When I awoke on the morning of October 5, 2038, I was in the third week of my planned withdrawal from the Internet. The withdrawal was still inchoate, yet it kept progressing: there were actually very few roadblocks. I called Amazon and cancelled all Smart connections to my condo. I will say this for Amazon they, sure take care of everything. They contacted all of my service providers and cancelled those things I didn’t need. The conversation explaining what I didn’t need was a slightly awkward. I feared coming out and telling the representative the full-scale of my plan, so some obfuscation of the truth was necessary.
One problem I encountered was finding non-connected appliances. My fridge, for instance, worked perfectly. I had purchased it in 2035 and it was doing a wonderful job of keeping my food cold or frozen and communicating with Amazon about my dietary needs. When I needed more oranges, my fridge would order them from Amazon, my drone would pick them up from the Island Amazon warehouse and I would have them hours later. The convenience, as promised was remarkable, but why did I need this convenience, was I really so incapable? There were still a number of small stores that sold groceries in Nanaimo. If I needed oranges, I thought, why not get out and buy them from the Superette? I could ride my bike down to the store or I could make a list and go shopping every Sunday.
Hunting down the working appliances took me to places I would not normally venture. I knew Amazon served all of Vancouver Island, but its penetration into northern First Nations communities was spotty. The unspoken secret was Amazon had never really made it up to places like Zeballos and Alert Bay because there were not enough people with money to create a sustained demand, though Amazon cited the need to remove more forest to allow freer drone movement.
I knew that if I got to the North Island I would be able to track down some unconnected appliances circa 2020. The first thing I had to do, though, was get up there. I rented a gas powered U-Haul truck in Campbell River. The Campbell River U-haul location was the only rental agency on the island still renting gas vehicles, again due to the lack of drone penetration north past this town. The role of Campbell River as the final line of total corporate penetration into Vancouver Island has remained constant for nearly a century and it was this weakness that I chose to exploit.
The conversation at the U-Haul kiosk was limited, but I do not think the kiosk was overly suspicious.
“Please say or type your destination,” the kiosk said.
“Zeballos and maybe Alert bay,” I said aloud.
“The purpose of the U-Haul rental agency is to assist in moving your physical belongings to areas not served by Amazon drones, is this how you will be using the service?” questioned the kiosk.
“I’m an antique dealer and I have a number of items that I may purchase located in these communities. I hope to sell them on the Amazon Market,” I replied.
“Amazon looks forward to working with you,” replied the kiosk.
This answer seemed to satisfy the kiosk and once my paychip was scanned I was issued a set of keys. Once, behind the wheel the sensation of driving a non-smart vehicle was exhilarating. Being able to push down on that gas pedal and feel the truck pick-up speed was beautiful. BRRRRRMMMMM…POW as the automatic transmission shifted gears going up You could almost feel it drinking in the gas, burning it up. The slums of Campbell River spread along the side of the road. I could remember this area from even twenty years ago: some areas had been logged, true, but they were replanted, things were at least green. The hillsides were now brown, dotted by shacks housing migrant families: migrants from southern countries and Canadian communities that were now uninhabitable, but for different reasons. I could tell the shacks probably washed away during the heavy rains. There was no foundation, just a floor hammered into whatever would hold it and some walls and a roof attached. Men sat on chairs in front of their shacks, drinking Amazon Ale, likely immersed in the Amazon 24-hour a day live sports coverage offered by the ESPORTS chip. Low-end Amazon Essential Drones hovered outside.
“It is better this way,” I thought. “With drones at least we don’t have to see the poor. They can stay in their shacks, watch sports and if they want anything their drone will get it for them.”
The slum extended to what was once called Sayward, but is now just the end point of the Campbell River slum. A wall 100 feet high that ran east-west just after what used to be the Sayward Junction, marked the end of the slums. Again I thought that as unpleasant as it may look, as hard as it may be to reconcile with the Canadian tradition of free movement, the wall made things better. The poor were given vast areas outside of each city, and what did they do? They stripped the land of its beauty, built shacks that were barely inhabitable, and waited to die. Thankfully Amazon, with its progressive policies, and its affordable prices, kept them entertained and pacified. I knew that my desire to disconnect from the company I loved and respected created some cognitive dissonance, but my conscience had been nagging at me to break free. The poor, I knew, didn’t have these same feelings.
