Day 26: A POOR START
Yesterday was unremarkable. Or at the very least anticlimactic. We took the F train into the city and looked for the internet. And the only thing stupider than writing that was actually doing it. Tobey said we should start at Washington Square Park because he heard there was good intelligence to be had, but it turned out he just wanted to score some weed. Poor thing. It had been more than a day. So we walked around and talked and eavesdropped and mostly just made asses of ourselves while Tobey floated on his skank bud, and I sipped too frequently from my flask.
Most of the day was spent debating trivia. What year certain movies came out. Who starred in sitcoms from our childhood. And each dispute ended with "agree to disagree," or "I'm telling you, I'm positive," or "Shut up, you're such a fucking idiot." But without Google or IMDB at our fingertips, nothing was resolved. Nevertheless, Tobey can go fuck himself because Jason Bateman totally played the bad kid in Silver Spoons.
Anyway, we got tired around dinner time and went back to my apartment. Not exactly the On the Road experience I'd been hoping for.
"Hey, Tobey," I shouted from my bedroom before passing out. "Not exactly the On the Road experience I was hoping for."
"Is that a movie?" he called from the couch.
"A book! Jack Kerouac."
There was a pause for a moment. Then: "Christ, how old are you?"
Day 27: RUMORS
We left the apartment early - even earlier than I used to stumble out of bed for work. I was determined that this not be another day wasted. Yesterday produced nothing but unsubstantiated rumors. Some claimed the government had shut off the internet to stop the groundswell of free speech and democracy. I didn't find that particularly compelling in a world where the Right was already kicking ass and taking names in the online public influence wars. Others laid blame on corporate America -- specifically, "fucking Corporate America, man." But none of the rhetoric was particularly compelling, because, let's face it, "the Man sucks," will only get you so far. But by 11 a.m., we found someone who could at least put forth a theory.
He was a former Redditor named Sean. Not an internet zombie. Just an agitated dude, holed up in a downtown Starbucks with a grande and stacks of papers. He must have opened the place because he'd managed to score the corner cushy couch for one. His tiny table was filled with mountains of notebooks stuffed with highlighted clippings. I bet he would have rocked the microfiche back in the day.
I asked Tobey to stand back as I approached Sean, considering that between the two of us, I was the one not wearing a T-Shirt for the failed start up, "vaginalbloodfart.com." (I can't remember what Tobes had planned for content, but he never made it past the T-shirt phase anyway.)
In a hyperdriven voice that shook like the loose flap of a car ash tray, Sean explained how corporate America had always preferred to own things before they destroyed them. Case in point? It was the car companies who bought up all the stock in trolley cars until they had the power to dismantle them, thereby forcing everyone to get a car. When comcast merged with NBC in 2010, that was just the start of the internet resting in the control of fewer hands. It just got worse until it only took a small cabal to shut it down.
Of course, there was only one problem with Sean's theory: it was stupid. Capitalists like to play with their toys and there was no compelling reason I could see for them taking their ball and going home. Not this ball that was wanted by millions willing to pay for it. I explained this all to Sean who continued to stare at his data while sipping coffee. After a moment, he wiped the foam from his goatee and said, "Well, fuck. I don't know. Terrorists then, maybe?"
Day 28: Oz
At first, Central Park seemed unchanged. The trees and landmarks were all there, as were the joggers and the stoners playing hackey sack. But a harder look at the circles revealed some were filled with internet zombies and a few of those joggers were just the terrified people fleeing them. I was surprised. At this point, most of us had learned just to ignore and/or avoid the zombies. In another week, they'll be just like pop up ads with the X hidden on the left side. You adjust. Learn a new way to delete.
Harder to ignore, however, are the Twatters. Clever huh? Twitter fanatics who just can't get over their loss. They walk around mumbling tweets to themselves and anyone else unfortunate enough to hear. "I'm standing in line at the post office. I'm headed to South Street Seaport. Laugh out loud, performing street clown!"
But not all the changes are so ominous or annoying. As we sat and regrouped, I pointed out to Tobey that that some of the park chess tables had been converted to Scrabble boards to meet the growing addiction fueled by the Facebook app.
"Hmm, I didn't think folks would go for that in real life," I said. "Keeping score's a drag."
"I wonder if people will start farming again," Tobey pondered.
Go to page 2.
We sat there a little longer, but neither Tobey's jokes nor sips from my flask could quell my rising anxiety. Not even this journal that keeps my hands busy and my mind occupied can put me at ease. There's something about the pen scratching against the thick textured paper that makes my words take on greater weight. Like their existence must be justified. It troubles me. Online, words flow almost as quickly as thoughts without revision or purpose, the way they do when you're alone, answering to no one.
I needed that back, but all we had were these rumors that were "totally true because it happened to this guy my cousin knows." Something more had to be done. If someone had internet, I wanted it.
"Tobey," I said, while unscrewing my flask for dramatic emphasis, "we're not doing this right."
"I don't know. Knees bent, ass planted, back against the rest... I'd say we're sitting on this bench perfectly."
Much like a 2am text from a drunken acquaintance, I decided to ignore Tobey's joke completely.
"No, I mean, we're looking for information. But we're not getting involved enough."
"Gladstone, I'm not getting into another Digg or Reddit circle. I can't take it."
"No, we need to go deeper. Not self-styled internet reporters and editorialists. We need to get behind the scenes. Hackers. What we need is..." I now took the swig of Scotch. (I really nailed the timing). "4Chan."
"You've got to be kidding me? You want to seek out a bunch of /b/tard hacking imps? Online, they gave us Rickrolls and LOLcats, who knows what they're capable of in real life?"
"I'm guessing nothing," I said. "They did that behind the cover of anonymity. In person, I'm guessing we'll find Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, except not high, and inexplicably bitter."
"Don't disrespect the /b/tards," someone said and upon closer inspection, that someone was Australian. And a woman.
Sitting on the neighboring bench in her boots, torn fishnets and mini skirt was a living hyperbole of retarded sexuality. The pink streak in her hair. The heavy eye makeup and the harlequin nails alternating in red and black all reeked of desperate Hot Topic posturing that spoke in equal parts to 14 year old boys and dirty old men.
I took a moment before speaking, conscious that this was one of those dramatic opening lines that required a clever and witty response.
"Fuck, you're hot," Tobey said.
"Ignore my friend," I apologized "Sometimes, he forgets public spaces are different from chat rooms."
"I'm familiar with that phenomenon. So you boys looking for the internet? Because I could use some help in that area."
"Oh, yeah, we're doing some heavy duty investigative shit," Tobey said. "We hear someone in New York's got it."
"Yeah, I heard that too."
" That rumor's going around Australia?" I asked.
"No, I got it from a Reddit circle in Brooklyn."
"Then why were you already in New York if you hadn't yet heard the rumor?"
"For fuck sake. You try living in Perth without internet."
Her name was Oz, which was apparently short for Ozzygrrl69. Our newfound friend was 23 years old and made her living letting men watch her shower for money. Much like Tobey, the death of the internet meant the loss of her livelihood.
She was all for seeking info from the /b/tards, but didn't know where to find them and was afraid to go alone. I didn't blame her. Overt sexuality without the distance and anonymity of the internet was dangerous. We decided to pool our resources. And that's when I noticed the black ops helicopters. Troops and dogs emerged around the perimeter of the park. Some zombies approached the dogs eager to see a stupid pet trick like they remembered from YouTube or take a pic they could use for a funny caption. They were summarily mauled. New York City, we were told, was shutting down.
TO BE CONTINUED ...
Go to part 4.
Missed the prior installments of Notes from the Internet Apocalypse? Start here. Also, check out Gladstone's article about "5 Famous Artists Who Didn't Create Their Signature Creation," only in the new Cracked.com book. Oh, and his site. You can also follow Gladstone on Twitter and Facebook. Wow, you have a lot of things to do.