#003 WE LIVE AS WE DREAM, ALONE
Kyle Christie, David Manley, Katrina Stamatopoulos
Curated by Patrick Cremin and Sarah Kukathas
PART ONE: Katrina
A bright red warning sign flashed across her headset: GROUP SHARE VEHICLE APPROACHING.
“One minute ‘til departure”, the device spoke, in a calm and even tone.
“I know, I know”, Katrina murmured as she hastily stuffed her sandwich into a plastic Tupperware container. She was on her way to do an evening shift at the MOSAA: the Museum of Simulated Art and Artefacts. Her official title: Education Officer, informally regarded as tour group leader for disinterested school groups and the crotchety elderly. She spent most of these sessions defending why even simulated artefacts must not be touched.
“Lights off”, she commanded and the apartment lights dimmed.
“Vehicle has arrived,” the voice proceeded, this time with a slight manner of urgency.
With the sandwich in one hand and her overstuffed handbag in the other, she rushed out the front door, and descended down the apartment building staircase at a steady rhythmic pace. A beat skipped. Her foot caught in the loop of her shoelace and she jolted forward, momentarily hovering mid-air. As her knees buckled, feet interlocked, momentum dragged her down the staircase, headfirst. She caught the railing and her overstuffed bag managed to cushion her fall. Gravity, however, sent her headset and sandwich crashing into the marble landing.
Katrina pulled herself up squinting to adjust her eyesight to the dimly lit stairway. Her headset usually kept the world at a near perfect illumination and corrected her increasingly degenerative vision. She could faintly make out the mess at the bottom of the stairs and even without perfect vision she could see the headset was in pieces. Tucking her laces in to her shoes she steadied her breath and made her way up the staircase, clinging onto the railing, one step at a time.
Her lift to work was gone, she would now be late -- this never happened.
With arms outstretched she felt her way back through the apartment and into the bedroom. As a teenager, before headsets, she had worn glasses. She kept these in the top draw of her dresser, along with a box of old photographs and a collection of small keepsakes. She pulled them out, dusted them off and put them on.
Clarity, she thought, with a sense of relief. Well -- near clarity. Her eyesight had clearly degenerated further as these old glasses weren’t nearly strong enough to provide her with headset crisp vision. She kind of liked the soft haze though -- her eyes began to relax.
How different things looked without a headset, she thought, inspecting her living room inquisitively. It really wasn’t much of an apartment now was it? The walls were all painted the same stark, sterile white: unadorned and impersonal. Where paintings usually hung there were blank canvases and empty frames, painted in the same white as the walls. Copies of antique artefacts from the museum had decorated the shelves and tables, but now in their place sat unadorned vessels, lacking ornament and character. Her house had been such a visual feast: a rich historical and cultural smorgasbord of fine art and antiquities. But this was only made possible through the headset. Interior decorating was now created through digital overlay: the appearance of an object was programmed, and activated through the window of the headset.
The doorbell buzzed.
Katrina looked over to the video monitor. A deliveryman stood there clasping onto a small parcel. Without hesitation she buzzed him in.
What an odd man, she thought to herself as they conversed in the doorway. He kept talking to the hat stand beside her and fumbling with the package as he handed it over.
“You should get your headset checked” she remarked. “Your vision is a bit off.”
He said nothing, gave a strange nod in her general direction, she signed for the package and he left.
She opened the parcel with automated movements, completely disinterested in its contents. Her mind was still preoccupied pondering the strange empty sight of her apartment, transfixed on the blank open space. Her concentration aligned back to the task at hand as the exact contents of the parcel became apparent. It was a new headset, ready for activation. All headsets came with a lifetime warranty. They upgraded themselves and alerted the manufacturer when broken or damaged. What smart objects we had all once agreed.
Pushing the parcel aside she turned to face the window. The view from her apartment had changed; the lustre had faded. She felt the weight of the black night sky as it clung to the city below, unembellished with the usual visual chaos. Tiny lights shone high up in the distance, they were faint and hard to see, their spacing seemed to have no apparent pattern of order, but she appreciated their humble, non-fantastical appearance, their randomness. This world was modest and easy on the eyes.
“No voice in your head but your own,” she thought with a faint smile.
