Before the collapse things were generally OK.
People were living longer, healthier, happier lives. At least, the people who could afford a good diet. The people who didn’t suffer the strangling opioid epidemic claiming young lives in bar bathrooms, basement bedrooms, and in parked cars. The people that were living longer and healthier lives hadn’t been shot in the rhythmic school massacres or within the inner cities. They didn’t live in areas affected by lead in the water or where the power hadn’t been restored since the hurricane. The lucky ones were the ones who hadn’t been taxi drivers, pharmacists, law clerks, or low-level analysts. People were living longer, happier, healthier lives if they had wealth enough to afford it.
There were TVs in nearly every household and the country worried about obesity more than famine. There were many new shows. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for on TV there was an abundance of content online.
Most content wasn’t very stimulating.
Much of the top-rated content on the internet was good for clicking through, for a cheap laugh, shrug of the shoulders, or whisper of admiration. There was a dog who saved a three-year-old girl by staying by her side overnight in the wilderness. There were autonomous cars that killed pedestrians, people who fought back against would-be robbers, food that popped out of the frame almost so you could taste it. The content that rose to the top of forums and popular websites would keep you satisfied enough so you’d keep scrolling, keep clicking the next link.
AI salaries were reaching skyscraper heights.
Reports attempted to one-up each other with values higher and higher on the pay-scale. Three-hundred thousand, half a million with significant shares in the startup! One million dollars in compensation for the lead researcher! They exclaimed. Expectations were high that nearly every problem could be overcome with a dash of AI. The problems that it might cause were little concern, the economists reassured. Capital poured into automation and hopes into the future.
Social media warehouses that had been lambasted by politicians looking for a spotlight continued on with their regularly scheduled data collection.
They provided a free service, after all.
The information they maintained was still regularly bought and sold by companies, governments, and individuals whose intentions were not at all clear. Terms of service that had been updated after bending to social pressure were then updated again. Patents were filed that binned, classified, and determined political information and socioeconomic status. These corporations new more about some individuals then the people knew themselves. Reports surfaced of morally outraged researchers transferring to different departments. Whispers spread but the program rolled on.
Peoples lives and deaths changed with the abundant internet.
The dead lived on in profile pages that weren’t updated. Though every once in a while a spouse, family member, mistress, or friend would stop by and post a remembrance. On other social media, it became increasingly difficult to tell the difference between humans and non-humans.
There was always a chance that the person you were talking to wasn’t really a person at all.
There were many thousands of algorithms talking to people to gain more insight into a demographic. There were experiments to influence for political purposes, to sell washing machines and light bulbs, to get someone to click a link. Algorithms were created to learn how to flirt, to make a joke, and write poetry. Other bots were constructed to mimic art and music and to be creative. It wasn’t uncommon for bots to talk amongst themselves. This phenomenon was first observed in the financial markets when a flash crash or two was caused by one algorithm attempting to outcompete the other. No one really knew how often it was occurring; one bot attempting to flirt while the other shot back pity haikus in the style of Ezra Pound.
And then there were other bots in the darker regions whose purpose was unclear. They rarely spoke to anyone, preferring to sit back and watch. They might just have been built to see just how far someone could be pushed before…
Some believed that problems encountered on this plane might be worked out in other realities. By fusing the common reality of everyday life with the new promised realities of information humanity might work out some of our most entrenched problems. Being privy to the vast sum of human knowledge at every minute of every day would certainly open new possibilities.
Others just wanted another place to escape.
As this technology spread, it became less obvious who was plugged into it. For those using the technology often enough it became harder to tell the difference between when it was off and when it was on. A flash in ones peripheral vision could indicate they were plugged into that other reality. But it was hard to be sure.
Before the collapse, to see the undoing you just needed to look a little closer.
Questions were raised about the undeserving poor. Work requirements were implemented for families on EBT (the phrase food stamps had fallen out of favor some time ago) and for other government assistance programs. Companies asked whether they should pay their interns or not. Social workers, teachers, and local bureaucrats found themselves slipping from comfortable middle incomes into suffocating lower ones.
Meanwhile, the top three richest Americans owned more wealth than the bottom half. Men existed who made more in an hour than a working family could in a year.
Before the collapse, the multi-faceted tears in society were apparent to those looking for them. But they were too many and too small to weave the thing back together. By the time the rest had noticed it was too late to avoid the collapse.