Amy noticed it and wondered why no one else seemed to. Everyone in the little town was agitated and irritable; or quietly sad. That was when you actually saw someone outside. People rarely left their houses anymore. Isolation had become a thing. No one joked around at Little League games or stopped by the neighbor’s house to chat. It’s like they forgot how. People were increasingly becoming lonely and disconnected from each other and it was quite ironic, considering.
The town council announced the 5G Free Wi-Fi Program last year. It was the latest “smart city” technology and the mayor beamed with pride at the podium. The test installation was donated by a Silicon Valley start-up and wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. This statement caused the mayor’s chest to puff out a little more; and edge her chin higher. Citizens would be connected to the internet everywhere they went within city limits. As long as you had your smart phone on you it would track your location so clients could find you for a lunch meeting. If your chipped dog or child went missing there would be no need to panic as they’d be located within seconds. If you walk by the grocery store and your shopping list app is activated, the goods would be sent by drone to your home and your credit card billed, all without even entering the store. Not to mention free, free, free internet. Cancel your internet contract and save money.
The last benefit the mayor cited was for the community as a whole. “We’ll be so much closer as connected citizens! Just tap the Cityzens Guide and speak to your neighbor down the street while enjoying coffee at your kitchen table. Have a doctor’s appointment without leaving work, just video chat on your lunch break. This will be so wonderful for everyone. We’ll become a true collective social network.” And with that, her crowd of constituents cheered.
The result had been quite the opposite. Amy began to notice less people at the little outdoor café. The library was like a haunted house, cavernous hallways lined with tomes and no people to read them. She’d text her friends to meet up and they’d start a video chat from their bedrooms instead.
Needless to say, Amy wasn’t on the 5G happy train. She wanted her town back. She wanted real connections rather than digital ones.
Being a brilliant and tech-savvy young woman, Amy devised a plan to wake everyone up. Her secret hacking skills weren’t just her ticket into MIT; they were very useful at times like this. Tonight she would put her skills to use before she ever set foot on the MIT campus.
First she hacked into the network infrastructure making it hers to command. Next she hacked the Cityzens Guide app and blasted out a citywide text on the Emergency Broadcast app. “Emergency meeting downtown by the gazebo – mandatory attendance!” and sent it from the mayor’s account. 20 minutes later the town square was filled with people for the first time in a year.
Sitting on the roof of a nearby building, Amy watched the crowd. Everyone was staring at their phones waiting for instructions or explanation. So Amy killed the signal to their phones. All of them.
The shocked people reacted nervously, checking each other’s phones to see if they were switched off also. After a while they began awkwardly greeting each other. But they were doing it, which was key.
Colleagues were shaking hands and neighbors were hugging each other. They began having conversations, and not about the emergency text. It was cordial and increasingly familiar. Amy began to hear the sound of laughter floating up to her perched position on the rooftop. Satisfied with her success, she activated the flock of drones behind her. A hundred tiny flying machines with colorful LED’s swirled and dipped above the crowd like rainbow fireflies. The crowd sat down on the square to watch, pointing and smiling. They had all become connected again by handshakes, hugs and a childlike delight at simple things.
When the crowd dispersed the only lonely things in town were the abandoned phones littering the square.
Written for Charles Allen Counseling by Lisa Mathisen