Escape Artists
July 26, 2017, 01:34:03 PM *
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
News: Meet the kappa and other strange beasts in the Podcastle Flash Fiction contest. Groups 9-11 are currently taking votes.
 
   Home   Help Search Login Register  
Pages: [1]
  Print  
Author Topic: EP498: Everyone Will Want One  (Read 3103 times)
eytanz
Moderator
*****
Posts: 5768



« on: July 07, 2015, 06:47:41 AM »

EP498: Everyone Will Want One

By Kelly Sandoval

Read by Erin Bardua

---

On Nancy’s thirteenth birthday, her father takes her to the restaurant he likes, the one with the wood paneling, the oversized chandeliers, and the menus in French. Around them, people talk in low voices but Nancy and her father eat their soup in silence. After the waiter takes the bowls away, her father sets a wrapped box the size of a toaster on the table.

She doesn’t open it, just smoothes down the ribbon and rearranges her silverware. The unsmiling waiter is watching her; she can feel it. She can feel that he doesn’t want her in his restaurant, opening her birthday present. It isn’t a birthday present sort of place, isn’t even a thirteen-year-old in her best dress kind of place. She tries to be very small in her chair.

“Go ahead,” demands her father. “Open it.”

He’s frowning and his frown is much closer than the waiter’s. Nancy picks at the bow, undoing the knot as best she can with her fresh manicure. Checking to make sure the waiter’s not looking, she picks up her knife and slides it under the tape, easing it loose without tearing the shiny paper.
The box inside has the logo of her father’s company on it. Nancy’s tangles her fingers together, stalling. She wants, very much, for it to be a toaster.

“Hurry up,” says her father.

She wants to fold the paper into a crisp square or turn it into a giant origami swan. She wants to pretend that is the present, a sheet of white wrapping paper. Her father clears his throat and she cringes. The box isn’t taped and she tugs it open. Inside, there’s a layer of packing foam, which she picks through, not letting any spill on the table, until her fingers meet fur. The thing in the box is soft, cold, and the size of her two closed fists. She traces the shape of it, four feet, a tail, ears pointed alertly upward.

When, a minute later, she gets it free of the box and shakes the last of the packing foam from its fur, she sees it has the shape of a kitten. Its fur is black and silver, with patterns that look nothing like a real cat’s, all loops and whirling, dizzy spirals. It looks like a synth-pet. They’re popular at her school and her father’s company does make them. But Nancy has a kitten, a dog, and a tiny jeweled unicorn at home. He wouldn’t give her another.

“Thank you,” she says, setting it beside her bread plate. “What is it?”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
Logged
sibtrag
Extern
*
Posts: 2


« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2015, 07:35:04 AM »

And when everyone gets one...what next?  A "globally optimized" social network like in the brochure?  Dizzying oscillations?  Or just a community where everyone is isolated from each other?
Logged
Captain (none given)
Extern
*
Posts: 16

Activate Ridiculosity Drive


« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2015, 09:22:31 PM »

I need to start by saying that the story was well done, it is a solid piece of work. That being said, holy crap this story pissed me off! I became so angry as I heard the synth sank it's metaphorical claws in, partly because of the loss of agency, and partly because of how being a loser in high school hits home. I hate remembering high school. But worse than all of that is... I would have loved to have had one of these. Granted, being a guy in an all guy high school would have made social politics so much easier to deal with, but a soul-crushing machine that teaches you to be included based on non-humanized statistics of "success"... That is true horror (I vote to have this story included at Pseudopod.)

Looking back, I'm so glad to have been more estranged in high school. I think that it taught me to be more willing to let go of ego and be more appreciative of my friends. And I am so relieved that that is how the story ends. Nancy understands the value of true relationships, human relationships. I would have seriously asked that this be passed along to Pseudopod if she had rejected the reprogramming and went back to her zombified "fitting in" that would have ruined her life further.

Unimportant sidenote: it's stories like this that remind me of how fascinated neuropsychobiology is.
Logged

"The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart." -- Maya Angelou
adrianh
Hipparch
******
Posts: 734



WWW
« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2015, 03:14:08 AM »

I would have seriously asked that this be passed along to Pseudopod if she had rejected the reprogramming and went back to her zombified "fitting in" that would have ruined her life further.

