“After On:” Excerpt 2 of 12

Glasshole 2.0

Meet the Glasswipe!

This is the second excerpt from AFTER ON: A Novel of Silicon Valley, which will be published August 1st. The first excerpt is right here.

Heading toward the restroom, Mitchell considers Giftish.ly’s likely fate. Danna and Kuba personify the reason why God invented acquihires several years back. With every giant IPO minting a dozen new micro-VCs and hundreds of angels, almost any fool can raise a million bucks for a raw startup. Hence, countless fools do. Mitchell and Kuba are no fools — but they had no business raising a seed round with a casual snap of their fingers this early in their careers. Yet they did just that. As a direct result, Kuba left Google years before he would have otherwise, leaving Google down a great engineer. He pulled his two smartest colleagues along with him, so make that three great engineers. As for Danna, in a sane world she might have gone from Berkeley to a Google-like giant. But since we live in this world, why not launch your career at a crapshoot startup? If things pan out, you’re rich! And if not, you’ll get acquihired by an established company that can train and nurture you anyway. So for Danna and Kuba, a lame acquihire would be like camping out in front of a sold-out youth hostel on a postcollege, pre–Wall Street swing through Europe. Unpleasant, yes. But a great war story to preserve for the near future, when everyone’s graduated to comfy suites at The W.

Things are different for Mitchell. An acquihirer would have no use for a young MBA from a half-name school with a brief stint running a failed startup as his sole tech credential. And unlike his infinitely employable co-workers, he’d struggle to find a decent tech job elsewhere. This could mean his de facto expulsion from the industry that’s fascinated him since childhood. If only he could write great code, like Kuba! But years of trying showed he cannot. And no tech companies were seeking econ majors with 3.0 GPAs when he graduated from college. So he defaulted to a so-so Wall Street job, then later squeaked into a top-fifty-ish business school — after which the tech world still found him completely uninteresting. This might have been fine had he not gone and grown that brain of his. But falling under Kuba’s tutelage late in childhood had this effect, and Mitchell’s passion for tech is every bit as organic (even spiritual) as Kuba’s own.

After a brief wait, a mini-restroom opens, and Mitchell enters its private confines. Here, he considers the situation’s more menacing angle. Career thoughts aside, the deeper issue to him is their Animotion technology. No way would it survive an acquihire. Kuba’s tech team would be drawn and quartered, and assigned to whatever restaurant-seeking or photo-swapping feature their buyer is launching next. And Mitchell not only fervently believes in Animotion but may physically need for its research to continue! It’s because of the shit going wrong in his brain. The affliction that almost brought him to his knees outside the bar tonight. He’s just learned — bizarrely — that Animotion might shed some light on it and perhaps even point to a cure.

The attacks began in high school. They remained rare and mild for many years, seeming more like a novelty than a threat. Then, in his midtwenties, Mitchell developed a chilling intuition that there might be something truly awful behind them even though little had changed. This seemed to be confirmed a few years later, when the attacks escalated. He was festering in a lame digital marketing job at General Mills at the time. Years of shrugged clinical shoulders had shown he was undiagnosable to frontline doctors. So he turned to Facebook when things worsened, hoping to find a relevant expert within his extended circle. This reconnected him with Kuba’s UCSF bride, Ellie — a neuroscientist, and, like Kuba, a childhood friend. Though her own work was unconnected to Mitchell’s condition (or so it seemed at the time), Ellie referred him to a postdoc in her department who specializes in seizure syndromes.

And so, Mitchell entered the orbit of Dr. Martha Levine. One MRI led to another, and she was soon on a clinical crusade to get to the bottom of things. In San Francisco for an appointment with her, Mitchell caught up with Kuba for the first time since he vanished from the country. Nothing but radio silence had followed for a decade, which had perplexed and hurt Mitchell horribly. Reunited by the medical mystery, the years of separation disintegrated, and Mitchell finally learned that Kuba’s bizarre silence had been government-imposed. With that, all was understood (and forgiven). Next, they resumed an ancient conversation about starting a company together. Mitchell had already dreamt up his social gifting concept by then — and Kuba discerned a link between it and his wife’s research. And so they snapped their fingers and raised their seed capital. Mitchell moved to San Francisco, and it felt just like a storybook!

