Thursday, February 1, 2018


The Selfie
By John C Adams

Matt heard an eruption of amusement in the common room as his classmates found another target for their banter. The door crashed open. Seventeen-year-old Del threw herself onto the sofa next to him and buried her face in the scarlet silk cushions. Matt stretched out to pat her shoulder, hesitated and withdrew.
Del snuffled until Matt handed her a tissue. She flung her personal information provider onto the sofa between them.
It had been over a hundred years since a PIP had resembled the phone handsets used by their great grandparents. Now everyone was given one for free by the Corporation and encouraged to read their own emotions, and that of others, using this device. Their presence had become almost universal. For Matt's generation any attempt to read people using just their brain was considered laughably primitive. Lines of code monitored body temperature, heartbeat and neural functions. And analysed the data to tell them everything about the world around them and about themselves too.
Del instructed the PIP to bring up the selfie section. It tried to access Matt's emotional response to the first picture, process his level of engagement and move to the next image as soon as it detected boredom indicators. He resisted, knowing exactly how long the PIP would persist before giving up.
Finally, Del's PIP gave Matt the option to swipe across from picture to picture using his finger. It also generated a message:
"We have detected your liking for retro and have updated your preferences accordingly."
Matt smirked at the jaunty tone, with its patronising hint that some people just can't recognise change for the better even when the Corporation explains it time and again. Typical PIP. It thought it understood everything but really it understood nothing. It was there to manipulate you into buying stuff. And it understood that perfectly.
Matt swiped from picture to picture. They were all selfies of Del. In some of them her friends were hanging on her shoulders and grinning. In the later ones, Del was more isolated. The body stances were tenser: hers and those of the dwindling number of buddies who were in the shot. The smiles seemed more forced and in the most recent of all Del was solitary and unsmiling. She didn't make eye contact with the camera as readily and she appeared to have put on quite a bit of weight.
Matt glanced over at Del. He ignored the PIP's buzzing prompting him to continue looking at the pictures. When it became too insistent, he accessed the system and overrode the Corporation's security to put the PIP on mute.
Del looked tired and pale. Her eyes were red and puffy. She looked thin.
Matt frowned. He looked at the selfies again. His gaze flashed back and forth from the pictures to the real thing.
"Just look at how awful I am in these pictures! And in the mirror function I look rubbish, too. I feel like I'm going mad. I'm falling apart!"
Del burst into tears again.
"It isn't in your head. It's on your PIP."
Matt hacked into the PIP's core code and recalibrated it. He switched it on again. The selfies now looked more like the young woman sitting next to him. He explained how the Corporation had been manipulating her image to make her look less like her friends.
"This wasn't about you. The Corporation! Just came down to making money. They wanted to you buy the same shit the other girls do."
Del gave Matt a hug.
"Thank you!" she said.

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John C Adams is a Contributing Editor for Albedo One and the Aeon Award. She also has a new review column with Schlock! webzine. Her debut novel Souls for the Master is available from Horrified Press. Her short-story anthology Blackacre is forthcoming from Oscillate Wildly Press.


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