Jakob’s eyes blinked repeatedly as he adjusted to the increasingly bright glow that encased him in the square room. He looked at the wall in front of him and took in the view. Lush green trees stretched as far as his eyes could see and his nostrils were invigorated by the slight hint of evergreen in the air.
“Ocean”, he said out loud.
With that, his view changed to a calm and endless ocean, the smell of evergreen transitioning into one of seasalt. Jakob had never seen an ocean in person, though he loved to imagine what it would be like to experience the feeling of “sand between his toes”. He heard the phrase often in the music his mother used to play when he lived at home, and it captivated him, that simple phrase. From what he knew of sand from his instructional classes, he imagined it would hurt, almost like glass cutting into the pure, sensitive skin on the bottoms of his feet. Yet the tone of those songs suggested otherwise. The voices that crooned about the beach and the ocean made him think it would feel comforting and magical. Someday, he thought, as he turned over. The foam mattress became more firm as he turned onto his back, changing as it did throughout the night based on his vital signs and movements.
As his eyes focused on the ceiling, it transitioned from a soft white glow to the customized dashboard he had grown accustomed to over the past few weeks, since the last update. His eyes darted. First, he glanced at the data that summarized his sleep. Seven hours and eight minutes of deep sleep with almost no movement. He would be adequately rested for the day ahead.
Next, he glanced at his schedule. There was very little on it since it was a Wednesday, the mid-week break his company provided in order to increase employee morale and productivity. He planned to do the thirty-four minutes of cardio and eight minutes of stretching required of him to stay eligible for medical coverage, but not until he finished the first of his four meals. On his free days, he preferred the four-meal option; it left him more free time than the standard five-meal day he stuck to on work days. He loved his free time.
As Jakob’s eyes focused on the words “Trending”, the screen transitioned into a jumble of words and phrase of varying sizes, some blinking. Jakob liked to move from the words in the largest font to those in the smallest font. It seemed the first phrases he saw were the easiest for him to keep in mind as the day progressed, especially on free days, when his mind had a tendency to wander.
Jakob liked the system, and though his mother seemed to struggle with it at times, she couldn’t help but admit that things ran much smoother today than when she was a 28-year old like Jakob. Today, almost 83% of people chose to “trend” and it seemed the more that did, the better the results. Overall, crime was the lowest it had ever been, by magnitudes, and people were cordial with one another. Friendly even. Many attributed it to people “being on the same page” so often. Maybe there was a small group that thought people had simply become “indifferent and compliant”, but that opinion itself never seemed to trend for long. What it came down to is that people were getting along, and that was something they were often reminded had not always been the case. Rarely did you hear about conflicts that resulted from differences of opinion and the fluid nature of religion was credited for bringing an end to the violent, barbaric wars of his mother’s childhood. The world was a nice place, and Jakob enjoyed the simplicity of life that trending had introduced.
His mother said the system reminded her of when she moved from what was called a public school to what was known as a private school. In public school, she claimed she could choose anything she wanted to wear. In private school, she had no choice; she was required to wear the same light blue shirt and plaid skirt each day. She told Jakob she sometimes missed having the ability to “express herself” and “be unique”, but thought losing those abilities paled in comparison to the benefits provided by the “school uniform”. In her private school, nobody’s clothes betrayed their economic status. She had fewer decisions to make each morning. She even felt it reduced her “personal stress level” and prevented conflict among her classmates. Jakob never quite understood the comparison, but his screen told him many others of his mother’s generation felt the same way as she did, so he had long ago stopped analyzing the situation and accepted it for what it was.
Analyzing. It was something he didn’t do much anymore. He didn’t have to. The trend generator did all the analysis that needed to be done and then guided Jakob. Analyzing was inefficient, a waste of time and energy.
Jakob began to cycle through the day’s trends. He had some choices to make. See, that’s what so many people didn’t understand about trending. The nay-sayers claimed it removed choice and individual expression, but he didn’t think so. He could choose if there were trends he didn’t want to follow. For instance, he had kept his hair its natural dark brown even when light brown began trending. He liked his hair color and it made him an individual during the period when so many others had “gone light”.
