either connected or not in our world. There is no other means of defining us, not race, not gender, not where you are from, just user-ids-connected or not connected. A slow creep of bureaucracy and algorithms. How did they make it a movie?
I do remember my Dad losing his user-id. That day is clear to me. I could see his sadness. I didn’t understand it. I do now. In defence of the machines, our own species has overseen the decline of quite a few others. I learned that at school. I went to school for a bit until Dad lost his user-id. I can read. My sibling can read too but Mum and Dad had to teach her. She learned on a device and has not quite got the hang of books yet. You can see when she sits there reading one -she is always pressing the side or the cover and wondering how it is that nothing happens. She reads anything she can get hold of though.
Sometimes we go near a rubbish dump and we sort through for whatever is useful, including books. Most of the really big refuse sites are owned by the mining companies who mine for well- anything really. We stick to the smaller dumps. Of course there are lots of brand new shiny products being made somewhere, but the metals to make those shiny things mostly now comes from the refuse of the past.
Sometimes we pass abandoned houses and we will raid for anything and everything. Mostly though they have been raided before and we are only taking scraps, plus there is only so much that can fit into our truck. My Dad and my Mum own the truck. We had a house before Dad lost his user-id. Our existence is precarious.
I remember a few things from before. I remember the last meal I had with my friend Alice. Her Mum took us to the diner and said we could order anything we wanted. So I did. I ordered and ate and ate and ate. I knew what was going to happen. It had happened to every other person on our street. One parent loses their user-id. You have to leave school. You lose the house. It is all very quick. We were lucky Dad did own his truck. So many had nowhere to go and if they could not get south soon enough for the winter, they died in the cold. You can see them everywhere. Bodies huddled and frozen on the side of the road. We take what we can from them too. Needs must.
My Dad is a very good truck driver. We have a trailer for the truck where we keep our stuff and where my Mum does her ‘work.’ There are still places that will sell us fuel in return for whatever we can give them. But those places are few and far between. Often we are stuck for days at a time. Most of our electrical stuff is run off solar and the world is covered in wi-fi, if you have a user-id. That’s how my Mum manages to work, although what she does is niche, she only appeals to men who aren’t into robots. They call them sapiophiles, although technically it is a reference to intelligence, it now means organic intelligence more broadly.
The roads are really forbidden to trucks that need a human driver. They are only open to the driverless ones. I don’t know when that happened. You need to have someone watching the network to know when you have been spotted by security so you can pull off quickly. Secondly the driver needs to be very good at predicting the traffic flow and the movement of driverless vehicles. My Dad is very good, sometimes he manages 2 kilometres or so without being spotted.
Once we are spotted we have to pull off or the ‘police’ will get us. When we are off road they don’t attempt to stop us or come near us. I don’t even think they can go off road. They are wholly mechanised and will simply disable a truck if it stays on the road. Or worse maybe. Maybe worse.
We would be lost without the truck. We would be headed south on foot. We hope that it will be better down south. That there will be other people who are not connected, who live like we do. We hope that we will be able to grow more stuff and go to school. Good schools in the south for the unconnected we have heard. Everybody we meet says it but I don’t know if its true. We don’t meet many anymore.
There’s no way of knowing what is or isn’t true without being truly connected. We use almost all the power we can generate for my Mums work. We have to keep her alive until one of us is old enough to take her user-id.
We need her to keep working. Its not an ideal job, but it is a job. I am not sure if that is what I will become or my sister will become when we get the user-id. Its all about markets, about economics, about opportunity. I am reading the Grapes of Wrath. This century, last century, the journey is the same, the words aren’t the same, the names are different. I haven’t got to the end. I wonder how it ends. I hope it is a happy ending.