I think I might have preferred that ending actually. I'm not against happy endings (honest :-) but the pleasant resolution seemed to come a little bit too easy considering all that had come before. Both the protaganist's friend's forgiveness, and the reprogramming of EvilCat. But possibly I am an exceptionally grumpy person.
Logged
Ariadnes-thread
Palmer
**
Posts: 32


« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2015, 02:52:30 AM »

Wow, this story. Wow. I loved it, and it was horrifying, and creepy, and really resonated with my past as an awkward bullied kid. Like Captain, I probably would have been thrilled to have one of these at age 13, and it would definitely have ruined my life. I loved this story's commentary on how the "solutions" given to kids who are even bullied can often involve just internalizing that bullying, and making yours smaller and smaller to fit into other people's standards. I really am having trouble articulating the resonances of the story beyond that (I'll leave it for you to decide whether that's because I just found the story that powerful, or because my reimager hasn't yet told me what to say). But I just wanted to register my "wow".

(P.S. Along similar lines to Mur's outro, I just wanted to point out that my iPhone autocorrected "reimager" to "teenager" and I found that particularly fitting.)
Logged
HeartSailor
Palmer
**
Posts: 47



WWW
« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2015, 09:22:48 PM »

Wow!

I have to agree with the previous posts that feel that this contains a bit of horror.  But truthfully the whole "Social Media" thing creeps me out a little bit.  I'm an introvert, and like most of what goes on between my ears to stay that way.  Yet I feel my self drawn toward this bright light of social media like a moth to a flame.  Hey, I'm typing away on my PC - feels really introverty- but it's not.  

The protagonist, Nancy, is clearly an introvert.  She lives well inside of herself, and ideally does not seem to "need" her father to do anything other than simply not harass her.  Then comes Kitty.  Kitty, the toy designed by the extrovert from hell.  Takes over her life and runs with it.  That in and of itself is horrifying.  What "values" are programmed into Kitty?  Is there a committee of marketing executives deciding what the programming priorities should be for Kitty? How can profits be maximized?

Reality check- what do we really give up when we join FB, Tweeter, etc?  How can profits be maximized?
« Last Edit: July 13, 2015, 09:29:35 PM by HeartSailor » Logged

What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.  Thomas Merton
awfulhorrid
Extern
*
Posts: 11


Woof!


WWW
« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2015, 08:47:33 AM »

I think I might have preferred that ending actually. I'm not against happy endings (honest :-) but the pleasant resolution seemed to come a little bit too easy considering all that had come before.

I don't think this was the final end of this story, although perhaps Nancy won't let the Reimager lead her quite so easily ... hopefully, anyway. She certainly seemed to be trying to set parameters on it before giving it access to her social network, but the cynical side of me wonders if it'll help.

What "values" are programmed into Kitty?  Is there a committee of marketing executives deciding what the programming priorities should be for Kitty? How can profits be maximized?

... and that's were the horror aspects come into play for me. With the current battle over user's rights to control over their devices, I could easily see something like this allowing very few changes from the user. In the case of this story, it's compounded by the device being a prototype and by the user being a minor. The type-A personality father here just doesn't strike me as the type that would allow mere users, let alone his daughter, being allowed to set strong restrictions on the operations of this device. After all, the Reimager is only doing these things for their own good, right?
Logged

I strongly support the right to be different!
Equality != Liberty
Do you need me to give the Linux / Creative Commons / FOSS lecture?
Fenrix
Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
EA Staff
*****
Posts: 3544


Have you found the Yellow Sign?


« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2015, 09:23:20 AM »

I need to start by saying that the story was well done, it is a solid piece of work. That being said, holy crap this story pissed me off! I became so angry as I heard the synth sank it's metaphorical claws in, partly because of the loss of agency, and partly because of how being a loser in high school hits home. I hate remembering high school. But worse than all of that is... I would have loved to have had one of these. Granted, being a guy in an all guy high school would have made social politics so much easier to deal with, but a soul-crushing machine that teaches you to be included based on non-humanized statistics of "success"... That is true horror (I vote to have this story included at Pseudopod.)

Looking back, I'm so glad to have been more estranged in high school. I think that it taught me to be more willing to let go of ego and be more appreciative of my friends. And I am so relieved that that is how the story ends. Nancy understands the value of true relationships, human relationships. I would have seriously asked that this be passed along to Pseudopod if she had rejected the reprogramming and went back to her zombified "fitting in" that would have ruined her life further.


You should totally bump this thread with your suggestion: http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=6345.0

I would recommend that anyone who enjoyed the horror of this should make sure to check out Eugie Foster's phenomenal Oranges, Lemons, and Thou Beside Me.
Logged

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
slic
Hipparch
******
Posts: 727


Stephen Lumini


« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2015, 03:55:25 PM »

And when everyone gets one...what next?  A "globally optimized" social network like in the brochure?  Dizzying oscillations?  Or just a community where everyone is isolated from each other?
I read the title to be that everyone wants to fit in, which is what consider EvilCat's main programming to be.  In terms of the profit motive, it was to sell models (with all the updates and whatnot)

At the beginning, I was annoyed but the thrust of the story (or rather what I thought the thrust was), in the end, I can to realize this is the type of story I like best - an view of our society through an alternate reality.