Until the worst day of his life. The day Dr. Martha diagnosed him.

Upon Dr. Phillips’ command, the recessed LEDs in the ceiling dimmed subtly, and the immense conference table summarily revealed itself to be none other than a vast Video Display! Upon it, an image of numerous foggy, craggy acres was rendered. “Do you recognize this terrain?” Dr. Phillips inquired. To the untrained eye, it might have been a region of the Scottish Highlands, or the maritime reaches of Oregon, or a temperate sector of Alaska.
But Hogan immediately espied several unusually unique elements of its flora and topography that were native to just one of the world’s many environs. “Certainly,” he verified. “This is the thinly-peopled eastern edge of the Mongolian Steppe, in China’s Xinjiang Province.”
“Correct,” Dr. Phillips allowed. “It is also the locus of the most ambitious Artificial Superintelligence Project ever attempted by Man! Observe.” With that, the room lights dimmed further, and the camera zoomed downward until a rendering of a secluded facility filled the screen. Surrounded by cyclone fencing, ominous gun towers, swiveling searchlights, fearsome attack-dog kennels, and dungeon-like Special Forces Bunkers, one might be forgiven for mistaking it for the most secure of prisons. Except that its many high-caliber turrets were oriented in such a way as to keep interlopers out rather than detainees in!
“This is the most isolated installation in the entire Land of China,” Dr. Phillips divulged. “No roads, railways, or rivers connect to it. It can be reached only via military flights. It’s entirely self-sufficient; generating its own reliable electricity; drawing water from cunningly hidden wells; and even producing its own food in nearby verdant fields. And it is a most revoltingly flagrant violation of the Copenhagen Accord! Which, as you surely recall, is the secret international treaty that numerous nations, including that of China, signed; permanently foreswearing the creation of Superintelligence.”
“Ah yes, the Copenhagen Accord,” Hogan recollected. “If I’m not mistaken, it was drafted as a direct result of Project Maximum’s shutdown, which I myself contrived.” Glowering fearsomely at the DigiScreen, he added, “And given the flagrancy of this violation, the yellow-bellied Mao-fellators must be stopped immediately! I’ll need two Apache helicopters and our nine best men.” After allowing the ensuing stunned silence the briefest of reigns, he clarified, “Or rather, our nine best people.” This, while favoring his sometime carnal companion; the lusty but lethal Asian assassinatrix; with a brief yet meaningful glance. Though he spoke unblemished Chinese himself, her all-too-visible ancestral roots might well expedite this incursion in various ways. Her peerless talent for close-in butchery was likewise a boundless asset, and her mammoth mammary protuberances would be most-welcome travelmates. Plus, of course, Agent Brock Hogan NEVER failed to mix pleasure with business when visiting The Orient!

They’re still discussing how to handle tomorrow’s board meeting when it’s time to surrender their table to the next reservation. The bar has a huge library-themed back room where front-room evictees can mingle, so they adjourn to it. There, with plenty of smart, attractive women on hand, Mitchell’s like a kid in a candy store. A penniless, ravenous kid. One who can look all he wants, but that’s it. Or maybe “a meat-loving vegan at a cookout” maps better, because his hunger is principled, and self-imposed (and also, more primal than a grumpy sweet tooth). The thing is, Mitchell has essentially opted out of romance. It’s a long story. One we’ll get to at some point. And it’s all a weird, indirect response to his neural condition.

Mitchell’s midway through his next Imperial Eagle when the hipster in the chunky glasses approaches with a buddy. Both hoodied and side-burned, they look somewhat similar in the dim light, only the second one lacks spectacles. “S’cuse us,” Specs says to Danna, “but we’re having a little debate about Prohibition-era literature.”

