11. Reality Control

“Yes ma’am,” Mr. Dame said into his telephone, not noticing the last students slipping into the room as the bell rang, “I know that we’re covering less literature than was on Mrs. Robinson’s syllabus. But the syllabus is just a map, and the map is not the territory — a territory we are drilling for oil and mining for gold in. You’ve admitted that the essays you’ve read are some of the best that you’ve read.” He paused, listening to the response from the office. “Yes ma’am, I’ll start trying to pick up the pace.” He hung up the phone and hung down his head.

“It’s okay, Mr. Dame,” said Sandy reassuringly, “we appreciate the slightly slower pace. It gives us a better chance to appreciate the literature.”

“Thanks, San…” Mr. Dame said, looking up and surveying his class properly. They were all sitting up with stunning straightness for the time of morning, smiles plastered across their faces, eyes twinkling with the cunning of youth. Slow awareness crept into his cognition as a regular cadence of grey and blue failed to give way to the usual chaotic splatters of high school wardrobe colors. Each student was wearing a grey shirt and blue jeans, their copies of 1984 sitting perfectly in the center of each desk. “Oh,” he said, suddenly wishing that Ms. Apple was still grilling him on the pace of the class. Today was going to be one of those days, but even more so. He should have expected this, he realized: go slow enough and eventually the students would stop just reacting and start pro-acting, as they were now.

“So,” said Mr. Dame, hoping his voice didn’t waver, “1984: what did you notice?”

“I noticed that the elevator in Winston’s apartment building was permanently broken, just like the one on Big Bang Theory,” Jenny said brightly.

“The tele screen exercise bit made me feel particularly self-conscious when doing my Wii Fit yoga routine,” admitted Christie.

Mr. Dame didn’t doubt the veracity of those statements, but it wasn’t how this discussion was supposed to start. “One particular thing stood out to me,” contributed Mr. Dame, “and that was the specific phrase about Goldstein’s speaking, his claim that the revolution had been betrayed. The Revolution Betrayed is a book by Leon Trotsky, a contemporary of Lenin and Stalin who Stalin purged from Russia and then had assassinated in Mexico.”

“All of the references to gin made me think of a talk that Clay Shirky gave on cognitive surplus,” said Brett, giving Mr. Dame what he wanted. “It was back in the industrial revolution when people were failing to adjust to the transition from farms to factories, and they had gin pushcarts going through the streets. Compare that to today when companies prohibit any drinking during the day, never mind hard liquor. But Orwell’s constant use of it suggests that life is in an exceptionally unnatural state for people.”

“I was shocked by the amount of awkward sex in it,” said Diane, her tone uncertain as to whether she should be embarrassed for bringing it up or smugly superior in her own sexuality. “I mean, the bit about Winston’s wife turning all stiff and wooden during sex? I shouldn’t have to think about that no matter how bad civilization gets.”

“I could actually almost sympathize with that,” replied Ken instantly, “I mean, consider how pathetic Orwell rendered Winston: he’s got failing circulation and chronic respiratory problems, he’s mentally unstable, he’s under the sway of the party, he’s got a sociopathic lack of empathy — if you recall his kicking the hand into the gutter — and yet he doesn’t really comprehend any of his weaknesses except in relation to postponing his death at the hands of the Party. Really, it’s kind of like how T.S. Eliot gave us Prufrock, except that Winston here seems like he might start cutting on himself at any moment.”

Mr. Dame glanced nervously around the room wondering if any of these students used self-mutilation as a demonstration of their control over their physical bodies. They all looked normal enough, but the first rule of proper cutting was that it couldn’t show: to show the marks was to be losing control of them. His eyes paused on Sandy.

“I noticed the multiple references to the Party disappearing people at night,” said Sandy.

“Mostly. Mostly,” Joey agreed before adding, “Then there were how people were starving and malnourished, but still totally creative and crafty in their support of the government. I mean, a bunch of girl scouts made a paper mache head of Big Brother like six feet across, but dang if they had enough to eat or could stay warm in the winter. I totally don’t comprehend that.”

“There’s a lot to not comprehend when reality is treated as wholly subjective,” Mr. Dame reassured him.

“I find it oddly fitting that when we talk about a surveillance society today, we refer to it as ‘Orwellian,’ ignoring first that Orwell’s ideas about surveillance were based on Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, ignoring second that Orwell’s bigger ideas were the effects of falsifying official records and rewriting history, and ignoring third that ‘Orwell’ was just the pen name for a guy whose real name was Eric Blair,” said Sofia with exacting precision.

Mr. Dame hadn’t a clue what she was really talking about, but thought the second point sounded promising and asked her to continue with it.

“The ultimate problem that 1984 presents for the reader — above and beyond the mind-numbingly unpleasant characters — is that the book is a record revolving around falsified records,” Sofia continued. “If we grant Orwell his superior vantage point as author, then he rewrites human nature to say that nobody aspires above malnutrition, and they’ll do it for the glory of somebody who doesn’t actually exist. But in the active falsification of the records, and consistent to Orwell’s style, we only know what Winston knows — according to the limits of his sociopathic and doublethinking mind. It’s kind of like Hamlet that way, really.”

“But people won’t necessarily aspire above malnutrition if they’re constantly reassured that the state is taking as good of care of them as they need,” asserted Heidi. “I was watching a film on Kim Jong Il’s North Korea and he was totally able to keep people oppressed and starving by suggesting that there was plentiful food everywhere else in the country, and having big celebrations to distract people from the simple fact that they were starving to death. Of course,” she added after a pause, “they did have an actual and specific leader — Kim Jong Il — working a cult of personality to secure the material wealth of the nation to him and his posterity. Similarly, you can look at Hitler, or Stalin, or Mao, all of whom provided the focus for a whole lot of atrocities… and I’m not sure if a society could maintain that kind of focus on the abstracted Big Brother.”

“If you compare this to V for Vendetta,” Ken suggested, “the British people there were kept content and told to be thankful to their leaders and religion that they weren’t some other nation. Rather than having a big brother looking down on the people, the leader is shown looking to the sky and to God for guidance. Because really, all the government really needed was the silent consent. Which is pretty much what the party needed from the proles and its outer members, right? But instead the Party is doing all this forced labor stuff and starving people so that it can supposedly destroy the excess production in the furnace of an endless, and thus pointless, war for which they need a perpetual stream of enthusiasm and morale.” He paused, considering the demands of the party. “I don’t get it,” he concluded.

“But it’s not just fictional leaders,” continued Sandy, “dictators are often shown being aspirational, wanting their people to live up to their reportedly lofty example. It’s unusual that Big Brother is looking down on his people, that the Party is opposed to aspiration entirely. A better control would probably be ‘All of your little brothers and sisters are watching you, make Big Brother proud.'”

“And you haven’t even mentioned the sexual repression,” Heidi piled on, “which contrasts poorly with Nicolae Ceaușescu’s 1966 decree specifically aimed at increasing fertility and boosting the population in Romania.” Mr. Dame hadn’t a clue what she was talking about, but nodded encouragingly. “I mean really,” she continued, “if the point of the Party is to establish one constant and enduring order, then I think that forcing people to contain their sexual energies would only lead to larger chaotic outbursts. You can double-check me on this, but I don’t think any of those guys who snap and go on shooting rampages are getting laid at all. Similarly, there’s a considerable up-tick in the number of fights in B-hall at the start of jock mating-season. Regardless, if the goal is to sink out all of the excess capacity of the people and thus drain their ability to disrupt the order, then they’re either failing by suppressing sex in the party or failing by not suppressing it in the proles,” she concluded.

“Random pregnancies are pretty disruptive as well,” Mr. Dame suggested weakly. “But,” he added in an attempt to twist the discussion back to 1984 and its disclaiming of reality, only to be run over by the wagon train of his students’ thoughts.

“Well that would be what birth control is for — to prevent disruptions like that,” said Diane as if this were the single most obvious idea in the world. “The pill was effectively developed in 1944. Orwell should have known this. Did he really understand women’s issues at all?”

“And the fashion sense was atrocious,” Jenny interjected, optimistically sensing her cue. “Really, everybody in overalls? All of the party members should have at least been wearing suits as a matter of instilling party pride.”

“All of the upper class folks in Gattaca were wearing suits,” observed Ken, nodding at Jenny, “and that provides an alternate model: have the Party help the proles to genetically engineer superhuman children for the proles to bear, and recruit those children into the party while indenturing the proles to the Party for the favor of having privileged offspring.”

“How would you get the super-kids away from the prole-nts?” queried Jacob.

“Oh, well the kid is special and because the kid is special, they need the best education that the Party can provide them — so the Party takes them off to boarding school for indoctrination,” Ken replied, “I mean, Parsons’s kid turned on him without that kind of indoctrination; imagine how much more quickly the superhuman children could be turned against their embarrassingly mundane parents when they’re being taught ‘The Party is mother, the Party is father.'”

