Neon Century Redux

Below is a short story by @pythagorx, lightly edited for this venue.

Photo by Elentir.

The system beeped that it was ready. Thousands of employee hours, including considerable user testing, had gone into creating that solitary six-second alert. Initial tests showed the sound reminded consumers of the familiar tone of a microwave oven — not the most comforting comparison for a machine with a direct neural interface.

Of course there had been issues in product development: sensory feedback loops, input misconfigurations, noise bleed from one input to the other, and so forth. There had been no deaths during the customer beta; the lawyers had wisely used a specific definition for medical death in the contracts. Grieving parents whose children were kept physically alive by machines, although nothing was going on upstairs, had signed non-disclosures and hefty payouts were made to them by the consortium of media and network companies backing the new technology.

Since information about the earliest prototypes, and a few missteps, had leaked, those who decried the technology were using phrases like “Why cook when you can look?!” or “Screen versus scream.” Both slogans offered a weak argument, contrasting ocular and haptic technology with the emerging technology that provided full environmental simulation offered in neural-linked virtual reality.

Consumer surveys showed the protests were actually garnering positive publicity for the new technology. Market segments from teen to forty found it a new medium, not in competition with the screen experience, although 72% indicated they felt it would replace the use of old technology. The protesters might as well have been arguing against using paper because stone tablets were so much harder to burn.

Edits of a practically ancient anti-drug video spread virally. “This is your brain,” a young woman says, displaying an egg in her grasp. “And this is your brain on Neon,’’ she states, with a convincing audio overdub, as she proceeds to destroy a kitchen. The advert was created by the agency promoting the use of the tech. Had they distributed the piece commercially, the law would have required a “Paid for by the Neon Coalition” tag at the end. Instead the untagged file found its way via a series of untraceable proxy connections to a repository known to be used by the Luddite protesters. Someone discovered it there, assumed one of their own had made it, and spread it through their video distribution vehicles.

The hotly contested marketing name for the network itself, Neon, was a derivative of “neural online interface”. Many would have preferred a simpler concept to promote the technology, but Neon captured the essence of the senior management’s exposure to 1980s cyberpunk literature and movies. The files and video had been long ago transferred to digital format, but it had been long enough that those files had to be converted for modern use. The name was esoteric, vague, and seemed to fit perfectly with the sense of style and design from that bygone era.

Neon, lighting the way into the future — again — for the first time.

Exolymph is a cyberpunk newsletter. The archives are on Medium. There’s a Facebook page and a Pinterest board. Your friendly host is on Twitter as herself. @pythagorx wrote this story.