Personally, I consider nearly all tech that tries to be helpful to be more annoying - auto-correction being the least of the devils.  EvilCat is a great extension of the best kind. Of course you want to make you're child's life easier, but as a parent your job is to make their life fulfilling.  Being bullied and picked on at school made me the man I am today; it colours my behaviour towards others even today.  And I know I would not have been strong enough as a teenager to turn down a reimager, just as I know I would be a weaker, lesser man now if I had had one.  To build strength you need to lift heavy weights, the challenge is making sure it's never too much and that you get help when it is.

Oh and the outro quote - not in my experience, they are just more difficult to manage, but equally fulfilling.




I felt the ending had to be that tidy otherwise the story would have gone on too long.
Logged
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 8655



WWW
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2015, 12:37:13 PM »

Oh, this story made me so mad.  In a good way.  I felt really bad for her.  I think it's pretty likely that she is leaning toward the autistic side of the spectrum and her dad has decided he's going to use his money and influence to fix her brain that he considers defective.  Rather than talking to her, trying to understand how she interacts with the world, and trying to help find a place in the world she's comfortable in. Of course that latter would be a lot of work, so he just throws money at the problem and then walks away, as he is apparently accustomed to doing, wiping his hands clean of the "problem" as "solved".  Ugh.

I think that anyone who had social issues with high school can relate to this on some level (and no wonder, because most of high school consists of the most socially toxic sludge that one can imagine), but people with autism most of all.  What we all wouldn't have given to have something to just make everything go okay, to not be horrible, to help us make friends and find someone to date.  And turning us all into frustrated psychologically damaged puppets as a result.  Something like this critter would be hard to get rid of because it's a social drug.  Stop using it, big time withdrawal, friends lost and anxiety increased, keep using it and even if there are clearly bad consequences you can't see those consequences clearly through the euphoria of finally getting that social prowess you have always deserved.  ( I have not been diagnosed as autistic, but judging by the markers I'm kindof straddling the line)

My guess is that this thing will never get mass-marketed, because it's going to completely break down when it has to compete against other critter-bots with similar capabilities.  They're going to be playing tug of war with each other with their human hosts as the rope, and some poor kids going to snap and maybe murder somebody or commit suicide from the constant psychological strain.  Maybe they'll predict that while they're still prototyping and no one will really get hurt, but if they actually released this I think people would start dying and it would get recalled.




Regarding the ending:

I'm really quite surprised that multiple people have thought that the ending was tidy or happy.  The main arc of the story consisted of her coming to the realization that she didn't like the person this tool had made her become, someone who she really wasn't--that realization is certainly happy, self-understanding is a powerful thing.  But what does she do?  She decides that, because it made her into someone she didn't like, she would coerce it into making her into someone else completely different.  Someone who she really isn't. 

Theoretically, maybe, this attempt at programming will result in her being comfortable in her own skin and able to interact with her peers in positive and healthy ways.  I don't really think that's going to happen though.  Certain parts of the critter must be hardwired at a level she can't touch with simple spoken instructions.  And she's no programmer, so who's to say her instructions are going to be the ones to get her what she wants?  Computers always do what their instructions say, even if that's not what the programmer intended--and unintended consequences and bugs and things take up a lot of a programmers time trying to sort out.  Why would someone without debugging experience, whose life is being directly altered by the program in question, have any better luck?  I can't help but feel this is going to go horribly horribly wrong in some entirely different way.  Maybe next time she'll be able to pull out of the spiral again, maybe next time she'll realize this is a bad idea and smash the thing with a hammer, maybe next time and the time after that she'll iterate closer to a desirable outcome (I think that's unlikely as she's basically trying to optimize the solution to a problem she doesn't understand without understanding the mechanics of the system entirely).

So, yeah, my vote is that the ending is not tidy, and not happy.  Not bleak, exactly, because her doom may yet be avoidable, but very dark nonetheless as long as she pursues a route of self-reprogramming.

Not complaining about the ending.  It's internally consistent, thematically appropriate, and compelling.  I just don't think it's happy or tidy.
Logged
SF.Fangirl
Peltast
***
Posts: 145


« Reply #10 on: July 26, 2015, 03:16:04 PM »

Liked it!

