Tech Flesh 13: Born to be Wired

A Cordless Boy in a Wired World

The setting is a modern day college dorm-room. Gadgets lie everywhere, as the power outlets in the room multiply indefinitely, surge protectors and power strips endlessly daisy-chained around the room in a electronic spider-web. A young man sleeps soundly in his bunk bed, flying toasters running across his screen saver mind. In the distance, the quiet sound of a digital door slamming as a buddy signs off instant messenger. Suddenly, the alarm goes off. The young man on the bottom bunk rises slowly, slapping off the alarm clock. In his mind, he shakes a mouse to deactivate his screensaver. The cordless boy is delirious, having been unplugged for almost 7 hours. But not to fear, for his Palm, cell phone, PC, e-mail, and Discman are all within reach now. As he fills his book bag with enough battery-powered devices to fill several CircuitCity shelves, he thinks back to his childhood in the pre-wired world...

"Waaaahhhhh!!" A newborn child screams out to his mother, frightened at the lights and sounds surrounding him. The world is a new exciting place for him, but for now, it is terrifying. A nearby doctor shouts out "it's a boy!" and cuts the cord. Thus on a rainy April morning more than two decades past, a cordless baby is born. It will be some time before he can connect back up to his support system.

Several years pass, and the cordless baby grows into a young cordless boy. He is happy and energetic, but lacking something. It all changes one Christmas morning in the early 1980s, when a new baby arrives under the Christmas tree. Younger even than the boy himself the IBM PC Jr. is a technological marvel, boasting 256KB of RAM and DOS 2.1 from the newly established Microcomputer Software Corporation, Micro-Soft for short. Things in the cordless boy's house were never the same again.

For some people technology is a tool to help make life easier and automate daily functions. For others, it is a way to easily and powerfully communicate with other people around the world. And others see technology for its entertainment purposes. For the cordless boy, technology was all of these things and more. It enabled him to do anything he wanted and become everything he wanted to be, at least in a virtual way. So it is this point in the biography of the cordless boy that several splits occur. No longer is the boy a one-dimensional creature, forced to occupy one mind and one body. Granted, he may always occupy only one body, but thanks to technology, his mind begins to expand and grow. His new personas exist in several different spaces, partially in the synapses of his brain neurons, partially in the electronic pulses that beam from his cell phone into thin air, and even still partially in the binary bits and bytes that fly through his Ethernet cable into the world of cyberspace and beyond.

The Hardware

Some people are born mutated, perhaps lacking a finger on one hand or a toe on one foot. Others lose a digit or limb in some type of accident during their life. Still others voluntarily give away a part of themselves, whether bone marrow or blood, to help cure the physical ills and pains of others. Although some creatures can regrow broken limbs and body parts, none have the ability to imagine and grow new limbs and organs with new, exciting purposes. The cordless boy has defied this biological impasse, growing several new limbs, constantly upgrading his physical hardware.

The Palm, a small semi-bony structure connected to the hand, helps the digital boy to keep track of every person he comes in contact with, and manage his busy digital schedule. Later on, faced with the limited physical range of the human voice, even when shouting, he adapted his mouth structure by attaching a cellular device to his face for many hours a day. Although the long-term physical impacts on the brain and are still unknown, the communication abilities of the boy have multiplied by a tremendous factor.

The Software

The digital boy seems harmless, small and non-threatening, sometimes described by his roommates as "teddy-bearish." There is a hidden, dark side to it all though, In fact, he is actually a violent serial killer. Sure he has never killed anyone in actual physical space. I mean, apart from wrestling matches with his brother, he has never even been involved in violent physical encounters. But log-in to a Quake death match and he may unleash his aggression and bottled fury on you, decapitating you with a rocket launcher at point blank range.

Another important aspect of the cordless boy's software is his financial package. Upgraded every few months after Fed meetings, the cordless boy, with a few strokes of his cordless phone implant can buy and sell financial assets at will. And when it comes time to kick back and relax with a movie or a CD, does the boy pull out a $20 bill like any normal person? Of course not. After all, his American Express is tracked electronically online, it is accepted at all major online stores, and is just as green as cash, only less analog.

The cordless boy is a true technological marvel. Although on his own he cannot accomplish much more than any average overachieving college student, with his add-ons and upgrades, he is unstoppable. His Palm Pilot can tell him both whom he had lunch with last Thursday and when that person's birthday is. From his cell-phone, he can easily, with the simple touch of a button, make pointless, time wasting phone calls across campus to his roommates. With his HP financial calculator, not only can he figure out the amortization schedule for a 20 year 5% fixed-rate mortgage, he can calculate the volume of a sphere, or the rate of radioactive decay of uranium, without breaking a sweat. And don't even ask about all of the creative things that can be done with his home-built PC. From abusing his credit card on to illegally downloading copyrighted music on Napster, the world is truly his oyster, and he has technology to thank for it.

It is the end of a long day of logging in and tuning out. The cordless boy finally lays down in his bed, exhausted from exchanging and processing data all day. He turns on his screen saver and gives his T1 a rest for the night. As he begins his nightly routine of de-fragmenting his brain-drive before rebooting the next morning, he ponders where his life has taken him. Does he truly appreciate all of his technological appendages, or is it technology for technology's sake? Does he lack pure faith in the analog world, and does he worship the microchip as many worship a higher being? What will Cisco's stock do the next day and will the Fed lower interest rates again?

We are left to ponder whether the cordless boy's life is now or will ever be truly happy and fulfilled? In the quest for the newest and greatest gadgets to plug into, it is hard to see a happy end to it all. Perhaps the cordless boy will someday convince his only slightly wireless mate to detach from the outside world, become truly cordless, and raise a digital family. Or perhaps the constant, never-ending "keeping up with the Gates'" will end tragically in his own insanity. The answer is out there, somewhere.

Jeffrey Wells is currently an undergraduate at the Wallace E. Carroll School of Management at Boston College. After graduation this May, he will begin employment as an analyst at a financial services firm in New York City.