Colorful times

Section 1: Living Data Chapter 3: Colorful Times

April 20xx, after the OMG Reunion, Rolling Hills OH.

Casey dodged the lawn sprinklers along the path to the central campus parking lot. She recorded the unfamiliar smell of dewy grass as her last OMG Reunion memory. The 6 a.m. railway shuttle had its doors open and motor running. Handing her $20 to the driver, she pushed her suit case down the center aisle then spread out across the back row of seats to avoid conversation after last evening’s fiasco at the OMG reception.

The iPhone in her neck-worn bag and the Whisperer curled in her suitcase beeped simultaneously. An iPhone message confirmed that she’d won the Whisperer decoration contest prize. Her Whisperer now held five personalized versions of ‘Life Replayed’ ready for her solitary reflection or future CumuLinker-sponsored parties, guaranteed Trickster-free.

She looked up to see Patrick and Alice seating themselves near the front door. Patrick poked the driver to get moving. Red-eyed Alice mouthed in her direction, “Talk later”. Then leaned her head on Patrick’s shoulder.

Casey pounded an empty seat in anger at herself and her profession. As an adjunct at DellVille PolyTech, she’d taught data bases and user interfaces. Her lectures expanded dry textbooks to tell personal stories of heroes and leaders in those fields. Yet she couldn’t imagine how to teach the warning signs of using “living data” for financial gain nor how an algorithm could misrepresent a family photo.

She moaned to herself, “I was a colossal failure as a Cassandra! I’ll be more diligent with my new threat-casting gig. An adage re-tweeted in her mind: ‘You cannot see the nuclear cloud through rose-colored glasses’.”

Her mind flashed back to her freshman year humanities courses. Last night’s honored guest was a 90-year-old literature professor who once handed back a blue book exam marked with the only C on her record. Wise professors had forward memories of the World War II era of her birth. They assigned readings about how evil cycles through culture bringing death and threats to freedom. Fifty years later, she understood.

Casey’s mind spun with these thoughts while she unwrapped the breakfast snack she’d grabbed as she left the dorm suite. The bus grinded its gears as she returned to reality for the next leg of her interrupted journey, waving a final goodbye to the campus spire under which she’d begun her career.

Those collegiate ideals reinforced her recent Great Courses lectures on world mythology where a spirited Trickster appears to force a culture to change, or to accelerate its disintegration. The technology created by 20th century computing professionals had evolved so fast,amidst great wealth, overcoming shock from the 9/11 attacks. She’d watched capitalism turn people into products then begin to disintegrate when Trickster-driven election mania incinerated FaceBook’s credibility. Now CumuLinker promoted Trickster-free conversations through Whisperer profile exchanges.

And, she, Cassandra Hawke, the Enchantress of Whisperers, couldn’t keep her mind off the possibilities of programming her Whisperer when she returned home. Something in its behavior reflected a belief system that resembled a wise grandparent soothing a grandchild bullied at school. She had sensed patterns of “unintended consequences”, “cause/effect reasoning”, “critical thinking”, and behavior that clashed with her nagging “Chip on her shoulder”.

Her next stop after this weekend could be scary, as she walked into the engine that propelled science, under the thumbs of The Great Trickster himself. She wished she could talk through her threat-casting challenge with Alice, who knew the difference between knowledge and data and had witnessed the deadly consequences of computation under the guise of defensive warfare. She wondered how long before her reformed view of her profession could mend the friendship torn apart by that act of algorithmic cruelty.

Leaving the reunion after only a few hours sleep forced Casey into decisions about her weekend. She was booked Monday into a hotel in DC for what she expected would be her last panel reviewing proposals for the National Science Foundation. Maybe this weekend could leave more time to renew a friendship with a long-time colleague still working on interesting projects. It wasn’t too early to text Sally Rhodes.

The return text stated that Casey would be welcome to stay at Sally’s condo in Arlington. Sally suggested meeting at the Ballston exit from the Metro where she’d be having coffee and catching up on her podcasts. “It will be good to see you again, kiddo, I’ve got a new project to show off!”

Alice and Patrick were stepping into a taxi by the time that Casey reached the shuttle bus exit. Transfer from the shuttle to the train went smoothly as Casey sleepily slumped into a seat in the quiet car. Her iPhone launched into Twitter. One pass through tweets after the usual Friday night news dump should bore her into a deep snooze, hopefully without drooling. She fumbled in her jacket pockets for tissues and found a note from her reunion suite mates:

“Sorry your nerdy experiment got out of control. Have a nice rest-of-life, computer girl.”

“I’m not going to think about this OMG, sad, reunion again”, she resolved, and clicked on an unfamiliar Twitter hash tag ‘#PinkPageFlu’. Up came a series of messy screen shots with snarky remarks. She pulled down the window blind to better explore this pink weirdness. Stretching over a few months were reports of web sites turning into unusable, irregular, glossy, low contrast pages. Different browsers displayed variations of ugliness, especially if one dislike pink. ‘Like’s and other silly social media actions were often slathered across the page as images. Somehow, the Reader button still generated stripped-down pages of pure text. One panorama of defaced pages mangled the profiles of powerful women in computing, even the ‘Hidden Figures’ and her beloved ‘Enchantress of Number’.

“Hello, Pink New World!”, Casey muttered. Happy moments from her decades as an early netizen popped into her memory. She wished she could turn back the clock to the Dawn of Web Time”, continuing into Usenet discussions, Altavista searches, news feeds, and her very first web page. Nearing sleep, her visual cortex retrieved memories of links that had clicked into joyfully shared writings of early Bloggers.

Then train motion worked its way until bright sun flickered between tall buildings under the window blind onto Casey’s hand, still holding the insulting message from her techno phobic reunion classmates. Casey awoke with a crick in her neck and a ‘low battery’ warning on her iPhone. Now, she was ready to enter another person’s, very different world.

Casey’s friend Sally had retired in the Capitol area to maintain proximity to government consulting as well as access to public transportation. They had shared professional outlooks and interesting adventures back in the days of the Japanese Fifth Generation project.

Casey gathered her suitcase, neck pack, and knew she wasn’t in DellVille any more.

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