THE CONDITION

Chris R-0151-3 Image by Christine Renney

Thomas was having a bad day. The bugs were everywhere, he was rife with them and he was writhing. He hated this – he knew how he looked. He had seen others like it, in a high level state and unable to control themselves and quite frankly he had thought it undignified.
No-one commented. They didn’t stop and stare. That had all stopped long ago. The jeering and the abuse, the low-level whispered disdain, the disbelief. Everyone suffered now and everyone understood. They were all too aware that tomorrow, or in just a few hours or merely minutes, it could/would be their turn.
Frantically trying not to scratch and claw at his body, Thomas was gesticulating wildly, Inwardly he was pulling away from himself and he wondered if he might be disappearing, moving in and out of the space he was occupying like an image on a screen, flashing on and off.
The more he thought about this the less outlandish it seemed. After all, the bugs weren’t real, they didn’t exist. Perhaps when he was suffering it wasn’t really him but a virtual incarnation somehow controlled by an external force.
There were so many theories about the cause of the condition it was impossible to keep up, to follow each and every train of thought. That the bugs were contained in the city was indisputable. Those out in the country didn’t suffer but despite this there had been no mass exodus. People had decided to stay and suffer, to live with it.
The media companies had been quick to defend against the idea that the bugs might be fallout from our digitalised addictions. They argued that life out in the sticks was just as immersive, that everyone, everywhere, had a tablet or a phone. But in the over-crowded city it was such an unholy mix. People constantly huddled over screens in an impenetrable clash. Thomas was convinced the bugs were the consequence of this, a digital flotsam as it were.
Thomas hadn’t ever suffered so badly. He had always managed somehow to cope but his levels hadn’t ever been this high. Always self-conscious of the writhing he was aware of just how desperately and manically he was squirming and gyrating but Thomas didn’t care how undignified it was or if anyone might be looking he just wanted it to stop.
And suddenly it did. It was almost as though someone had turned a switch and he was no longer there and no-one was watching or seemed to care.

THE FORUM

chris-r-0048-2 Image by Christine Renney

They have always wanted to take them from us. I don’t understand why. Perhaps it is because they can’t and this is also why they have never stopped trying. They could have cut out our tongues and rendered us insensate. The mutilation would have been quick and easy but it wouldn’t have worked. They couldn’t then, and still can’t now, remove the words, at least not with surgery or through violence.
The words inside us are like a virus. The most virulent of computer viruses and no-one is able to break it. Nevertheless, I often wonder what would happen if somehow they did. Could we still function? But once, of course, we did. In the time before we began to grunt and to nod and to point, first at each other and then at the sky. But this moment must have been so fleeting as to have been almost non-existent.

We all have our monitors. The notion we might be without them is inconceivable. We carry them with us wherever we go, brandishing them wherever we are, constantly checking the word count and reassuring ourselves.
Years ago a friend of mine put his monitor in his jacket pocket, unlocked. Throughout the course of the day, as he went about his business, rummaging for small change and his keys, he inadvertently punched in some words. Hours later, when he at last looked at his monitor and checked his count it had dropped dramatically. He had lost six words, a whole sentence wasted. He hadn’t used these words to search for something on the web, or to leave a message on one of his forums. He didn’t even know what the words had been. We surmised that they must have been short, one, two, three letters at most.
Anyhow, my friend tried to make light of it.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said, ‘I still have enough, if and when I need them I’ll still have enough.’
But I couldn’t help noticing he had upgraded his monitor. It was one of those early self-locking models. We all have them now of course but back then they were very expensive.

I can access five forums, which is a lot, especially nowadays but as long as I visit often enough, I don’t need to use a word and so I make the effort to keep them active. Whenever someone does key in words and looks at something on the web they always drag it across to share it and it isn’t too long before it is on all the forums and everyone can see it. New content trickles through slowly and it is always an event. No matter what it might be it is the subject of much verbal debate and conjecture. A pop video perhaps or a baseball game or some trashy tv show from yesteryear. Everything on the web is old, there are no up to the minute bulletins and no new pop songs. I suppose that most of what we share is superficial and insignificant. Perhaps that is why we all have aliases so that out there in the ether no-one knows who anyone else is.
News reports are shared infrequently but the repercussions are far greater. The coverage is always of terrorist attacks or hate crimes, of rebellions and uprisings and military coups, of political prisoners proclaiming from inside a stark prison cell or from some poorly lit courtroom. All of this happened long ago of course but people are still passionate and quickly enraged. This is the cause of division and violence often erupts and these outbursts, these incidents, are identical to those we watch on the forums.

There is very little of the written word on the forums. It is generally videos and photographs but mostly videos. There is the original accompanying text with every share, but this somehow doesn’t count and people rarely leave messages. It takes too many words to say something clever or funny, to write something thought provoking or meaningful.
There must be so much out there on the web, from magazines and newspapers, articles and essays, poems and stories and novels. Almost everything up until that point, up until it was stopped.
Just a few months ago somebody did drag a story across, a story by a once popular writer. Most people thought it pointless to share this work when it was still in print and readily available in libraries and bookshops.
We all wanted to find something within this story, to glean something from it. But it was just a story. A good one, yes, but one of many.