Tree coverage once The Wall is passed is remarkable. Second or third-growth to be sure, but this part of the Island remains largely undeveloped. The trees had been planted in the early 2000s but as the demand for wood fiber dropped so to did the profitability of logging this area. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a deer on this lonely stretch of highway.
A hitchhiker stood on the side of the road as I passed the Woss junction. I knew that my insurance would be voided and that I would be responsible for all actions committed by the hitchhiker if I picked him up, but I also knew this was an adventure. My U-Haul was not connected to any Internet provider (that I was aware of) so how would anyone know if I picked up a hitchhiker?
“Where you heading?” I asked
“Heading to the Bay”, he said
“Hop in”, I said
Once he was in the experience resembled the two things I remembered about picking up hitchhikers: 1) The struggle to find a topic of conversation, something substantive enough to mask the power differential, but not so substantive that the hitchhiker would get the wrong idea about our relationship and; 2) My fear of getting murdered. The two concerns are, of course, related; once we got talking my fear of being murdered would be less primary.
Oddly, the hitchhiker was of European descent. Very few European non-professionals lived, or were even granted permission to visit, past Campbell River. Another odd thing was that this man looked and smelled practically poor. In the early part of the century he may have passed for a logger whose weekend had lasted a little too long. Without logging, or any extractive industry to speak of on the Island, his type was superfluous. He really should be mining in the far Extraction Zones.
“Looks like you’re trying to figure out what I’m doing up here,” he said.
“You just seem out of place, that’s all,” I replied.
“What are you hauling to Alert Bay?” he questioned, moving on from the topic of his reason for being in the area.
“Nothing, in fact I’m hoping to take some things away,” was my answer. And I don’t know what made me want to share, maybe just because the experience of being alone with someone and knowing I wasn’t being watched or heard put me at ease, but I began to reveal my plan.
“I’m actually planning on going off the grid. You remember that term?” I asked.
“A little, didn’t people use to use it to mean something like switching to solar electricity?” he replied.
“Exactly, only I’m not giving up electricity. I’m giving up connection. I’m already off Facebook. I have started walking instead of being driven. I no longer carry a phone. I actually found a DVD player and some old movies at a garage sale and have been watching those instead of TV”, I confided. “I hope that I can find some old appliances up in Alert Bay, things like an old stove and fridge. Things that only do what they are made to do, ‘know what I mean?” I asked.
“You should come meet my sister,” he offered. “She has never been connected to nothing. Never even got dialup…haha,” he said. “I bet she even has some old appliances and shit like that she could sell you,”
Then, provoked by nothing he brought up a controversy from a decade ago: “Did you get the chip,” he asked.
I was hesitant to reply. What if he had the chip, this whole conversation would have been transmitted back to the Amazon servers and collected as part their research. Amazon says the research is all part of their metadata collection and that nobody actually listened to conversations, but I had heard this before from tech companies and it had always seemed a little far-fetched. I had never gotten the chip, partly because of fear and partly because something about it seemed wrong. First, getting the chip wasn’t a pleasant process, implantation required a surgical procedure including a brief period of sedation. Upon implantation the chip was in constant communication with Amazon relaying not only your conversations, but also your “needs” to the company. What they did with thise “needs” is what I didn’t like. If you thought about purchasing a new pair of shoes your mind would receive commercials from shoe companies whenever you tried to access the internal Internet. That access was what had so many people willingly allowing “Amazon Surgeons” to implant these chips into their skulls.
Think of your iPhone from 2007 and how amazed you were at having a computer in the palm of your hands and now imagine how bewitching the possibility of having something infinitely more powerful than that phone implanted directly in your brain. If you needed directions somewhere (which is not a good example because people rarely went anywhere nowadays) all you would need to do is think the thought and you would know how to get to the location.
“Nope”, I said. “I was in line for it when the Amazon was running the 30-day free promotion, but I backed out. It just didn’t feel right.