“How very strange,” she answers warily. Her Achilles bicep of paranoia is already kicking in — and Mitchell’s normally calm limbic system is going into overdrive! He senses a threat, and all these years after graduation, the blood of a high school defensive tackle still courses through his veins. He’s instinctively protective around Kuba, given years of sticking up for the guy before the kids in their town finally accepted him. He’s also no less protective toward Danna — because knowing some of her history, he realizes her tough, fearless surface must mask some fragility.

Specs gestures at the surrounding shelves. “Well, these books are all from the period, so we couldn’t help ourselves. Anyway, my buddy here says the era’s best novel is The Beautiful and the Damned by Fitzgerald. But I’m holding out for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein.”

Danna’s eyes widen slightly. “Wow — I’d say you win!”

“Dammit!” No-Specs says, in playful dismay.

“What do you like about Stein?” Danna asks, still a bit suspicious.

Specs rises to this. “Well, her work really broke with the narrative, linear, and temporal conventions of the nineteenth century. And she started experimenting with all that long before Faulkner, Woolf, or even Joyce.”

Danna nods aloofly. “She really doesn’t have any antecedents.”

Specs nods. “I’d say she was more influenced by Picasso than by any actual writers. She’s almost literature’s response to Cubism.”

This shatters the ice. “Holy crap! I wrote a whole thesis on Picasso’s influence on Stein!” Danna turns to Mitchell. “Former life,” she explains.

Mitchell nods politely. As if twenty-three-year-olds have those, he thinks. But he knows what she’s talking about. Danna majored in comparative literature and minored in philosophy (she picked up design and coding in her spare time, the brat). Because literature’s up there with color palettes in her pantheon of passions, it’s now on Mitchell to be the paranoid one, and he’s amped. You’d never know it to look at him, though. The flip side of his particular form of charisma is an ability to mask his agitations just as deftly as he can infect others with them.

“So where’d you discover your passion for Stein?” Danna continues, quite a bit more warmly.

Specs grins. “It’ll sound weird, but in Morocco, of all places. I did Peace Corps there, and dated another volunteer who was a huge reader.”

“Wait — ” Danna says. “You did Peace Corps in Morocco? When?”

“Three years ago.”

“Whoa! Well, this is random. But did you know a woman named Madison Parker while you were there?”

Specs gives her a stunned look. “Knew her? Madison was the girlfriend who taught me how to read!”

Danna breaks into delighted laughter, then explains that Madison was the older sister of a dorm mate of hers. “I had the biggest girl crush of my life on her!” she says. “We all did. She was so smart, and gorgeous, and funny. And going to Morocco for Peace Corps? That was fierce!”

“Well, thank you,” Specs jokes.

Danna laughs. “It was fierce for a blond woman. But you? I’ll give you ‘feisty.’ ” She’s beaming now, her features utterly vibrant, and drawing besotted looks from guys who hardly noticed her moments ago.

Soon, No-Specs jabs his buddy. “Time to go, man,” he says.

“We’re off to see the Black Keys at the Warfield,” Specs explains apologetically.

“Holy crap, I hate you!” Danna says, beaming even more incredulously. “They’re my favorite band ever! How’d you get tickets?”

No-Specs cups a hand around his mouth and mock whispers, “He’s buddies with their bass player,” as if spilling a secret his chum is too humble to share.

Specs glares at him facetiously. “Why you rattin’ me out? We’re supposed to say StubHub, remember?” He turns back to Danna — who’s suddenly regarding him very oddly. “But yeah, I do know their bassist. And they’re on in nine minutes. If they stick to the schedule he texted me this afternoon.”

“Got it,” Danna says, now gazing very intently into his eyes. “One last thing,” she enunciates very loudly and clearly. “Who is winning the Warriors game right now?”

Specs is suddenly very nervous. “Warriors are up by five,” he says sheepishly.

