The Fall

It happens every fall. I start to lose my ability to speak articulately. It takes a little while for me to notice, but once it’s there — once I find myself compromising to increasingly frantic hand gesturing — there’s no denying it.

Normally I’m quite coherent. In fact, I’ve received many compliments on how well-spoken I am. But in the fall, something happens. It’s as though my brain’s limbs shake off their leaves of eloquence. I’ll start a sentence knowing on what word and with how much severity I’ll screw it up. Sometimes my attempts at talking will result in prattling stutters — to the extent that I’ll hope the person I’m speaking with interrupts me out of enthusiastic understanding or pity.

As of yet, nobody has commented on it. Nobody seems to be aware of the seasonality of my speech impediment. But as sure as the shortening of days, my otherwise humbled grandiloquence is draped, for a few weeks, with a thick fog.

Perhaps there’s a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. It would be naive to assume that the changing of the seasons, the pull of the moon, the lapping of the sun, all have nothing to do with how our brains work. Anyone who has spent time outside on a mostly cloudy day will notice how their mood is instantly lifted when the sun breaks through a blue patch. What could be the explanation? My body adjusting for winter? Allergies? A deeply-rooted stress trigger that occurs this time of the year?

Seasons never seem to match their culturally-imposed expectations. For example, Christmas typically lands within a week of fall ending. The days start getting shorter in June. Ski resorts will open their scantily-clad slopes in November only to close them mid-April, cutting off visitors from some of the highest snow base accumulations to occur all season. Nebraskans proclaim their four seasons as: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Construction.

“A tall Blonde Roast, please.”

The first words I had spoken all day. I always found delight in this. Knowing that, like Lewis Carroll, I had likely “believed as many as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” and still spoken to no one.

“Sorry? Uhhh, yes. Sprot of espess…haha, ss — shot of espresso, please.”

The barista smiled warmly. Everyone has those moments. Even if they last a lifetime.

I paid for my coffee, tossing a bit more into the tip jar than I normally would, and stepped towards the coffeehouse’s side window. Outside the world was dying. It was beautiful. Trees displayed their finest shades of crimson, gold, and bister. The morning’s brisk warmth still whispered nostalgic memories of summer. Women’s fashion was changing, again perhaps prematurely to seasonal assumption.

“Tom!” That was fast. They’re always fast here. I love this little coffeeshop.

A buddy of mine from Italy had remarked on the ironic switch in pace when it came to coffee in America. “Americans love to eat quickly,” Andrea had stated, “but when it comes to coffee, they sit in Starbucks and enjoy their drink and use free wifi and take their time. In Italy, it’s the opposite. We eat very slowly to enjoy the food, but with coffee we take our shot of espresso in the morning and get on our way.” The culture of consumption. Maybe Americans would eat more slowly if everything wasn’t so deliciously deep fried. We’re hardwired to gorge ourselves on that sugary salty shit.

Maybe I should learn a new language, I thought intently as I walked back to my car. Maybe that would help with this speech thing.

When I arrived at the office, I was met with a fire drill. Apparently, our communications department had failed to communicate. At PufferPhish, we provide cyber security services to at-risk companies — ’at-risk‘ being a term we refer to around the office in tongue-in-cheek fashion, since any company that operates its transactions online in some capacity is, by virtue, at-risk. The only clientele we couldn’t provide service to would be drug dealers and farmer’s market stands. But even those populations are starting to use digital payment methods.

What the communications department had failed to communicate was the hour lapse between 10–11 p.m. EST that our engineers would be using to undergo an apparently much-needed software update. To allow our engineers time to reprogram all of our client’s web security, PufferPhish would be momentarily handing the reigns to one of our contract firms, Chasmatic, to cover our back as we underwent updates and bug fixes (this last part was only known internally).

Prior to this hour window, our clientele should have been gently notified that they may expect to experience slightly delayed transactions and/or slower website speeds — a small price to pay for a secured connection.

An hour of lapsed time was all our engineers would need to update each client’s code to patch some potential holes. We try to make it sound like a small, regular maintenance-style ask, but for a cyber security firm that earns its reputation on reliability, this is the equivalent of an on-duty British guard asking for a bathroom break.