I'm a bit concerned with the implication of the title, "Everyone Will Want One;" although, if everyone had one or even everyone knew what they were I doubt that evil cat's plan would have been successful.  So in that way, the title doesn't match up with the story.  If the mean girls knew that Nancy was being coached they would have only ostracized her more.

I found what Nancy went through - being bullied by evil cat - horrifying, and I didn't really think that the ending was happy because I don't see how what Nancy said to evil Cat will make enough of a difference to override it's primary programming.  It was optimistic because Nancy was finally thinking for herself, but I think she'll need to start ignoring evil cat to be anything like happy.
Logged
Windup
Hipparch
******
Posts: 1226



« Reply #11 on: July 26, 2015, 07:57:35 PM »

This one worked for me really, really well. I heard it mainly as a dystopian warning about where the trends of technology-enable and "success-oriented" parenting are taking us, and asking us if we like what we see. Do we want to produce good little competitors, primed for the current economy? Or do we want to produce decent human beings?

I also loved the ending. "Reprogramming your demon" is definitely not an outcome I anticipated.  Good job, all around. The narration worked well, too.

One thing I did wonder about is what would happen once these things become common.  Presumably, they would start to sabotage each other as they instructed their owners to jockey for position, and anticipate the response of other reimagers. I can anticipate some really freaky emergent properties coming out of the system as the reimagers interact. ("We're going to maneuver Dad into this project at work so he has to be reassigned to another location because this geographical space does not present optimal conditions for your development." Or something like that.) That sort of "takeover by the servants" scenario might make for an interesting follow-up story.
Logged

"My whole job is in the space between 'should be' and 'is.' It's a big space."
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 8655



WWW
« Reply #12 on: July 27, 2015, 11:48:02 AM »

I'm a bit concerned with the implication of the title, "Everyone Will Want One;" although, if everyone had one or even everyone knew what they were I doubt that evil cat's plan would have been successful.  So in that way, the title doesn't match up with the story.  If the mean girls knew that Nancy was being coached they would have only ostracized her more.

I don't think the title was meant to imply that literally everyone would actually want one--it's just lifting a bit of common marketing-speak to lend that marketing-speak a dire new tone.  I think that this thing is only as effective as it is in isolation as a prototype.  a whole populace full of them would end up breaking into chaos.  Hopefully they will realize this before going to market.

One thing I did wonder about is what would happen once these things become common.  Presumably, they would start to sabotage each other as they instructed their owners to jockey for position, and anticipate the response of other reimagers. I can anticipate some really freaky emergent properties coming out of the system as the reimagers interact. ("We're going to maneuver Dad into this project at work so he has to be reassigned to another location because this geographical space does not present optimal conditions for your development." Or something like that.) That sort of "takeover by the servants" scenario might make for an interesting follow-up story.

There are all kinds of interesting ways a followup story could go.  I think the main differentiator between what kind of world this story would result in, should the product go to market, is whether the reimagers are capable of collusion with each other--"capable" as in "this is a strategy that a reimager is capable of attempting", it is obviously capable in the sense of having the necessary connection to do it. 

If they can collude, then I'd expect them to do so selectively.  If one person rises too much in popularity, then a network of other reimagers would collude to tear that person down while also raising the status of their own users.  Once the person is torn down, then the incentive to keep the chaos balanced within that smaller network will have been removed and someone will rise to the top and become the new target of a network of colluding reimagers.  I'm guessing that at this stage, the reimagers will start collecting this data and realizing that the optimal strategy for their users is not social heights, but at a social plateau somewhat below the heights--anyone who rises to the heights is doomed to a meteoric fall.  Then you'll probably end up with a generation of kids who are competing to be the most mediocre and anyone who, kind of like in that Escape Pod story "Valedictorian", and anyone who ekes an inch above the rest is torn down.  When the adult world starts to notice this trend, maybe it will become a news story expose "Why Generation Theta is Going to Be the Worst at Everything" and maybe at that point some kind of social movement will begin to scrap the reimager technology, and maybe it will be too late, these kids never learned to operate without the help of their reimager, so taking it away just leaves them all panicking and unable to cope with anything.

