Section 1: Living Data Chapter1: Beautiful Data
late April20xx DellVille AZ.
Faint musical notes rise from a pale strip of material spread across a table on a backyard deck. A nearby person watches the sun set over the proud hump of Mount Arrowhead. Her head turns toward a pink cloud of recently invisible vapor on the opposite horizon. A large moth buzzes around the light from a window inside the house. The figure startles from a blaring horn in a line of cars curving the hilly roadway toward the region’s namesake granite formations.
“OMG!, It’s really happening!”, muttered the tall woman. Cassandra Hawke couldn’t believe that the next day she’d be at her OMG 50-year college reunion, nestled in the greenery of Rolling Hills Ohio. For a few nights, these sunset sensations would be unobserved.
Her thin hand smoothed the wired textile material spread across the deck table. A colorful scene animated that powerful wearable device its creators called a Whisperer. Enclosed sheets of electronics were fabricated to be worn as scarves, neck ties, or bags to match the wearer’s self-image portrayed on the Whisperer’s creative Life-Patch. Accompanying wireless ear-fitting ‘hearables’ carried synthetic speech messages managed by the Whisperer’s code under the cloud of the CumuLinker conglomerate that now ruled Silicon valley to change the conversational mood of the country.
CumuLinker’s national Whisperer trial had begun. Invitations to her OMG College Reunion read
“Be prepared for the latest Social Media Innovation. Show off your life on your Whisperer ‘Life-Patch’. Catch up with your classmates the modern way through the CumuLinker Universe cloud. Feel your ‘Life Replayed’ from our youth, through careers, into retirement. Compete to tell your life story. You are a winner!
Below the deck, an unruly quail covey clucked toward their nightly roost. Casey sighed and ran her fingers through her short graying hair. This avian parenting always revived her sense of childlessness. Minor influence over young software engineers once helped fill that void. Then their collective profession became a whip in the hands of The Great trickster mythological force destabilizing everyone’s life. Even the quail hatched early this year as the seasons shifted after a mild winter.
This upcoming reunion Whisperer self-portrait Contest’ retold her destiny as a lifetime software engineer. She’d arrived on campus at age 16 with a scholarship as a first generation, small-town math whiz. Soon, she had dominated the Academic Computing Center located under the iconic campus chapel spire.
Her Whisperer self-portrait showed a very young woman at the IBM 1620 console. Dancing lights marked the progress of a program while cards disappeared into a nearby box the size of a VW Bug. A background printer clanked college chants and the ‘Anchors away’ rhythm. Her eyes brightened as she held up a calculus integral formula honoring the professor who so wisely exploited the post-Sputnik movement that funded her education.
The elder Casey tested a 3 finger flick gesture over the patch and crowed, “I’m a techno-fashionista now!”.
This cool evening of calming quail clucks and changing sky colors carried — Casey’s thoughts to the Victorian country-side of her idol, Ada Byron Lovelace. Casey believed that a new brand of sophisticated computational thinking streamed from the Whisperer’s textile, processor, and communication systems. Lady Ada’s patron Charles Babbage had been constrained to the technologies of cog wheels and punch card controlled looms. Mathematician Ada recognized that the ‘data’ for their woven patterns could be not only numbers, but also music and symbols. Engineer Babbage called her the “Enchantress of Number” to honor her mathematical prowess but failed to understand his Analytic Engine’s universality.
Needing to share her intuition about Ada and universal computing, Casey texted a photo of her Whisperer college theme to her STEM community “little syster” Brittany. The younger woman’s science fair project was exploring the Babbage-Lovelace loom adventure. Brittany wished her luck and asked if Casey had any old1620 programs they could read. Yes, she did, and that would be a great opportunity for them to laugh about the evil “GO TO” statement woven through her “spaghetti code”. Casey signed her message “Enchantress of Whisperers”.
Darkness embraced her reverie. Casey pondered how her idol would understand today’s surveillance -based business models. Google, then Facebook, then every other so-called social network had set their own rules for privacy and profit. Each captured and organized data by patterns of links ‘ that symbolized friendship, ‘likes’, goals, and authorities.
Could that prophetic Ada have imagined the powerful effects when packets of data represented a person? Could she foresee algorithms and data as arrows into a person’s emotions? No, and neither did computing professionals understand that power until the arrival of The Great Trickster.
Practicality tugged Casey back to her upcoming travel adventure. Always a last-minute packer, she ran through a mental list of clothes appropriate for reunion events. , She cringed remembering her 16 year old self appearing on campus wearing catalog-styled”first generation to attend college” garb. Chuckling at the rule banning slacks on the 1960s campus, she opted for beige-theme casual blouses, jackets, and slacks, plus low-heeled and flat sandals. A thumb drive in her pocket and her password memory scheme would carry all her vital data, travel photos, and work publications in case the physical world around her home degenerated from a natural disaster or social upheaval.
The OMG Reunion Whisperer trial intrigued Casey, who’d seen many technology failures during her software consulting career. Her current professional “threat-casting” practice envisioned system collapses, mis-identified individuals, drinks spilled on devices, and a host of bugs in any experimental communicator. She’d enlightened her technological profession’s downfall through the lens of that college’s liberal arts education, supplemented now by her enjoyable senior peer learning classes.
Here was a new brand of civil conversation. Casey expected CumuLinker would be exchanging Reunion attendee’s social profiles like 3rd party introductions and updates. Mutual interests could avoid embarrassing name lapses, divorce questions, sorority sniping, or political revelations. Opportunities opened up for unfulfilled longings, friendship mending, and casual get-together’s. Of course, there would be pedigree wars of name-dropping books, honorary degrees, job titles, patents, vacation homes, and friends in high places.
Casey muttered into the darkness, “Does my Enchantress spirit ancestor influence my own symbolism of Internet good and evil? Can my threat-casting mentality grant me power without dampening my spirit? Will the OMG Reunion clarify my remaining life goals? Could my Whisperer break up my unruly communication pattern that acquaintances called “that ‘chip on her shoulder’?”
Her iPhone beeped. A text arrived to pre-welcome her with reminders about the locale and schedule for the next few days. The OMB Reception would be held in a dormitory dining room where she’d once served tables in a black dress and white apron. The Colonial-style Hall was now remodeled into luxury apartments where she’d be sharing a 3-bedroom suite with two widows from the snootiest sorority, without much to say to a nerdy math major. No, “bad thought”, Casey swept that chip off her shoulder.
She most wanted to catch up with lifelong friends Alice and Patrick. Patrick had been a class clown in her science labs. They’d mocked their professors wearing robes at chapel events. He often called her Sunday morning for homework help when he knew she’d be sleeping in or, more likely, alone on the quiet campus, programming at her personal IBM 1620.
A year after graduation, she’d introduced Patrick to Alice, a grad school acquaintance, dead serious about neural nets before that subject drifted into AI. The clown-gown couple, she, and an occasional partner, had visited each others’ homes, shared job woes, watched parents decline, and never reformed Patrick’s clowning.
This last year had been hard on their 3-way friendship. The OMG Reunion would be the first social outing after the Alice-Patrick family trauma. Casey didn’t know how to comfort them, her childlessness making their loss incomprehensible. For the first time in 50 years, she feared teasing Patrick, hugging Alice, speaking her deep nerdy plans to revive her favorite programming paradigm. She wanted to hear that teasing refrain, “Casey, do you still believe computing is good for mankind?”