With that, Danna suddenly flicks her drink right into No-Specs’s unshielded eyes. He gasps and jumps back as her other hand flies to Specs’s face, snatching for his glasses. “What the hell?” Specs yelps, folding into a protective crouch. This smashes his face right into Danna’s grasping fingers, and his glasses go flying.

Danna dives for them, yelling, “Cover me,” to no one in particular. Lunging toward her, Specs is instantly slammed to the floor by Mitchell, who’s stunned to find his football training so useful in this CEO gig. Danna uses the ensuing chaos to briefly snatch the glasses. But No-Specs has recovered and bats them from her hands, sending them skittering under a thicket of legs midway across the room. Mitchell then agilely drops No-Specs to the floor, which leaves everyone sprawling but Kuba, who casually strides into the now-gawking huddle of drinkers, plucks the glasses from the carpet, and looks at them reeeeeeeal close as a mountain of Mississippi muscle and fist closes in on the scene.

“The hell?” the bouncer asks, effortlessly plucking Danna and Specs from the floor by the scruffs of their jackets.

“She assaulted me,” Specs whines shrilly.

The bouncer hoists Danna to eye level, like a picky shopper appraising a melon. “This’n? Hell, she ain’t a hundred pounds soakin wet! If she can whup you, you oughta learn some kung fu.” He releases them both.

Figuring Danna’s about to clam up and stare daggers at everyone, while Kuba catatonically ponders those high-tech glasses, Mitchell surges to his feet. “He’s a glasshole,” he declares, pointing at Specs. “He was recording us, and everyone else in this bar!” This is only a guess. But it’s an educated one and could just win the bouncer over.

“Hey, those are mine!” Specs practically shrieks, seeing his glasses in Kuba’s hands and lunging for them. Kuba dangles them out of his reach, then hands them peaceably to the bouncer.

“Glasshole,” the giant grumbles, examining the thick lenses. This term dates back to the early heyday of Google Glass — the famously clunky first-generation attempt to embed heads-up data displays in eyewear. Priced at fifteen hundred bucks, Glass categorically failed to set the world alight. It then largely vanished from the wild, but not before its built-in camera sparked a small wave of local paranoia. Reasoning that nothing could stomp a buzz quite like a herd of sly geeks sneaking candid photos of profitable revelry, several barkeeps banished Glass from their premises. “I got me a powerful allergy to glassholes! No wonder I got the sniffles tonight.” The drawling quip hints of a playful wit beneath the gruffness, and Mitchell decides on the tone he’ll take with this guy.

“I wasn’t recording anything,” Specs whines petulantly. “Those are prescription.”

“Sure,” Mitchell says, giving the bouncer a chummy glance. “Diagnosis: asswipe.

Guffawing cheerfully, the bouncer peers at an arched bump on the temple of the frame, which suddenly looks a lot like a power button. A new wave of data glasses is starting to circulate, and digerati bars like this one want nothing to do with them. “Or maybe, glasswipe,” he parries, and Mitchell chuckles politely. The bouncer then hands the glasses back to Specs, saying, “You get your peepin tom ass outta here now, and I don’t ever wanna see you again.” With that, Specs and No-Specs slink out, the bouncer gives the Giftish.ly crew a merry wink, and they’re left in peace. “That hardware was amazing,” Kuba whispers once they’re alone. “They looked exactly like normal glasses. And I mean, exactly.” Everyone knows that smart eyewear will one day be indistinguishable from the real thing. But Glass itself fell comically short of this, and while some of the newer gear is better, it’s still easy to spot in a crowd.

“It’s the software that freaks me out,” Danna says, clearly shaken. “That guy didn’t know crap about me, Gertrude Stein, or my friend’s big sister. But his glasses were . . . telling him what to say. Kind of.”

“That’s what I guessed,” Mitchell says. “How’d you figure it out?”

“The guy without the glasses blew it when he tried to ad lib about the Black Keys.”

“You mean when he said they knew the bass player?”

Danna nods. “The Black Keys don’t have a bass player.”

