Everything was connected, and I was fucked.

I was late paying the water bill, so the parking meter refused service until I coughed up.

The meter said I had 30 seconds to pay the water bill until I had to move my car, and… I just froze. Of course, then the meter attendant came. Said they were just doing their job as they booted my car, then looked down at their phone. Flashed me a wan smile, then reminded me I hadn’t taken out my recycling.

This wasn’t turning out to be a good day.

The attendant read off their screen — told me I was on my second strike: one more, and I’d lose streetlight privileges.

I’d heard about the streetlight thing: a social shaming punishment that some city in China had tried. The city would spam your location data to the streetlights so they’d turn off and cast cone of darkness around just you. It sounded horrible. I shrugged. I didn’t care anymore.

Of course, the next level was suspension of physical mail delivery (like picking up a package from the post office was difficult enough already) as well as a 30-day karma dock on Nextdoor.

Fuck Nextdoor.

Everything had gone to shit when they’d come in as the ‘social fabric platform’, a proudly-announced partner when IBM connected the city.

It’s not even like the streetlights worked, anyway.

In theory the full-spectrum full-color LEDs were super smart, but they were about as smart as every other IOT, connected dumb-spime I’d ever seen.

Some joker had leaked another cache of NSA zero-day’s for Windows Embedded last month and the lights had been useless ever since. At least the kids at the high school were having fun. The display outside Conestoga Senior High that would normally say benign things like PTA MEETING NEXT MONDAY was now stuck flashing MR. FRANKLIN IS A KIDDY FIDDLER. There was no chance, zero, that the school admins or police would figure out who did it and besides, they had other problems. Not least of which I’d heard that the printers in the school cafeteria were drawing a cock on each receipt now, with Franklin’s address.

Anyway, using streetlights to create a cone of darkness for social shaming if you hadn’t paid a water bill? Which idiot thought of that?

But then, I didn’t have it as bad as the single parents. I get an irritating cone of darkness and oh no, my neighbors who already judge me will judge me even more. Single parents would get a more complicated, IVR phone-tree hell.

Everything was connected for everyone. MEMS sensors in your kid’s chair report excessive fidgeting in school that day, despite the in-progress appeal about the same kid’s ASD being ignored? Automatic fractional WIC deduction (25% this time!) as a parenting punishment (sorry, incentive). We had DeVos to thank for that one. I think she put that in place after what happened to the third boat.

That said, if you knew the right people, it was all easily fixed. Send some bitcoins or whatever cryptocurrency was hot this hour to the right wallet and someone — probably in China, this month — would fix everything for you. Only for 24 hours, mind. Not a good business model, otherwise.

Same as it ever was, just figure out who to pay to grease the tubes. Tubes, get it?

In the meantime there was easy if boring work if you wanted it. All those smartlights needed a hard reboot every morning thanks to a daily buffer overflow. If you didn’t mind getting up early, you could get paid to take a walk and say hello to all the lampposts. A morning connected constitutional.

The middle class climbers had their own hell. Penelope in the very nice house next door was under water control management and couldn’t get cold water anymore. Her daughter, the little precious at the local charter school, had misbehaved on a field trip and the family had been hit with a Tepid Water Order.

Anyway, I went to the convenience store on the corner to get a packet of cigarettes. The attendant shrugged as the old Square terminal added a couple of bucks that went straight to my health insurance tax, and I had the non-opt-out choice to pay about five bucks toward the late water bill.


Later, I felt sorry for the kids as I walked past the park. All the play structures were smart now, too, promising to add NikeFuel to each kid’s score. NikeFuel had come back in a big way after the corporates gave up and realized there wasn’t any feasible way to un-fuck this mess. Melania’s Totally Not Michelle’s Let’s Move Campaign had secured a very swooshy partner.

Anyway, the meaner kids — the ones with two-syllable-or-fewer names like Chet or Bret or Ethan — would single out the pudgier ones and hawk NikeFuel points to them, blinking their names in a dis-encouraging display. FUEL BONUS FOR JASON. They got hacked too. JASON ATE ALL THE PIES it would flash, later.

And pity the single dad taking his kids to the park on an access day. If he hadn’t paid his support, all the structures locked up. “PLAYGROUND DISABLED. SUPPORT YOUR FAMILY, BRIAN. OTHER, BETTER, FATHERS ARE WATCHING, BRIAN. BE LIKE THE BETTER FATHERS. $632 OUTSTANDING. PAY WITH  PAY OR SQUARE NOW.” About half of the other parents and kids would scowl Brian, the other half shrugging because they knew they’d get theirs later, when their car would do something like only play episodes from a Child and Family Services Anger Management Podcast. Anyway, Brian just turned around and took his kids with him. Ten seconds later, the playground unlocked.

So yeah, our connected city’s great. We’ve never been happier.

Dan Hon

Written by

Dan Hon

I come from the internet and I can type.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade