Buffering

by Kate Lee, MPH
photo by Alaina Latona

Since the promotional launch of the Vitra Rosa, or just the Vitra for short, the world saw an influx of streamed daily life. Initially a branch of the highly profitable virtual reality gaming industry, or VR, Vitra became an independent offshoot that seamlessly extended itself into social media and marketing. The virtual reality experience of individuals could be edited, filtered, and shared to their followers. It was a lightweight headset that resembled a sleek pair of wrap-around eyeglasses. A more apt description was a cooler version of laboratory goggles. With the tap of a button on the stem, users can edit and share their experiences with a swipe of the hand. Depending on the version of the headset or the strength of the internet connection, some users experienced slight buffering when immersed in the Vitra. But, otherwise, the streamlined flow of information in the form of an immersive and authentic experience far outweighed the intermittent lag.

People needed to feel. The hunger for publicity and the reciprocated provision of an audience exceeded the act of simply scrolling through videos or pictures on a device. Users with the Vitra were able to fully immerse themselves in an experience: the glamour of celebrity parties, looking out into exotic landscapes, driving an Italian sports car in the Grand Prix. Eventually, it seemed imperative to survival that everyday tasks were shared with the global social platform for everyone to see, no matter how mundane. The insatiable craving for information was visceral, and nothing felt more real than wanting to authentically live someone else’s life. You felt actual hunger for this.

Individuals concerned with privacy and security were marginalized by society, little by little, framed as selfish contrarians, intent on refusing to contribute to a greater global awareness. By the same token, the masses who subscribed to the Vitra were painted as narcissistic sycophants, reveling in collective admiration and requiring validation for personal growth. Everything streamed was stored in a global Vitra cloud, the Nimbus. Nothing was ever lost, just like energy, it was only transferred. Nobody thought anything of it, and it created new profitable industries and products. Ocuvision was one of them. It was a beautiful piece of higher civilization and you wore it. All your friends had it. Anybody who was anybody had it.

At first, it was only celebrities and social influencers who were privy to the new technology of Ocuvision, an implant that allowed users to upload not only everything visually seen through their daily life, but their internal monologue, the smells, tastes, and their perceptions that would echo days or even months afterward. It was a short outpatient procedure to install the Ocuvision. You remembered how you went straight to happy hour afterwards. Users subscribed to certain channels could experience the visual streams live or on Nimbus. These experiences, according to Ocuvision founders, were authentic. There were no editing or filtering capabilities. All moments could be instantaneously captured and streamed. Again, nothing was ever lost. You gained so much more.

The reception of Ocuvision was largely positive. People could no longer make the claim that life on social media was not always what it appeared to be when the implant countered that very point. The high demand for Ocuvision made its installation more accessible and affordable to the larger community. As with all technology, cheaper knock-offs were also manufactured and hastily inserted, often leading to unfortunate glitches in the individual’s sensory output and perception. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even issued a warning against the installation of illegitimate implants. You remembered your cousin getting septic shock from scar tissue infection.

Ocuvision had far greater implications for security than any other device. Some would call these consequences unforeseen, but many would claim they had heralded warnings from the beginning. Hindsight is always 20/20. Powerful world leaders harboring national security secrets and financial gurus that weaved magic in the stock market were all potential targets of extremely capable backdoor hackers. Individuals in these coveted positions wearing the implant were hacked. It was only a matter of time, and it was all over the news. You watched these tabloid headlines across the screens, at first amused, and then slowly, terrified.

It began with financial fraud or leakage of private experiences. Affairs were unearthed. Insider trading further uncovered. In the beginning, it was nothing more than sensational news from the private lives of high-profile individuals. But, it quickly evolved into hackers interfering with the digital experience from within the users’ implants. Everything displayed through their Ocuvision could be fabricated. Every detail could be adjusted, filtered, and fed through the implant, and inevitably, through the person’s experience. The only telltale signs were tiny glitches that could be seen sporadically within the field of vision. At times, vision or auditory sensations seemed to buffer as these false sensations were downloaded. You’d pick at the scar where the implant was inserted. You weren’t utterly convinced that your implant was safeguarded despite the numerous firewalls you were assured it had. You called customer service 7 times in one night.

It wasn’t long before movements and thoughts were easily controlled through an implant hack, as the technology activated not only the optic nerve, but the frontal cortex of the brain, and thus the entire organ. Signals could be sent through the amygdala to channel rage and jealousy, or worse, to the brainstem to shut the person down. So sensitive and powerful was this implant that body chemistry could be altered. One could induce depression by channeling the constant reuptake of serotonin. You became a hypochondriac.

The sudden death of the President of Venezuela was found to be attributed to an internal hacking: an implant assassination. Impulses sent through the implant traveled to his heart. What was first diagnosed as ventricular tachycardia was now ruled a homicide. A rebel force overthrew the existing administration and enforced martial law. One by one, heads of state were eliminated through implant assassinations. Nobody was sure of the motive. It seemed as though these attacks were conducted simply to exhibit their ability to do so. Compounded by the rising rates of suicides and schizophrenia attributed to implant hacks, there seemed to be no respite for individuals who had subscribed to the once worshipped piece of technology. Your best friend ran into the subway platform onto the incoming 6 train last Thursday. He said he kept hearing voices that weren’t there, that weren’t part of an experience, that weren’t real. You wait anxiously for your turn.

“Than you for playing,” read the message on the screen as the display faded to black.

You deactivate the headset and scratch the place where the straps touched the tips of your ears. It was itchy, but more annoying than actually bothersome. How long had you been in the system? VR gaming always took its toll on you and you always removed the headset feeling disoriented. Your colleague approached you from the break room and motioned for you to join the rest of the crew. It was someone’s birthday. Free food, why not? His expression was abruptly interrupted when the left side of his body began to buffer.

 

Kate Lee is a lover of science fiction and magical realism in contemporary literature. "eleven" is a short story version of a larger fictional piece she is currently writing, inspired by her experience in disaster and outbreak response. "eleven" explores humanity's contingency plan for survival, and the ripple effects of the decisions we make, both small and large. Kate received her MPH in Epidemiology at Tulane School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine, her BS in Neuroscience from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is currently residing in New York as a health informatics analyst at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Alaina Latona