“That’s the Psicorps from Babylon 5, right?” whispered Brett.

“Hell yeah,” replied Ken, “they wore snazzy suits, too.”

“And gloves,” reflected Brett. “They didn’t like their telepaths touching each other or having uncontrolled sex.”

“Yeah, but the sex restriction was a matter of eugenics more than arbitrary oppression,” said Ken, as if the mitigating circumstances of running an advanced eugenics program made sexual repression wholly permissible.

“But getting back to the overalls,” said Jenny, regaining control of the discussion, “they’re both super-uniform and super-boring. The most interesting embellishment available is the crimson sash of the junior anti-sex league: who could possibly put a red sash on a girl in that environment and think that it’s a total turn-off?”

“One of Goldstein’s agents, clearly,” opined Sandy.

“So, um, about the Reality Control,” interjected Mr. Dame, hoping to get the conversation back on a track relevant to the core of the book.

“If they’d let Party members spend more time horizontal they wouldn’t have to work so hard at it,” Christie persisted. “I mean, look at the effect that Winston and Julia have on each other. Immediately Winston stops focusing on hating on the party for what, a week, just out of the hope of having a chance to talk to a girl. What was the clumsy description, ‘restless dream’? Anyway, after they hook up and start talking about how much they hate the Party together, they cover their tracks by spending all the more time actively supporting the Party. The Party was either exceptionally dumb in allowing it to go on for as long as they did, or exceptionally dumb in shutting down a pair of vivacious supporters.”

Jacob took pity on Mr. Dame and gently steered the discussion away from peculiarities of fascist sex. “They also worked to hard on reality control while managing the war,” he said. “Really, if the war is always against one of two countries, then don’t rewrite history to keep the war consistent every time it changes — just re-label the maps. It’s not like anybody cares about the other countries anyway, or has cause to look at a map larger than the area where the police will let them wander. And besides, if they’re the keepers of the records which nobody else gets to see except on special request, then why not just update or fabricate the records as necessary? There was a movie, Wag the Dog, where they did exactly that. ‘Hey, we need to re-discover an old tune and appropriate it for trumped-up jingoistic purposes. Can you stick it in the archive several years ago for us to discover? Thanks!’ Really, I don’t know what the Party was playing at, but it seems to me that they’re total amateurs.”

“One of the crucial difficulties of maintaining a highly-productive society is figuring out what to do with the surplus,” Sofia explained. “In the movie Brazil, which heavily referenced 1984, the wealth of the nation was squandered on bureaucrats and plastic surgery. In 1984, it was squandered on Floating Fortresses.”

“And today there’s a lot of pandering to Florida voters while we fight a perpetual War on Terror. Life imitates art,” Heidi said grimly.

“The problem with being an unbalanced super-power like we are,” Sofia added, “is that the ritual of excess-destruction isn’t balanced. We may support sinking the Somalian pirates, for example, but we can’t figure out why we should spend billions of dollars doing it when they spend only a couple of thousand dollars causing us trouble. It was like at the height of our involvement in Iraq: suicide belts were $42, but we were spending billions to be over there. It would’ve been cheaper to just give everybody a suicide belt.”

Joey led the shocked and appalled response: “God Sofia, that’s so morbid.”

“I’m not saying it would’ve been a good idea at all, I’m just saying that’s what the numbers were,” Sofia clarified. “The implication is that when the numbers can’t distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea, then maybe both ideas — occupying them versus helping them all kill themselves — are bad. In this same way, the Party solves for alleged overproduction by engaging in a war instead of just putting stuff in a pile and lighting it all on fire. My point is that the interchangeability of these options suggests that neither is a good solution, and a better solution should’ve been searched for.”

“But that almost actually justifies the Party,” Heidi replied. “See, as soon as we admit that most people don’t actually need to produce anything lest they create un-consumable surplus, then we realize that society has become a really big herd of many-too-many people. Once we’re looking at a herd of people, then we’re talking about people as an singular object, rather than a lot of individual persons. And the totalitarian mindset that governs the herd of people isn’t going to have any qualms about snuffing out the occasional person who gets separated from the herd.”

