Note: There was a time when I tried to write fiction. It’s not something I am good at. But this is a fragment I’ve held on to that has been on my mind. I wrote it in 1991. It was inspired by some anxiety about events of that day, and by remarks I once read by former Bell Laboratories executive Robert Lucky on the concept of telepresence – the idea that we can use computing and telecommunications technologies to experience the world remotely. (Think of The Matrix.) I worked at Bell Labs during the 1980s, and occasionally interacted with him. In his remarks, Bob posed the question, if we are in one physical location and our sensory experiences are taking place elsewhere and being relayed back to us, where is our consciousness? That question led me to think about a dystopic novel about a society in which telepresence is used to create a dictatorship that masquerades as a democracy. This is the epilogue. Perhaps I will return to it as a retirement project.
July 16, 2041
I’d always expected that I would write you this letter, that some day it would be time to set down and account of days when people thought that freedom was in our reach. I know that in writing to you, I commit a dangerous act – to possess a document which contradicts the official history of the so-called Marginal Rebellions of the latter half of the 20th century has been a felony since the dawn of the 21st. The mere private possession of written material is enough to make you a suspect — I know that you have not been assigned a job which authorized you to learn to read. What lengths your parents and I had to go to hide your literacy when you were young!
Believe me, if this was not important, I would not subject my grandchild to such risks. It is only because I was such a young, inconsequential participant in our movement that I was not subjected to the intensive “reacculturation” or “sterilization” processes that so many others were forced to endure. Actually, I’m not completely proud of the way in which I escaped that fate. It took a great deal of deception — but that is something I will explain later.
It is enough to say, for the moment, that there was a time when small people, such as myself, thought that we could shape the world in our own image. I know that will shock and amuse you, having been taught that the world has been shaped by the thoughts and deeds of the Great Men. But I think that the conditions are emerging which may permit the revival of such dreams, and I see in your heart one who may have the courage.
There are many little and big things to tell and there is much that is past telling, the old slaves used to say. Some of them are personal things which may seem unrelated to larger events, but in the era of which I speak, we used to say, “The personal is political.”
I am afraid that much of what I have to relate my seem far-fetched, given what you have been taught, but trust me, even at my advanced age and infirmity, I know my mind. And I know that somewhere, despite the successive decades of “alternate constructive programming,” there are still people with souls who dream of home. What is needed is to turn the story of those dreams into a song – you know the original Australian people believed that all reality is created by singing it into being. May you, my dear, discover the song inside of you – before it is too late for all of us.