If they can't collude then I'd just expect the toxic environment of high school to become even more toxic but essentially the same.  Those able to follow instructions of their reimagers would become the popular kids, and those who don't become the outcasts.  The only difference is that kids without reimagers would always be outcasts, no matter whether their social tendencies would've made them popular kids without the technology.  From a company point of view this would make them very successful, because there would no doubt be many many studies that proved that kids with reimagers become "more successful" people, while glossing over the fact that the reason for this isn't because reimagers make their users more successful per se, it's just that the reimagers in the field are more effective at sabotaging the lives of people without reimagers.
Logged
Devoted135
Hipparch
******
Posts: 1242



« Reply #13 on: July 31, 2015, 09:32:43 PM »

What a fantastically creepy story! When it ended I hoped that she would be successful in reprogramming her cat, but in reality that was probably a pipe dream. I too am very curious about the underlying programming: who researched the inner workings of the popular kids' cliques? Who determined the best way to make friends was to cut off others? Not to mention keeping up with national and local trends in fashion, slang, etc. It's a big job!
Logged
slic
Hipparch
******
Posts: 727


Stephen Lumini


« Reply #14 on: August 02, 2015, 06:08:30 PM »

I'm a bit concerned with the implication of the title, "Everyone Will Want One;" although, if everyone had one or even everyone knew what they were I doubt that evil cat's plan would have been successful.  So in that way, the title doesn't match up with the story.  If the mean girls knew that Nancy was being coached they would have only ostracized her more.

I don't think the title was meant to imply that literally everyone would actually want one--it's just lifting a bit of common marketing-speak to lend that marketing-speak a dire new tone.  I think that this thing is only as effective as it is in isolation as a prototype.  a whole populace full of them would end up breaking into chaos.  Hopefully they will realize this before going to market.

I disagree wholeheartedly.  I could see these being the new smartphone.  The advantage in business is huge. EvilCat provided Nancy a huge advantage, that she didn't like the act she had to put on was a reflection of her personality.  Many aspects of business are social - this would help any salesman against his competitors, this could help get you the promotion you wanted.  I know lots of kissasses that act that way without prompting, they would follow EvilCat directions fervently.  Yes indeed, everyone will want one!
Logged
BoojumsRCool
Palmer
**
Posts: 27



WWW
« Reply #15 on: August 08, 2015, 06:01:42 PM »

I will say that I almost couldn't finish this story, not because it was badly written but for just the opposite reason. I very much wanted to listen but knew I would squirm the entire time and it was almost too much, almost. I was happy that I stuck with it, thank you.
Logged

Boojums ARE cool!
hardware
Matross
****
Posts: 192



« Reply #16 on: August 25, 2015, 09:42:54 AM »

Just preaching with the chorus here. Social life as an evolutionary game-theoretical problem to be solved by cute critters/social strategists - this is brilliant dark satire of a bunch of technological and social trends.
Logged
Tanyuu
Extern
*
Posts: 1


« Reply #17 on: September 20, 2015, 03:46:55 PM »

I'm still listening to the story (I have a major backlog on my podcast list, haha), so I can't quite comment on the ending yet.

However, in getting into it, I felt I just had to register on on the forums here, just so I could applaud the author. This was one of those sci-fi stories where the setup sets up a powerful analogy for the reader. Like a lot of people who've commented, the main character sounded a lot like I was in middle school.

Like Unblinking, I saw a lot of traits that are common with ASM in the main character, and it presented a really nice analogy for a common 'tactic' a lot of more socially-focused people with ASM tend to do: we become social chameleons, for better or worse. A lot of the logic and words the critterbot thing said were the sorts of things that ran through my own preteen mind (this was mid-90's, so no facebook and the like, thank god).

There was that same sort of mental struggle, too. Social norms among any group of preteens, no matter how their brains were wired, were hardly anything close to what would be reflected in the 'real world', and we didn't have the experience our adult selves would have to say 'this is messed up'. Ironically, it was through the internet (haha dial-up) in those days that I often felt normal, which sort of contrasts with how I often comment nowadays about how glad I was that places like facebook didn't exist when I was younger. At least, when the school day ended, I could recover.

While I see characteristics of ASM in the main character, I'm incredibly glad the author hasn't so far tried to fit her into a box or diagnosis, since her experience could apply to just about anyone who had trouble in the social arena while growing up. That's the real power of the story right there, and why I think it made a lot of us squirm.
Logged
matweller
EA Staff
*****
Posts: 670



WWW
« Reply #18 on: September 23, 2015, 03:54:18 PM »

I thought of this story while listening to this episode of Note to Self. It's about a real life profile kitten, but it's a person. Wink
http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-to-write-better-dating-profile/
Logged
CryptoMe
Hipparch
******
Posts: 842



« Reply #19 on: April 07, 2017, 01:14:48 PM »

Like most previous posters, I really enjoyed this story and found it appropriately creepy. On the other hand, I didn't mind the ending; I feel that an intelligent person would always try to figure out how best to use the tools they have around them. But some part of me is still screaming, "kill it, kill the kitty, it's evil!!" Wink
Logged
Pages: [1]
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.21 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!