Today’s top trending subject was the anniversary of the police transition. When his mother was young, there had been a police force that caused a great deal of controversy. The idea was that a group of people would be trained to keep tabs on everything that went on within various geographic districts. They were supposed to protect citizens, but many pointed out that they were regularly failing to protect certain segments of those populations. Instead, some of the police were believed to be abusing their power. As this became more evident, and the examples became more extreme and disturbing, the citizens revolted. Politicians and community leaders had attempted to reform the police, but they concluded they could not do so unless they could control the thoughts or eliminate the biases of the employees of the police force. Then, Noah Shwarzgard developed a device that solved the problem. It was a device that removed bias and preconceptions from the minds of individuals, so they wouldn’t act inappropriately on account of those biases. Many came to refer to it as “The Wiper”.
At first, use of “The Wiper” was restricted to police. Then, Shwarzgard developed a second version. It allowed willing criminals to “be wiped” so they could serve out their sentences as police officers rather than in the prison system.
Then of course, all the dialogue and conversation about “The Wiper” drove it to be the top trending item for weeks. Citizens started to debate whether its use should be limited to the police and criminals. As was often the case, an overwhelming view emerged on the subject and it became evident that citizens wanted access to “The Wiper” so they could be set free from the biases they had developed, usually as a result of their parents’ influence. Some parents had been particularly influential. It wasn’t their fault; after all, they hadn’t grown up with trending and clarity on what was right to think and believe. Before “The Wiper” had been introduced, they struggled to eliminate their biases and many passed them onto their children. This led to a generation of children who were ashamed. They felt not only unfairly influenced by their parents, but manipulated by them, so many chose to “be wiped”. Shwarzgard won the Nobel Peace Prize, but within hours a debate began about whether he should have. After all, what made him superior to anyone else? Shwarzgard was attacked relentlessly and, in what became an endorsement of trending, he returned his Nobel Peace Prize and was once again hailed as a hero. His hero status trended for four days. At the end, the decision was made to eliminate the Nobel Prize and other systems that rewarded individuals.
The success of the new version of the police force, known as “Community Enablement Officers”, was trending today, along with an appreciation for the police transition initiative. Jakob made note of the trend and adapted the same views. He knew this would most likely align him with anyone he interacted with over the course of his day.
The second trend on the list had to do with “The Choice”. It was a streaming show that aired each week and revolved around twenty people that were profiled, one per episode. After all were profiled, the public had the opportunity to match them together. Last week there was overwhelming support for Karla and Margot to be matched, but the two women had publicly stated they were not attracted to each other. Public sentiment was one of outrage and many felt the two women were reverting to decades ago with their thinking. It was almost as though they were suggesting women shouldn’t be with other women, and that was a thought almost nobody had held in thirty years. After seeing the trending view of their admissions, the women made a public statement in which they denounced their previous statements and chose to begin a relationship with one another. The analysis suggested people were thrilled with the decision, and Jakob had to admit he thought it was for the best as well.
Jakob’s attention drifted to a blinking word. He usually tried not to let the blinking influence his system for reviewing the trends, as the flashing letters only represented a growing trend that had been identified. Historically, it hadn’t meant the trend was going to sustain for long enough to influence the direction of the population. But in the previous few weeks, a growing trend had become “Early movement on emerging trends”, so more and more people were rearranging their morning routines to prioritize the flashing words on their screens. The letters of the blinking phrase were growing in size at a rate Jakob had never seen. “Free will” the blinking words read. As Jakob began to shift his eyes to read about the emerging trend, it suddenly disappeared. That happened sometimes. A word would flash on the screen and then suddenly disappear. It had happened more and more often lately, but that just suggested to Jakob that things were moving at a faster pace than ever. None of these subjects really resonated for long, so nobody paid them much mind.
“Free will”. What could it have meant? It was probably just another campaign to have someone released from a detention center. Maybe they had forgotten to capitalize the “w”. It happened from time to time that someone would get placed into one of the underground housing estates in the middle of the country and people would feel it was done unjustly. When this happened, the detainee would refuse to be “wiped”, allowing the population time to voice its dissent. The last time it had happened, a group of citizens made a webisode about the case against the detainee and suggested she was innocent of breaking the law. The request to free her gained a great deal of momentum and she was set to be released, only to have another webisode come out showing missing pieces of information in the case. Almost immediately, the trend shifted, much to the dismay of the woman and her family. Three days later, accepting her sentence, she was “wiped” and made a Community Enablement Officer. Something similar probably happened to “Will”.
“So much for free will”, Jakob muttered. “Free will”. It didn’t seem all that catchy anyway and Jakob was pretty sure it wouldn’t be trending again.