With about fifteen minutes to go before our dated ferry arrived the hitchhiker said: “I’m chip-free too. Had it for a bit, but when I couldn’t pay my monthly fee they threw me in the Restoration Facility and eventually things were cleared up.”
I had heard about the chip removal process and it wasn’t that bad, the problem was finding a way to pay for it. When you couldn’t pay for your internal connection for three months, Amazon had the right to forcibly place you in one of their restoration facilities (each delivery region had one). A person was given five days to come up with the money they owed, if not a surgery was scheduled. “Amazon Doctors” were used for the surgery. The full payment for the surgery and the backfees owing on connection fees were required to be paid before the patient was allowed to leave the facility.
Once we were on the ferry he asked: “You want to smoke a joint?” as he pulled out a tightly rolled dube from his plaid shirt pocket.
“You go ahead,” I said having not smoked for almost two decades.
He lit up. “You must really hate Amazon,” he left hanging in the air with his smoke.
“It’s not hate,” I replied trying to articulate my concerns. “I know Amazon has done a lot of good for our world. I just don’t feel whole with them as part of my life. My mind is my own and the choices I make do not have to be sent directly to Amazon,” I said. “I don’t even have the chip and Amazon still knows what I eat, what I watch, when I sleep, when I get up, which type of soap I use, when I jack-off, where I go, the clothes I wear, and what I say. I just want to be left alone”, I vented
“Sounds like hate to me,” he muttered. “You still wanna come by my sister’s place and pick up the fridge and stove?” he asked.
“Sure thing,” was my reply.
“I’m just going to get some fresh air,” he said and left the truck and walked onto the deck.
Alone in my rental truck I began to think about how lucky I was. Lucky to have the freedom and economic wherewithal to rent this truck. Lucky I lived in a place that still had undeveloped natural beauty available mere hours from my home. And lucky to be able to choose not to be connected. Perhaps I was getting a slight contact high because I was filled with a sense of deep gratitude that I almost never felt. I was so thankful that I picked up the hitchhiker. I remembered that I had never even asked him his name, oh well, I could do it on the way to his sister’s house.
I could see the dock as we got closer. The picturesque fishing-village beauty of the town seen from afar still existed. The marina with its ramshackle collection of old fishing boats, the dated buildings along Front Street, and the homes built on the side of the hill. It didn’t look like much had changed since I was last here. As we got closer something at the dock caught my eye: I could see that there were at least four full-sized Amazon drones hovering near the landing. “Oh shit,” was my immediate thought. Those drones had no business in Alert Bay that I could think of. Something deep inside of me told me those drones were there for me. I could feel my palms becoming sticky and sweat beginning to form under my armpits. “How could they know?” I asked myself, “The hitchhiker”, was the only response I could think of. And I knew I was right.
The ferry docked and panic had set in. Ominously, but not unexpectedly after seeing the drones, the hitchhiker had not returned. I tried to act as if nothing was happening during the unloading process, as if my fate had not already been sealed. I started the U-Haul and exited the ferry like all of the other vehicles. As I drove off the ferry the drones approached. Three hovered above my van, while the other two were hovering next to the driver and passenger windows. I unrolled my window.
“D, Amazon has decided that your proposed antique business is not suitable at this time. U-Haul, a proud partner of Amazon, has rescinded your rental agreement and requests you immediately exit the vehicle,” the drone informed me. There was no sense in arguing; I pulled off to my left, found the only available parking space, and did exactly as I was told.
The drones immediately latched onto the four corners of the vehicle and flew south. I stood on the dock with no plan. My desire to unplug, to go back a measly ten years even, had been thwarted. As I stood there, destitute, I heard another drone approaching. I knew that it was coming for me and there was no sense in trying to escape.
The drone was now directly overhead: “D, pursuant to the 2027 Amazon User Agreement Section 13.2 (a) you agreed to on January 15, 2027 you have been caught attempting to engage in business to the detriment of Amazon’s interests. As per the agreement you will be taken to an undisclosed location, for an indeterminate period of time, where Amazon will teach you about the true nature of our business”. A cloth bag was placed over my head by the drone’s arm and snuggly secured. My hands and feet were bound with disposable restraints.
The drone picked me up from behind and we began flying south, I think.