She looked back at the drab walls, however, in choked desolation.
Others lived this way: without the headset. A few of her friends had rallied against them from the start. They formed their own communities, living outside of the system, hidden from the view of those who embraced the digital era. One by one they were erased from memory, dropped from government databases and forgotten in social circles. It was made to seem like this was their choice. Their absence was attributed to their antisocial decision to disengage with the social platforms that allowed communities, friendships and families to sustain connectivity. Eventually they were forgotten and eradicated from the social consciousness; people were engaged with such a constant feed of stimulus that the morning’s news was forgotten by the afternoon. Headsets ensured perpetual distraction; a clever sleight of hand trick that left everyone feeling better informed. But little did one notice the tablecloth being pulled out from beneath them, along with the tables and chairs. No one questioned why the cutlery suddenly hovered mid-air, it was just blindly accepted as technological progress.
I looked over to my new headset; it’s sleek and transparent design made it seem so unobtrusive, so innocuous. How foolish, I thought.
‘Activation ready, Katrina’ the headset spoke. Someone was watching me.
I picked it up; there was no other option.
PART TWO: David
He didn’t realise how long he had been staring at the sky. The clouds were thick and grey and the sun had nearly faded. He felt a sudden push against his back, a crowd of people rushed past. Stumbling forward he moved away from the sidewalk and into the empty street.
“I have to stop drifting off”, he thought to himself. The camera in his hand was getting heavy. His day was nearly over. Looking ahead, he pushed on.
David was off the grid, out of sight, away from the view of the headset. To other headsets he was frosted, one of the ghosts, the disappeared ones. Rarely did he interact with anyone during his days. His job was to systematically photograph all the buildings in the South East Quadrant. He worked for DOME, one of the largest corporations in the new world. His job title was “Archivist”, and his days were spent walking up and down the many streets photographing what the city had become. He did not know what happened to the photographs he took; he had a well-paid job, he was lucky -- no need for questions.
The city had gone through a time of ‘rejuvenation’: a state commissioned overhaul had been in effect for the last ten years. Billboards and shop fronts were a thing of the past, and where street signs once stood, blank boards replaced them. David was there to document this change and the state had given him one of the last remaining photographic cameras to do so. He was to be out of sight and keep quiet about what he saw, as he was one of the few who were allowed to not wear the glass.
Packing his camera into its heavy metal briefcase he tried to remember a time before headsets, when the mind could drift and wonder without being sold something or being entertained. Streets were once filled with neon signs, and slogans shouted from every street corner, ‘buy this and buy that’. But once a headset sat in front of every citizen, there was no need for physical advertising; the neon glow now sat inside the consumer. He was glad he was allowed this time away from the headset as he could reflect, although his memories were somewhat dusty.
The streets were flooded with pedestrians, as the working day had come to an end. Lines of people trudged along in near unison, an invisible conveyor belt pushing them forward. Observing people made David irritable, his forehead burned, he would calm himself with reassuring words and considered breaths.
‘Everything was good, everything was fine.’
The dense black sky hung low to the ground. It was time to head home. He pulled his headset out from his briefcase and placed it on his head.
“Hi David, Welcome Back!”
He felt instantly reassured.
Walking up the stairs to his apartment he could see that his door was wide open, he was sure he had locked it in the morning. His icebox was on its side and old newspapers were scattered across the floor. Slowly peeking in he noticed a frosted outline of a figure crouched down low.
“Who’s there?” he spoke in a barely audible whisper.
“David! Don’t freak out, take off your headset.” A familiar voice spoke. His feeling of fear subsided.
Eager to see who this was, he pulled the headset away from his face for the first time ever in his own home.
“Now look, David, I have to show you something.” The woman stood up pointing to the mess she had created on the floor
It was his neighbour, Katrina.
"Where is your headset?" David exclaimed, with an impatient expression of annoyance, and faint concern.
"It’s gone. But look, David, it’s chaos, disorder." She paused looking out to the night sky. ‘But it’s simply wonderful!’ She relished.
David didn’t speak. He sat down and stared blankly into space. He reached across to pick up his headset, but paused.
“We have to leave."
-Patrick Cremin & Sarah Kukathas