“Exactly,” said Sofia, visibly proud of her friend, “which is why Winston can say that hope is in the proles when they are abstracted from him, but then Winston’s despairing about how none of the individual proles will ever lead a revolt against the Party when he’s actually walking among them. This is almost certainly Orwell showing through his work: his time on the edge of the British empire in Burma as well as being a journalist in the poverty-labor programs in England would certainly put him in a semi-elitist mind-set to see ordinary people in this way, despite his particular socialist beliefs.”

“Wouldn’t hope have been a thoughtcrime?” Ken asked Brett.

“Shouldn’t Newspeak have eliminated the word ‘hope’?” replied Brett.

“Um, yeah,” agreed Mr. Dame, wary of the amount of eye-glazing that was going on around the room. Glancing at his notes for a simpler question, he rejoined with: “So, why does the Party want to insist that two and two equal five?”

“Oh, that’s just basic economics,” Jacob quipped back, “just given two and two, you’d expect to get four, but given IngSoc’s patented value-additive process, you get five. That’s why you should always want to choose the Party answer: you always get more than you expect!”

“Given an electroshock machine with a dial that goes to 10, the Party would make one with a dial that goes to 11!” Brett added.

Mr. Dame almost corrected Brett by mentioning that the electroshock machine went to 100, but then realized a new anomaly that Jacob had uncovered: “But why would somebody choose to join the Party?”

The class looked around at each other as if this were a trick question. Mr. Dame hadn’t intended it that way: why anybody would want to join the Party simply was not clear in Orwell’s writing. Proles were free unless they got sent to forced labor where they were still more-or-less free, but Party members were always subject to denunciation by each other, and needed travel papers, and were generally as poor as any prole with no opportunity to show initiative towards self-subsistence. Almost certainly prevalent in the minds of the boys was the simple fact that only proles got porn.

Christie thought a bit harder about the question and returned with, “How would I choose to join the Party?” The class turned and stared at her, wondering when the trick questions were going to stop. “I mean, hypothetically,” she clarified, “anybody can join the Party because it’s not hereditary, except that they actively exclude proles while simultaneously discouraging mass procreation in their own ranks, which is necessarily going to throw the ratio of proles to Party out. Neither Winston nor Julia nor anybody really ever talks about their Come-To-Jesus moment of joining the Party, so rites of initiation — or even just entrance exams — don’t really figure in.”

Jenny channeled the confusion of the classroom into asking: “So the Party that nobody in their right mind would want to join is too exclusive to let anybody join anyway? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“What you’re missing,” suggested Sofia, “is that this isn’t supposed to make sense. The inner party is the inner party because they’re all completely insane. I mean, O’Brien said he could levitate by the power of subjective reality, he just didn’t want to. They claim to be in pursuit of the purification of perpetual pure power, as defined by total control demonstrated by hurting people, but in order to achieve this, they ignore some 85 percent of the population. While nobody has it easy, it’s only the outer party members who are being utterly and hopelessly oppressed — hence, no fashion despite ostensibly being in the In-crowd. Under this totalitarian regime, most people as proles can actually just ignore the government — so the government is doing a pretty shoddy job of being a ‘total’-atarian regime.”

“And if you compare that with the regimes that Orwell compared his to, and to the regimes since then, there was nobody below suspicion in any of them,” said Heidi. “So as horrible as 1984 was, it seems impractical to draw lessons from it per se. The reductionist frame through which they view reality ensures the nonsensicality of their position, if it can even be called that. The Party’s love of power is not based on a desire to do something good with power, as almost every power-mad dictator has claimed to desire. The Party doesn’t even really want to do something bad with power. The Party just wants to hold all the power to ensure that nothing happens ever again. They want to force everybody to live at the end of history, without being able to actually stop time.”

“That’s the meaning of the boot stomping on the face of humanity forever,” Sofia said with sudden realization, “the Party wants to control the end of history so they can say they won at history, but the passage of time means that there’s always more history to be witnessed. While the Party will let people know they’re being oppressed, the point behind the oppression — the boot on, very importantly, the face — isn’t the oppression: it’s to keep people from being a witness to history, so that the Party can feel like they’re continually winning against the possibility of more history.”

“…win, like it was some kind of game,” Ken muttered ruefully.

“That’s just it,” Brett said, “it’s like a video game that they keep on playing because they know that they can win at it. And their subjective reality control is like the cheat codes that let them win over and over again, not because they’re actually winning the game, but because they’re changing the game to be something that they can win. They don’t need total control of our definition of humanity so much as they need total control of their substantially reduced definition of humanity, and that’s why it was important that Winston realized that the proles would never revolt: a revolution would be making new history.” He shook his head at the alien nature of the conclusion. “But can’t the people in the Party come up with something better to do with their lives?”