“Seriously?” Mitchell asks. “They sure sound like they do.”

“Trust me. They’ve been my favorite band for years. Just like Stein’s my favorite author. And Toklas is my favorite book. It was one coincidence too many. Meanwhile, I thought I’d seen a couple weird flashes of light in that guy’s lenses. So when they blew the bassist thing, I suddenly put it all together.”

“Ahhh,” Mitchell says. “So when you leaned in close and asked him about the Warriors game . . .”

“It was on a hunch. I figured smart glasses would have built-in voice recognition. And if I asked really clearly about something really basic, like a sports score, the system might flash up the answer.”

“So you saw the score pop up in his glasses?”

Danna shakes her head. “Just a glimmer of light. But that was enough.”

“But how did he learn all that stuff about you?” Kuba asks, more wide-eyed about the technology than disturbed by the privacy rupture.

“Well, first he had to figure out who I was, so let’s start with facial recognition,” Danna says. “I’ll bet those lenses ID everyone he looks at.”

Mitchell rolls his eyes. “Oh, come on.” This strikes him as just a bit paranoid — and, at least ten years into the future.

But Kuba’s nodding. “Think of all the pictures of you online. Of all of us. Each tagged with our names. Any system that’s scanned them all could do it. Facebook’s been ID-ing faces in photos for years. ID-ing someone from a live feed through those glasses wouldn’t be much harder.”

Danna shudders. “I’m sure it’s a layup for the NSA.”

“Please, those guys weren’t NSA,” Mitchell says (although he wouldn’t mind being wrong because it would be pretty badass to’ve flattened a pair of government agents like that!).

“They wouldn’t have to be, to pull that off,” Kuba says. “Five years ago, maybe. But today? No. Facial ID just isn’t that hard or exotic anymore.”

“Then how’d the system come up with all that stuff for him to say about Danna’s friend’s older sister?” Mitchell asks.

“It probably didn’t,” Kuba guesses. “The operator just picked Danna as a target. Maybe randomly. Maybe because he liked the way she looked.”

“Right!” Mitchell says, recalling how Specs prowled the outer bar earlier in the evening, gazing briefly at every face.

“Then I’ll bet the system pulled up a bunch of facts about her,” Kuba continues. “She wrote a thesis on this book. Here’s her social graph. Here are some distant acquaintances of hers you might credibly pretend to know. That sort of thing. Then the guy pieced together his own story and approach. I mean, he was pretty smooth. He wasn’t reading a teleprompter or anything.”

“Except for his initial description of Stein’s writing,” Danna says. “That was pretty wooden. Almost like he was reading from Wikipedia. But after that? He was real smooth. And, he was also having fun with it. Which made it believable, because small-world conversations like that actually are fun. If I didn’t feel so violated, I’d be kind of impressed with the whole performance. And he could’ve done something much creepier if he had wanted to.”

“Like what?” To Mitchell, this shit’s about as creepy as it gets.

“Well, let’s see. It would’ve been illegal, but once the facial recognition did its thing, there’s a bunch of databases the system could’ve hit to figure out where every cute girl in the bar lives, right? Then it could’ve told him which ones live in walking distance. And which ones are single and live alone. Then it could’ve fed him a bunch of facts to help him seem all trustworthy to the unsuspecting target of his choice. Kind of like it did with me. He could’ve come off as being the brother of an old friend of hers. Or maybe, ‘Hey, we took that history class together junior year! Wasn’t Professor Bernstein the best?’ Enough trust that she lets him walk her home at the end of the night because it’s a crap neighborhood, and she thinks they have a dozen friends in common. And then? Use your imagination.”

Mitchell shudders. “That’s sick.”

“I agree. But our guy only tricked me into thinking we had a bunch of weird things in common. Pretty harmless by comparison.” Danna is actually less put off by the episode than Mitchell or Kuba. As she’s already plenty paranoid, it didn’t surprise her. Nor did it reduce her faith in the average stranger, which for years has had nowhere lower to go.