Part of the beauty of PufferPhish is our unique security approach for each of our clients. Whereas many of our competitors have developed one overarching code with small variants that ‘custom’ service each client, we develop entirely new, obscure forms of protection for every one of our clients specifically. It doesn’t matter how small your operation is. We’re going to rewrite a fresh, obscure, and most likely unbreachable security system that will protect your website, your e-commerce transactions, and your business.

We even send our software developers to burning man each year to help inspire them to imagine new themes and concepts for cyber security networks. If you don’t think drug-induced confusion can further professional development, you were either too young in the 60’s or too old in the 90’s. Maybe you were both.

Even still, hacking happens. It’s a reality. Some hotshot 15-year-old Russian internet sensation comes about every so often. Sometimes it’s a North Korean official. How the fuck these oppressed, diplomatically disconnected, and otherwise economically devastated countries are consistently spawning such masterful hacking prodigies, I’ve no idea.

That hacking does happen is a reality we’re realistic with our clients about. If they didn’t understand it, they wouldn’t be coming to us and saying, “just do your best.”

“You asked to see me, Tom?”

“Hi Amy, yes. Good morning. Have a seat.”

Amy is our Director of Communications. She’s a tall, gangly young woman (had she mentioned her birthday was next month?) with a somewhat downturned look to her mouth and eyes. If I were a cruel man, I could say she had a bit of a fish face. But I won’t say that. Instead, I’ll say that her face had an appearance that seemed to be well-suited for shameful occasions like this. She already knew the extent of her mistake. Through her fleeting eyes, I could see her bruised ego. She’d been beating on it all morning.

“Expuhlain to me what hehpenned.”

“So…Our e-mail correspondence to our client listing never went out.”

“Was it scheduled to be sent out?”

“Yes, I had scheduled it last Friday before leaving work. I went back in Vertical Response to make a copy edit over the weekend and then rescheduled. I think that might have been what prevented it from going out.”

“Ok, so thisis–this isan issue with Vertical Response? Do we need to reach outto thehm?”

“I think it has more to do with the change I made. I assumed it would still be sent when I saved changes, but obviously that didn’t happen. I’m willing to say it’s human error on my behalf.”

“Ok. You’ve probly heard about what cl…what our clients are feeling. How they’re feeling. I…I know you understand the imp — imprtance of this, so I don’t need to lecture you on how, you know, you h — you know what needs tobe done moving forward. But this can’t happen again. Ok?”

“Absolutely. It won’t. I apologize for this happening at all.”

“Thank you.”

Poor girl. She probably assumed I was stammering out of bottled anger. I felt afraid of myself for her.

Figures. This epitomized perfectly what was going on in the rest of the world. Somehow, someway, our engineers were able to push through the night to entirely reenforce the javascript for 46 of our clients’ networks. Yet a simple message was butchered because of a quick communications snafu. This must be why war has historically been a more accessible option to settling tensions over diplomacy and dialogue. What did Einstein say? Something about our technology outdoing our humanity. Yeah. That ship sailed long ago. With Columbus in it.

Amy won’t be getting canned over this blip, but there’s still something to be said for how fickle the age of digital has made our livelihood. It’s common knowledge that an employee’s ass can be on the line over a mistaken ‘reply all.’ Our hands have taken the place of our mouths. We have five tongues to each limb. They can be much more calculated, more evil, and quicker to draw than our mouths ever were — and they’re drunk with this newfound power.

Our lives and communicative efforts have grown simultaneously closer and farther than ever. Our head is in the cloud; our vocal cords are in our thumbs. Society’s become like a Picasso painting.

My phone fulfills anything Maslow could have guessed I’d ever need. Apps to bring us food. Apps to entertain. Apps to fall in love.

Google came to pay us a visit last month. They brought data. Like a pimply prom date offering a magnificent corsage. Their data also came with context. Three years of the average smartphone user’s life is spent on their device. The majority of conversations today are conducted through mobile apps.

This all happened so quickly.

I take another sip of coffee, estimating how long until I’ll have to shit. I stand up, sit down, and wiggle my fingers on my desk, preparing to machete through the forest of emails that had accumulated over the weekend. I look out the window, as I do every day. There’s a squirrel couple chasing each other. I wonder what acorn they’re bickering over, or if mating is on the mind.

Three years of our lives on smartphones.

But how many would I spend looking out the window?

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