“Not really,” said Heidi, “since they don’t think they have lives, remember? They think that the individual is supposed to die and be forgotten so long as the organization survives. Which is a continued demonstration of why none of them can actually exercise power: without a sense of self, either in purpose or in preservation, they have no actual desire. They say they want power for the sake of power, but I think what they really want is yesterday to be the same as the day before, and their hateful violent tendencies are nothing more than a perpetual tantrum because they can’t have that.” She shrugged. “At least most real despots have the decency to steal from their populous in addition to oppressing them. These jerk-off fascists just oppress people because they’re total nut-jobs.”

“For example,” appended Sofia, “when O’Brien was recruiting Winston and Julia to the utterly non-existent Brotherhood, he told Winston that he’d do a whole lot of horrible and immoral stuff which would have no tangible effect — which is really what the Party was all about, being horrible and immoral and yet not creating any new history. Moreover, the Brotherhood was actually not about Brotherhood, but rather about being all alone; the isolation of the paradoxically-named Brotherhood was a preview of Room 101. Accepting a lack of progress towards a teleological goal isn’t about fighting Big Brother, but rather giving in: Winston reads that the Party has frozen history, but then accepts that his revolt against the party will have no tangible effects… which is another way of saying that the Party was triumphant. I’d go so far as to speculate that the only reason the particularly torturous Part Three of the book — and that’s torturous for us as readers since Winston is merely words on a page, feeling no pain to compare to our disgust — existed was that Winston and Julia showed more loyalty to each other than to the made-up organization they claimed to want to join. It was only in their expression of a mutual bond that they condemned themselves to Room 101. Because the trick is that the party doesn’t really want loyalty to the party, it merely wants perpetual attention. As long as nobody is looking beyond the boot, then nobody’s seeing any new history and the Party is successful.” She paused to let the idea sink in. “And while that makes the unverifiable assumption that the Party really is trying to exist at the end of history, it will regardless be true as long as we’re looking at, as described, jerk-off fascist nut-jobs, from whom we can learn really very little,” she concluded with a satisfied nod before pulling out her copy of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War to indicate that she was tuning out.

Mr. Dame realized that the effectiveness of the class discussion had ended with the end of history. Most of the class were looking utterly confused. Mr. Dame decided to try something new to get the creative juices flowing again. “Part of the functional point of the last revolution was, allegedly, to freeze society in a natural position with an optimal philosophy of control,” he said, hoping to clarify the end of history before moving past it. “But this was long ago and Orwell was, apparently and for our purposes today, not a futurist. So now that we are in the future, how might we exercise control over a society — preferably with more subtlety than Orwell gave his creation? Should we start with the suits and the surrogates, the genetic engineering and the overlord academies?” The class gave nods and smiles, pleased to hear their feedback echoed to them. “Alright, let’s say we’ve done that and we’re in the first of those academies now: how do we exercise more control over our society?”

“Well tacit in the word ‘society’ is the admission that man is a social animal. So any control we want to exercise has to reflect this,” observed Sandy.

“I was reading a blog the other day about how bullying isn’t recognized as such by either the bully or the victim because they just see their relationship as another power-relation. If we extend this to social networks and cyber-bullying, then we can extend power relationships to cyberspace…” added Heidi.

“… where the service provider mediates the social relationship,” concluded Ken.

Jacob caught the train of thought: “If the government mediates all social relationships then it can lump members of any class into a social sphere.”

“And from there,” continued Brett, “group events get shared out, just like on Facebook. A thousand of your fellow party members are attending a rally tonight, you should too.”

“Let’s integrate that with voice control, like Siri on the iPhone,” suggested Ken. “Now you can tell your phone which party functions you’ll be going to out of the plethora available. If you reverse the Facebook calendar suggestion into Siri, your phone can tell you where to go if you’re not already doing something else. And the GPS in the phone can tell whether or not you’re actually there, regardless of whether you’re tweeting about the event or not.”

“To say nothing of the front-and-back cameras taking and uploading pictures whenever they feel like it,” Brett muttered to Ken, who nodded seriously in response.

“It can even get more personal,” suggested Jenny. “If it pays attention to whose statuses you’ve been liking lately, it can use their names to add social pressure to the reminders it gives you.”