“But we still loathe him, right?” Mitchell confirms. If Danna and Kuba are right about everything, those glasses make the guy half-omniscient — and like some real-world supervillian, he’s noxiously abusing his powers. “And what the hell was the point of all that anyway?”

“They were alpha testing something new,” Kuba says softly. “Something radical. Taking it for a spin in the real world. That hardware’s pre-release, and very special. You saw how they fought. They did not want it getting out of their hands.”

“Do you seriously think that spying system is gonna be someone’s product?” Mitchell asks. “It can’t possibly be legal! It’s like . . . weaponized information.”

“Any more weaponized than a handgun?” Danna asks. “Those seem to be legal everywhere.”

Mitchell nods grimly. “I can hear the lobbyists now. Magic glasses don’t spy on people — people do.”

“Yes, they’ll say that,” Kuba agrees. “And they won’t be entirely wrong. Cynical. But not wrong. Because the tech itself could be used for practically anything, good or bad. It’s as value neutral as a smartphone. Or a computer.”

“And every bit as inevitable,” Danna adds. “We’ve seen that dozens of times. Today’s million-dollar prototype is tomorrow’s ninety-nine-dollar gizmo.”

Mitchell nods. “I just wish the guys who invented it didn’t go straight to the gutter with their first application.”

“Agreed,” Danna says. “Why build something that amazing just to creep on people in bars?”

“Completely twisted,” Mitchell agrees. “I mean, seriously. Who would do that?”

“A super-rich organization,” Kuba muses. “God only knows how much R&D that took.”

“Make that a brilliant rich organization,” Danna says. “That shit was incredible.”

“Make that a brilliant, rich, evil organization,” Mitchell adds. “Just to state the obvious.”

They all fall silent. Then Danna inevitably guesses, “Stanford?”

Mitchell grins. “Spoken like a true Berkeley girl. But sorry — not evil enough.” He falls silent, then hazards, “North Korea?”

Kuba shakes his head. “Not rich enough.”

Then Danna guesses “Iran?”

“Not brilliant enough,” Mitchell points out.

As if on cue, their pockets all hum with an inbound digital coupon. The briefest of intervals, then Danna’s eyes widen, and she snarls,

No!

This baffles Kuba. But Mitchell’s right there with her. “It was fucking Phluttr!!!” he barks.

Bingo, kid.

PHLUTTR AND SARTTR

Phluttr has intrigued me since the day I met her. If Facebook is the smooth, functional CNN of social media, Phluttr’s The Kardashians — a ghastly, lurid pleasure with huge tits and collagen lips that we’re loath to admit to using. An addiction that’s not merely guilty, but indicted, convicted, and sentenced; more like a smack habit than a weakness for that extra bonbon.

And she knows every one of us so well! Just like that popular, gossipy, gorgeous autocrat back in eighth grade: the one whose approval we craved, whose censure we dreaded, and whose wrath we often brought down for no discernible reason (and yes, I’m calling Phluttr “she.” Not because I’m self-hating or any less a feminist than the next blogger, but because she reminds me so fully of my own local eighth-grade autocrat, who had not a Y chromosome in her body).

Phluttr knows us from our browsing activity, phone logs, emails, photo streams, GPS data, and a hundred other sources that we grant her eternal access to (as well as resale rights — seriously!) by blindly accepting her “Data Donor Agreement.” Triangulating our mindset and doings from all this, Phluttr then presents the world with an immaculately spin-doctored view of our enviable lives by updating our status for us with AutoPosts (APs). If you’re wondering why anyone would ever allow such a thing, most relationships with APs unfold like this:

Denial

As we first download Phluttr, we swear we’ll never enable APs, because yiiiiiiiikes, right?

Confusion

Oops! We find that APs are an opt-out feature. Phluttr’s labyrinthine settings then thwart all attempts to disable them (oh — and to uninstall the app).

Acceptance

We discover these APs work eerily well. It meanwhile strikes us that constantly updating all our other social tools is fast becoming an unpaid part-time job — and fuck that, right?

