Iniquitous Computing by Edward M. Lerner

Home! A man’s home is his castle … and every proper castle has a moat that keeps the outside world outside. In today’s world, a moat required not the presence of water but the absence of certain radio waves. A plethora of chattering devices would confuse even each other, I had gleaned from the patron’s words, so these wireless networks emitted signals able to traverse only short distances. As murky and phantasmagorical as this explanation had been to me, I had retained one essential fact. The myriad sensors and computers and whatnots now embedded in all things new extracted the energy that ran them, as if by magic, from the invisible radio waves.

Eventually, I escaped the city, only to be startled when, as my car finally directed itself into the secluded lane at the end of which is located my old home, I espied an enormous trailer.

The widow Carmichael, I knew, had recently moved to a nursing establishment. We had little contact, beyond pleasantly nodding if we chanced to see one another from our adjoining gardens … our appreciation of each other as neighbors derived from shared values rather than any verbal interaction. We were both, if the truth be told, technophobic. I inclined my head slightly as the car passed my new neighbor standing vigil behind his moving van. A large appliance I inferred to be a holovision set was being wheeled down a ramp as I passed.

Home! I let out a gentle sigh of relief as I strode to my front door. The portal gleamed smartly with a fresh coat of Williamsburg blue paint. For some reason, the paint can had been specifically labeled for exterior door applications.

“Hey, Dave,” called out the front door as I approached.

Smartly, had I just thought? “That’s Dr. Whitaker to you.” As I searched my trouser pocket for a house key, the latch released itself with a click. The porch sconces and foyer chandelier lit themselves. My mind reeled in confusion.

The refrigerator had just completed a warning about the insufficiency of milk when enlightenment redundantly dawned. My new neighbor, he of the holographic home theatre, was surely not of a mind with the widow Carmichael and me. There must be, for the first time since I had purchased my isolated residence, a wireless local area network installed in the adjacent property … and the extent of that local area must include my own humble abode.

My moat had been drained; the barbarians were inside the castle. Wearily, I dropped my Harris tweed jacket.

“Davey,” boomed a jocular voice from the laundry room. “That jacket tells me that it’s dry-clean only. I wouldn’t want you to have any unrealistic expectations, Davemeister.”

I fell heavily into a red leather wingchair. A family heirloom, it was free of whatever insidious and invidious process embedded speechifying devices in all things new.

They are printed in semiconducting ink, often invisible ink, whispered an inadvertently informed recess of my memory, of no more consequence to the manufacturer than a dab of paint. At a penny per computer, effortlessly connected by spectral energies invisibly penetrating our living spaces … why not, went the conventional wisdom, disperse the mechanisms everywhere?

“Because I want to be alone!” I thundered at that foolish, foolish thought.

“You are alone, Dr. Whitaker.” Turning towards the unexpected reply, I noticed that in my perplexity I had left the front door agape. As if encouraged by my glance, the entryway continued. “May I suggest, if your current preference is for privacy, that you might shut me?”

“I shall research motorized hinges to prevent such inconvenience in the future,” continued the door, have inexplicably taken on a lower timbre.

“Who is there?” Vague remembrances of Poe’s raven assailed me.

“The knob,” admitted the door, in its prior, tenor register. “That is, I spoke on its behalf. It’s old and lacks a speech transducer.” In the alternative, deeper voice it continued. “There are several hinges in my maker’s catalogue that would visually complement myself.”

I leapt from my chair and slammed the door, in hopes of eliminating the reason for its intolerable yammering and for the satisfaction of the consequent reverberation. I then fled to the kitchen. Water splashed onto my face calmed me only a little. I blotted the droplets running down my cheeks with a towel seized from the counter.

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Categories: Edward Lerner