“I see that you’re at home, Dave,” cooed Christie, her voice as flat as saccharin with only the slightest metallic tang, “how about I open the bay doors so you can join your fellow party members at Victory Square? Frank is there already, and wondering where you’ve gotten to. You wouldn’t want to disappoint him by staying home cold and alone, would you?”

“… you monster,” appended Heidi, perfectly mimicking the tone. Ken gave her a wink of approval.

“So yeah, we’d totally want to keep the social pressure of the rallies going,” agreed Diane. “I mean, the British ambassador to Nazi Germany said that the Nuremberg rallies had more beauty and theater than Russian ballet, and I think we should follow that model rather than the bleak model that Orwell has here. As we’ve discussed, people will be more pliable in the presence of things they want to aspire to. So we should crank up the nationalistic pageantry: maybe declare air shows to be cultural events and hold them on a monthly basis? Conversely, where Orwell has a specific ‘two minutes of hate,’ we would want something more innocuous that scales to run throughout the day so that it becomes ingrained in the environment. Something like Fox News,” she concluded in a voice entirely too cheerful to be describing Nazism, Stalinism, and Fox News.

“We report, you decide!” Jacob said to Brett.

“We distort, you run and hide!” Brett replied.

Mr. Dame never suspected Diane even knew of such things and found himself staring in confusion, waiting for his reality to be done contorting in increasingly bizarre ways. His reality was not so obliging.

“The spontaneous demonstrations that prove morale could even be started by AI bots astroturfing the social network, like the bots in Matrix Reloaded” said Joey as the cognitive fire lit his mind. “Just find a cluster of people all together and then AI personalities linking them together on the social network would declare it a flash mob and start tweeting about it. Of course it works better if there’s a real agent to start the physical event, but if you just tell somebody ‘flash mob happening now at your location; join in and you’ll get $500’ and you might get a similar effect. Then simply auto-update anybody who’s tweeting about it as being there and credit them with party support. Orwell had to lie about spontaneous demonstrations of support — we don’t: just find people together and tell them that the government loves them and expects some love in return using personas that might as well be real.” He sat back satisfied with his contribution.

“The Internet is already full of fake people,” said Jacob ruefully.

“Well Dirr,” replied Ken by way of crude pun.

“And any tweet or status or event or even message which is deemed to be too unorthodox, either in loving or not loving, simply gets lost in the ether,” agreed Sandy. “The government — or does ‘service provider’ sound more friendly? — never needs to officially censor anything, just refrain from delivering it.” A cruel smile spread like an oil spill across her face.

“What they would deliver, though,” suggested Sofia, gracefully context-switching back into the class discussion, “is regular updates to the autocorrect dictionary so that everybody is using the currently approved verbiage for their messaging. OMG, LOL, ++Good — these all substitute in for astounding, hilarious, and splendid, respectively. The gove–service provider” — she quickly amended with a salutatory gesture to Sandy — “might even claim that the dictionary updates are necessary to reduce messaging bandwidth as more people exercise their freedom of expression by sending more messages faster than bandwidth can be added to the service.”

“Total social control just by making everybody carry around a smartphone permanently linked to their one true social networking account,” said Sandy smugly. “We could do it tomorrow and have people paying us for the favor.”

Mr. Dame sat stunned by the network of fascistic evil readily woven by his students. A future of bleak unreality assailed his mind. He closed his eyes — and in the darkness behind his eyelids found the weakness of their plan. “But what happens when the batteries die?” he posited.

“Oh, well that’s what the cameras are for,” said Brett. “If we see that somebody’s phone isn’t moving when they’re supposed to be moving, or is simply off the grid, then we can start searching photographs from other people’s phones for them. Once we can identify them — as the original implementation of Google Googles was supposed to be able to until everybody decided that it was too scary for normal humans — then we can track them and make sure they get their phone back. Not because we want to track them, but because they’ve forgotten their phone and they’ll need it to manage their life, and also in case they need to make an emergency call. Like for an ambulance. Because a sniper shot them in the leg.”

“And if they keep on putting themselves in harms’ way without their phone to make emergency calls, then we should implant them with a bioelectrically powered transponder, kind of like the colonists had in Aliens — for their enhanced protection, obviously,” enthused Joey.

Mr. Dame grimaced at the boys, and then at the rest of the class. “You all horrify me. You realize this, don’t you? Very well done.”

The class unleashed a synchronized smile-and-nod which merely compounded the hideousness of their friendly, feel-good totalitarianism.