Addiction

We enter Phase Four when Phluttr first elects to send one of our APs hyperviral. Years hence, most of us will still recall where we were standing when, out of the clear blue, thousands of friends, acquaintances, friends of acquaintances, and beyond started pumping Likes, Hots, and Cools into our InFlows! And with them, cascades of endorphins into our junkie neurons! Yayyy Phluttr, I love you!!!

But not long after that first fateful drag on the crack pipe, Phluttr turns aloof. Maybe she displays a post about a long-sought life achievement to no one but our boring rural cousins. Or maybe she turns vicious and tips us off about something awful she overheard about us in a chat, a forum, or even a private message (without quite revealing the source)!

However. Vicious as she gets, no one will ever see Phluttr plunge a knife into our back. Like any seasoned eighth-grade autocrat, she’s too smart to get caught. Plenty of humans are glad to do the deed, anyway. And besides, the real money is in bandaging us up, scrubbing the blood off that cute new Betsey Johnson frock, and scoring us that restorative fix of endorphins! Because like any autocrat, Phluttr can be bought. Want to know the precise number of people who heard that awful rumor about you? Pay her off! Want to quash it, kill it; flush it from everyone else’s InFlows? Pay her off! Want to push out a direct rebuttal to all who have read or heard it? You know what to do!

Or maybe there’s no dirt on you just now, and you crave attention. The InFlow algorithms are guarded more jealously than Putin’s nuclear codes. But cash on the barrel will speed the spread of anything. A true pittance ensures that X random people in your network see a certain post. A larger pittance ensures they never know you paid to promote it. A non-pittance allows you to specifically target the people who see it, rather than shotgunning it out there.

Then when people start Liking, Hotting, and Cooling your post, another small fee lets you micromanage which of your raving critics are most visible to the rest of us. Holy crap! Marc Andreessen Liked your thoughts on the LDAP protocol’s twenty-fifth birthday?? You’d hate for his Like and comment to be forty-seventh on a long list that no one ever scrolls through but you! So, to push it to the top — ka-ching!

How do Phluttr’s social-image-management tools compare to the incumbent competition? Well, if Facebook were a freebie photo editor with just a contrast dial and a red-eye fixer, Phluttr would be phucking Photoshop — a professional power tool with countless effects to switch on, airbrushes to wield, and gradations to tweak as you posture within and navigate through the infinite complexity of the social jungle.

And again — this is where the real money is! Sure, Phluttr’s minting a fortune from the Fortune 500. Her surgically targeted ads don’t come cheap, after all. Nor do those psychically targeted coupons that keep popping up on our phones. But the biggest-paying advertiser, brand manager, and spin doctor will ultimately be us, the Phluttr user base. There are gold mines to extract from our desperate urge to be heard! And, from our agonizing need to posture within and navigate through the social jungle’s fractal complexity.

Which is to say, through hell. Because Phluttr has read her Sartre (or should I say Sarttr?). She knows that hell is other people, and that most of us would give anything to ease our passage through the consensual, collective hell we create for ourselves and one another. But since I’m not gloomy, existential, or French enough to leave it at that, I’ll add that heaven is other people as well, without any doubt. Either way, Phluttr is an incredibly powerful wingbitch to have on your side in this realm. An addictively capable one. And, increasingly, an expensive one.

This is the second excerpt of twelve from AFTER ON: A Novel of Silicon Valley, which will be published August 1st. In case you missed it, the first excerpt is here, and if you’re ready to turn the page, the third excerpt is right here. To be notified of all future excerpts via Medium, simply Follow author Rob Reid.

And for God’s sake, don’t miss our next installment, wherein we learn the awful facts about Mitchell’s affliction, a certain jackass cousin makes his inevitable appearance; the tech industry spreads indentured servitude without using the awkward term, and stentorian phallocrat Brock Hogan learns the meaning of “Decisive Strategic Advantage.”

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