Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Silence part 14: "The Business Man"

The Business Man

“Jack! How are you today, old sport?” Julius, Jack’s neighbor was out pacing the sidewalk again in his custom Valentino power suit, briefcase handle squeezed firmly by black gloved fingers. Eternally five minutes away from a 100th floor business meeting with corporate warlords and Saudi Arabian moguls, a meeting that would never come.

“Early day today. Lots of SNAFU at the office.” Jack winced. Julius Wagner’s was an apotheosis of the AI revolution tragedy story, the twenty first century death of a salesman. In ten years, Julius would be fossilized in a virtual museum exhibit, narrated by a neuromanced holograph of William H. Macy. “The white collar worker, one of 20th century American capitalism’s finest achievements. Here we see him during the throes of the early 21st century mass-extinction event, The Great Automation.” Julius was VP of marketing for Totech, one of Gnossis’ rival search company-turned-megaglomerates. A grey haired august veteran of 25 years, Julius had weathered the storms of corporate "right sizing" during the Great Recession of 2009, and the first wave of middle-management automation half a decade later. Till the CEOs discovered that statistical algorithm-based taste-prediction and creation along with other knowledge work automation, made Julius’ eight years of Harvard and twenty five years of experience obsolete. Two beautiful kids, 8 and 14, whom he'd no doubt kept in the dark, kept up the illusion of normalcy, until they'd realized their father was cracking. Until they'd realize that there was no hope, no promise of The Good Life, even with college, they would probably still wind up scrounging tooth and nail for the scraps doled out by the dwindling remains of government welfare, being chiseled away one 'austerity measure' at a time by the Plutocrat enclaves.

How did one explain the concept of hoplessness to a child? That their life would be one of bitter struggle for a grimly basic day-to-day survival, with no hope of ever achieving anything greater. No possibility of becoming an astronaut or a fireman or an invetor, because you are a useless human, outmoded by machines. You are not important, not a valuable member of society, not a unique and beautiful snowflake but just another purposeless parasitic nuisance, another mouth to feed, another widget of red on the balance sheet, another freeloading draining Deadweight. Your life would be forever on the cruel edge between begging and insurgency. In this light, perhaps insanity was the better option. Julius was just lucky his wife hadn’t filed for divorce after she discovered the fountain of youth, diamonds, Prada, and Carribean cruises would soon be drying up along with her husband’s high six figure salary, like so many others.

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Julius split a smile that could’ve sold a kitten-burning Humvee to an Olympia Treehugger, revealing an impervious wall of ivory teeth, bone-white from decades of nanite bleaching, now showing the first yellow-brown omens of decay. “I’ve got quite a full schedule today, myself. A big meeting with potential Tehran and Johannesburg partners, we really need to hit this one out of the park. Then it’s golfing with the Silverman and Barclay’s investment representatives in the afternoon, they need an extreme branding makeover after the fourth government bailout durig the alternative energy crash. I can pencil you in if you like, old sport.” Jack was asked each day, and each day Jack declined. The countries, corporations, and titles changed, but the armature of mad-libbed meetings and golf session remained the same. Like some fantasy football for has-been MBAs, drifting down into the trough of obsolesence on the other side of peak-humanity. Maybe Julius had had a schizophrenic break, maybe he was still there but just too scared to deal with the reality that his job had been taken over by a distributed Cloud intelligence, some unembodied nightmare spirit in cyberspace that he couldn’t even see. At least if you lost your primary care physician job to a robot doctor, you could attach your feelings of anger and hatred to a visual entity, instead of wallowing in a swamp of undirected Freudian hostility, slowly digesting yourself until nothing remained but a ball of bitter bile. Whatever it was, it wasn’t like he was alone. More than half the country had been let go too. Jack’s West-Coarst suburban street was slowly checkerboarding with black-windowed vacancies, like the gaps in Julius’ deteriorating photo-op smile.

“So Julius, you’re not going down to the layed off marketing sector demonstrations?”

Julius looked up with shocked disgust, as if Jack had just spat in his face. “Why would I even want to associate with those whining plebians, those children throwing tantrums just because they couldn’t hack it in the business world? If you were let go, it is because you deserved it. You do not have the right to ask that the rest of society to pay for your laziness and lack of skill. ‘You’ve got to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ a great man once said. I, meanwhile, have important business to attend to. Good day, Jackson.” Julius snorted, opened his briefcase, withdrawing a stack of white-papers and spreadsheets, the edges frayed and brown from constant handling, reshuffling; not far divorced from what his now archaic “businessman? niche once entailed. The old man armed a vintage Montblanc fountain pen, apparently marking corrections to his files. But Jack could see the papers were an illegible sphagetti-like mess of ink from countless futile revisions to a document which would obviously never see the bright fluorescent light of a corporate meeting.

“Right, see you, Julius.” Jack’s Xinjao Phasma steered itself out of the driveway, and drove Jack away.

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