A Chip On Her Shoulder
“a Chip On Her Shoulder” is a speculative, autobiographical, “teaching” novella.
In ‘DellVille’ Arizona, retired software engineer Cassandra (Casey) Hawke regrets her profession’s effects on society.
Its Late Spring, 2021. Privacy issues have forced Social networks to turn over their data to the regulated ‘CumuLinker’ Trust’. Silicon Valley founders free themselves and their billions for other world-saving ventures by paying reparations to CumuLinker which then took on the challenges of repairing civil discourse after years of disruption by The ‘Great Trickster’. A new wearable communicator — the ‘Whisperer’ — serves third-party personal introductions, conversation starters, and public ‘Life Replayed’ performances.
An algorithmic atrocity at Casey’s ‘OMG (50th)” college reunion leads her into a movement to rebuild the Web, which has become an unreliable, bloated, weapon of surveillance capitalism. She reconnects with Sally Rhodes, a colleague from the 1980 UseNet era who shows her the life style of a person living with vision loss using assistive technology and a bright white cane.
Casey accompanies Sally on a visit with Sally’s newly divorced niece Marilyn in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where they interact with Marilyn’s college-bound son Bob and his wildfire simulator science fair project. Sally and Casey also meet a young entrepreneur, “Millennial Matt”, headed soon to the ‘Oxbridge Graduate school for Informatics’. The five bond into a Team to analyze an ongoing siege of nasty web page defiling, dubbed the ‘Punk Page Rampage’. The team’s goal for rebuilding the web revolves around Sally’s ability to read web pages without the clutter and color that distracts sighted viewers.
Casey’s busy life in DellVille includes peer learning classes and advising a Little Syster, Brittany, on a project about Ada Lovelace, the first programmer. To Casey’s surprise, a CumuLinker-Whisperer event revives her abandoned mid-life romance with a wise Canadian snow-bird environmentalist, Gavin Hunter.
Her experimental programming reveals that Whisperers have an open interface to the 1980s “lost language”, ‘ParaLog’, and critical thinking paradigm, ‘Consequential Reasoning’. Worried about her dwindling retirement savings, she begins using her Whisperer for computational snooping for hire.
Casey also practices threat prediction, which turns real. She consults with Detective Gordon Swank, the Dellville cyber cop, on a possible terrorist attack and survives a half-day shutdown of the town’s Internet. A writing project envisions a total collapse of the WWW during a week of catastrophic events.
As the summer grows hotter, Casey sorts out her debilitating ‘chip on her shoulder’, sympathizes with Sally’s angry reaction to disablism, and advises Marilyn’s social media makeover. Marilyn organizes their team into a podcast series on the Punk Page Rampage to explain why and how web sites are under attack.
Casey is struggling with a serious CumuLinker violation when Gavin pays an enjoyable late summer visit to sustain their relationship. Shortly thereafter, a tragedy highlights Casey’s goal of bringing responsible computational thinking into a reforming society.
Computing history vignettes include: hypertext writing; ArpaNet-Internet commercialization; UseNet-WWW social media; semantic versus visual Web; computing risks to society; Reagan SDI confrontation; Japanese Fifth Generation challenges; and privacy as a wicked problem.
As mortality moves across the “Dawn of the Web”, now is a good time for readers to come to grips with the conjunction of computing and The Great Trickster society.
Susan L. Gerhart is an early computer science researcher in software testing and verification, living with low vision in Prescott Arizona, and attempting her first novel. firstname.lastname@example.org