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One Megabyte

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2012 by javedbabar

Alan and Patricia were always welcoming. As soon as he neared their forest cabin, Bobby began feeling happy and relaxed. His weekly trips there were a tonic.

There were things going on at the farm that he didn’t understand, and that worried him somewhat. Tomatoes grew better when exposed to advertising jingles, mushrooms were affected by satellite TV channels, and he was encouraged to drink a “healthy natural beverage” that somehow unsettled him.

Alan’s workshop was full of technology. Bobby wasn’t sure if this was the right word though. It was state of the art technology once upon a time, but these days of smaller, better, faster may now cause it to be labelled junk. There were many metal boxes with buttons, wires, levers and cogs.

“Do you still use all these” – Bobby didn’t know what to call them – “machines?”

“Sure I do! They still work. Why shouldn’t I?”

Bobby pulled out his smartphone. It never received a signal on the farm but here it worked beautifully. “This phone has more power than everything in this workshop. I’m not trying to show off; anybody with twenty dollars a month to spare can have one. I just mean that your machines seem outdated.”

“So you think I should donate them to the museum?”

“Not necessarily,” said Bobby. “But maybe. Wouldn’t you be better off with a small, simple gadget with multiple functions? And when technology advances, you can upgrade.”

Alan looked at him with seriousness. “What is the data limit on your smartphone? Ten megabytes? A day? So three hundred megabytes a month. Well, I transfer one megabyte a month.”

Bobby was about to be impressed, but then thought, hang on! He said, “Do you mean one gigabyte? So you transfer three times more than me?”

“No I meant one megabyte. That’s plenty. I do use some compression technology, but that’s it!”

Bobby was confused and stood blinking.

Alan pushed a few buttons and lights appeared on metal boxes. “In the early days there were radio transmissions for only two hours a day. When TV came along, we had only one hour a day. Telephone calls were very expensive; you’d watch your minutes carefully. With computers there was limited bandwidth, it was precious and you preserved it. A photo took half an hour to download, and a movie took all day.

“We appreciated those things. Our family would gather around the radio. We would watch TV together. Receiving a call would be a special thing.

“Now everything is always available. It’s too much. People receive endless news, data and popular culture. It is making them sick. They flick through these things as if they are empty boxes, always looking for the next one, hoping it will be full.

“Patricia and I pick one thing a day and focus on it, whether it is a message, a photo, or scene from a film. We enjoy that thing only. It is like a meditation. And we’ve found that after one hundred years, we’ve never been bored yet. Do you want to see today’s special selection?”

Bobby nodded.

Alan showed him a picture of the Lucerne Valley one hundred years ago, before the time of roads, factories and malls. There was just land and light. Its beauty made him weep.

Tree Tuning

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2012 by javedbabar

If radio waves made tomatoes grow, and mushrooms acquired personality from satellite TV, then Bobby wondered what effects such signals were having on him. Were they helping or harming him? What should he do?

He worked hard, around twelve hours a day. “Fulltime Farmtime” the farmer called it, but as long as Bobby watered and weeded regularly, he could spend his time as he pleased.

In the middle of the day when it was too hot to work, it wasn’t worth going home. He lived too far away. He should get somewhere closer to town, maybe even live on the farm. Each afternoon, Bobby spent the first four hours sleeping or walking in the forest. The bugs were annoying but it was so cool there. The tent he’d bought from the thrift store was good enough.

It was strange to get good cell reception in the forest. His fellow worker, an electrical engineering graduate, had fixed Bobby’s smartphone to receive unlimited data, and he could stream TV and movies all day. But for this, of course, he needed a five-bar signal.

In the forest he got that, but it shifted around. He’d sometimes spend fifteen minutes walking around to find it. It was never far away, usually near the biggest Arcadian Firs. It was just a matter of tree-tuning.

One day Bobby spotted a wire in the forest, strung between two firs. It was very high up, maybe fifty metres. What was it doing here? Was it a power line or telephone line?

He followed the line for 500 metres but found no towers or transformers, just a wire stretching between firs. The signal near it was very powerful. There was never any buffer, just smooth, clear streaming of shows.

Bobby returned to the wire daily, and on his days off even followed it along. He told his fellow worker about it, but he wasn’t very interested. Instead he made poor jokes rhyming wire, tire, sire, dire, and forest fire. Bobby decided it was probably best to minimise time spent with him.

A month after he’d first seen the wire, Bobby found a cable leading off it, climbing the hillside. He followed it to a log cabin with a beautifully tended garden. There were masses of red, blue and yellow flowers; each seeming to greet him individually. He saw carved boards nailed to trees, stating Love Thy Neighbour and Strangers Welcome.

An old lady called out, “Hello there, stranger! We welcome thee! We rarely get visitors. Please join us for teatime.”

Bobby walked towards her. She said, “We moved here one hundred years ago, my husband Alan and I, Patricia. It seemed lonely at first with just the two of us. Later came radio but there was poor reception. Alan was very resourceful. He found abandoned spools of telegraph wire and strung the wire along the tops of young Arcadian Firs. As they’ve grown, so has our world, and we’ve listened to every bit of it. We’ve also watched the world’s TV. Our wires pick up internet signals too.

“Where is he?” asked Bobby, and then thought, I shouldn’t have asked that. What if she’s a widow?

“Oh, he’s just in the workshop, preparing for 4G transmissions.”