by futurist Richard Worzel, C.F.A.
Zine is deadheading, which is to say he’s asleep. “Deadheading” is a slang term that means he’s unplugged from the Net, and is not presently conducting multiple online interactions.
Sometimes he stays plugged in – or “zup,” which some think means “heads up” while others believe it derives from the greeting “what’s up” – even while sleeping.
When he stays zup while sleeping, his connection to the Net through his computer genie stays open, even though he doesn’t participate. This can give him strange dreams, but he’s used to that. Online interactions also filter into his memory, and add to his apperceptive mass – the collection of subconscious knowledge each human accumulates through their living experience.
When Zine Is Zup
Zine (pronounced “Zeen”) is a 15-year-old boy, and is plugged in virtually all the time, except the rare times when he’s deadheading. He writes a blog about the implications and lifestyle of someone who is always zup, sells t-shirts and related souvenirs using his “Life’s Zup” logo, and has been hired to speak at a number of technology conferences.
His computer genie – the software that animates his wearable computer and acts as his personal assistant – manages the hardware and software connections necessary for his perpetually online lifestyle, guards him from viruses and hackers, makes and reminds him of appointments, pays his bills, helps him run his business, monitors his health, physical activity levels, food consumption and nutrition, and acts as a totally loyal sidekick, assistant, gofer, guardian, manager, talent agent, and anything else an intangible but powerful and dedicated computer can do for a human being.
Zine’s genie, which he has named “Goody,” is the lineal descendent of the smartphones virtual assistants of the 2010s. It is surprisingly complex, astonishingly intelligent, and was provided to Zine free of charge by American Express Softwarewhen he first started school. Amex seeds a range of kids with apparently bright futures with such free hardware and software – and does so in competition with many other companies eager to build brand loyalty.
Since then, Zine has had Goody download a broad range of software plug-ins, some provided by Amex, but many coming from other suppliers and the constantly bubbling marketplace of freeware and shareware extensions to genie programs.
The Implanted Computer
When Zine reaches his 18th birthday, he plans to have surgical computer implants in his ears for hearing online, in his throat for speaking online, and under his left armpit for the main processor and memory storage units. His parents won’t allow this to happen while Zine is a minor, but can’t stop him when he reaches his majority.
Once he’s done that, all he’ll need to do is put in his contact lenses (which act as his computer monitor) every morning to be a complete Nethead, plugged into the Net, and the cyberspace world in which he mostly lives. He’s thinking about having eye surgery to permanently implant the necessary circuitry, but is temporizing on this until there’s more experience with this kind of implant.
At present, Zine bumps along with ear buds to hear with, a throat mike worn in a leather necklace, and contact lenses, all tied together wirelessly with the wearable computer he wears on his belt during the day, and which sits in a holster on his bed table at night. All of the hardware or software has been provided for free by various corporations under agency agreements that work to the advantage of both sides.
The Coming Battle Over Being Online
The reason Zine is deadheading right now is that he’s got an important exam tomorrow – important for more than one reason. He’s taking a final exam in genetic and proteomic engineering at his high school in the morning, and figures he needs undisturbed rest – at least that’s the test-taking advice Goody is giving him, and Zine usually listens to Goody’s advice.
This exam is important not only to Zine, but is of great interest to a large segment of society as well, and Zine will walk into the school building past a battery of reporters who will record and transmit Zine’s progress. Zine, along with many other of his contemporaries, has been fighting a legal battle to be allowed to get assistance from their computer genies in schoolwork and exams, which the education establishment and most of adult society have opposed.
The adults contend that over-reliance on wearable computers and genie software will produce an inability to think, reason, or recall without a wearable computer, and they see this as a major threat. Accordingly, they believe that wearable computers should be prohibited in learning environments.
Zine, his contemporaries, and a small group of adult Netheads and renegade educators disagree, pointing out that workers of all ages today are constantly supported by computers of all shapes and kinds, and that the people are more productive and produce better, more informed results than they would without computers.
Is Using the Internet Cheating? Ask Someone from the 15thCentury…
Since Zine’s supporters have access to almost all of humanities’ history and records, they also point out that scholars in the 15th century warned that the widespread rise of literacy brought about by the invention of moveable type and the greater availability of books would destroy humanity’s ability to memorize long tracts of knowledge. In this they proved correct, but humanity wound up better off even without prodigious trained memories.
More recently, in the 1980s schools allowed students to use electronic calculators, and in the 1990s and 2000s, computers with CD-ROM libraries and Internet connections to perform research, yet few people in the modern era would argue that educators should ban such technologies.
Furthermore, the Netizens argue, being zup is the way virtually all working people will function in future, and so it is only natural and even desirable that students be allowed to be zup to complete their assignments and exams.
After years of arguing, this issue finally wound up in court, and will eventually wind up at the Supreme Court for final adjudication, especially as the proponents are citing the Bill of Rights, and opponents are comparing this to cheating on exams. Meanwhile, Zine, who has become the test case for much of the legal battle, is under a court injunction to take this exam without assistance from his wearable computer and genie. Goody cannot to help Zine in any way with the exam, and must, indeed, remain at home while Zine’s taking the exam.
Zine’s lawyers, paid for by his cyberspace support groups and fan club, plan to appeal the results, but are powerless to stop this exam from taking place. Zine, meanwhile, has privately told them not to worry – he plans to ace the exam on his own, and without the surreptitious help his fellow Netizens had offered to find a way to supply.
As Zine is famous as one of the most plugged in and multi-tasking Netizens of cyberspace, his case has attracted a great deal of attention around the world by people on both sides of the issue. Most teachers’ unions, the education establishment, and many groups of concerned parents believe that plugged-in students aren’t really learning, merely repeating what their genies tell them. Netheads disagree, and Zine has become the poster boy for their cause, which is why he is deadheading in preparation for tomorrow’s exam.
© Copyright, IF Research, September 2018.
A version of this article appeared in Teach magazine.
Recall that this is a fictional account of a possible future. To my current knowledge, neither American Express, nor anyone else, is currently doing anything like this. But I’d suggest that they should think about it…