DIGITAL COMMUTE • by Daniel Zundl

I am not myself today.

That thought continues to seep into my conscious mind, at work, at home, when I’m at the park with the kids. I am not myself today. It’s something I’ve said aloud too many times to even count, and yet I never considered what it really meant.

The first time I saw a teleporter I thought, “Another toy for the one percenters.” I was still a teenager, and thought that the future was a bright promise of hope. Back then, I still believed I could be something other than my father.

If that had been the last time I saw a teleporter, I may have been a much happier man than I am now. But, as is often the case, the curiosities of the rich find their way into the home of the average man; like the computer and the telephone before it, teleporters began to spread.

I was a senior associate at a law firm in mid-town when I first considered buying one for myself. Most of the partners had them, except the few that lived in the city. The commute was a monster, but if I’m honest with myself, the real reason I wanted it was because it made me feel like a success.

My wife was against it from the start. “You’re kidding me with this thing, right?” she asked when the technicians arrived to install the central processing unit. We were living in a little Cape Cod in a middle class neighborhood. The streets were lined with oak trees and power lines, and most of our neighbors parked American sedans on their cracked driveways. Our life was comfortable, but we weren’t rich. Not as rich as I wanted to be anyway.

“Babe, it’s the safest way to travel,” I said, watching as the tech connected the processor to the digitizer, the part of the teleporter that renders the user into a digital signal. “And the fastest. Travel at the speed of light, any faster and I’d be home before I left the office.”

“It makes me nervous,” she complained.

That was more than a decade ago, before the kids were born, before the new house with the new mortgage, before I made partner, and before teleporters were as common as cell phones. I often think how funny progress is. When I first saw a teleporter it didn’t impress me that much. It was just another new gadget, interesting, but nothing to marvel over. Now, looking around, I barely recognize the world anymore. A million inconsequential advances added up to an unrecognizable future.

I am not myself today. I was listening to music in my office when the seed of that poisonous notion was planted in my mind. My computer was humming classical music, Mozart or Chopin I think, when Ronny, my intern, popped his head into my office.

“Do you need me for anything else, boss?” he asked.

I looked down at the clock, surprised at the time. “No, you can go. Thank you for your hard work,” I said out of habit. In truth, Ronny rarely worked hard.

“What are you listening to?”

“Just a little classical,” I replied dismissively.

“On the computer?”

“Yeah,” was my curt reply.

“I never listen to digital music anymore,” he said.

“Why?”

He pulled a chair out and took a seat. “When they turn music into digital, they switch all these complex changes into a series of ones and zeroes.”

“Yes, I know what digital means.”

“Well, no matter how many ones and zeroes there are, it’s never the same amount of information as an analog signal. They have to lose some data to make a digital copy.”

“And you can hear the difference?” I challenged.

“Well…” he paused, looking uncomfortable. “No, not really, I mean not with today’s technology. But there is a difference in the music.”

“Interesting,” I replied. After a brief, uncomfortable silence, Ronny excused himself.

But the seed was planted. You lose something when you go digital. Ones and zeroes. I spent that night staring at the ceiling and wondering if I was analog. What was lost in the translation when I went to the office every morning?

I called Transportation Logistics Solutions the next day. Gail, the girl who answered my call, was chipper and saccharine sweet. I asked her about the digitization process.

“Thank you for your patronage, sir. Your concerns are important to us. The digital signal is not only crystal clear but very accurate.”

“But isn’t something lost in the switch?” I pressed.

“Sir, the loss is imperceptibly small.”

That was half a decade ago. Two thousand one hundred eighteen teleportations ago, a daughter and a son ago, skin cancer and a partnership ago. How many “imperceptibly small” parts of myself ago?

I noticed little things. My right ear had a small freckle once, and then one day it was gone. I ignored it at first, as pieces of myself were stripped away bit by bit.

I’ve lost so much. My teeth are too straight, there used to be a gap between my front teeth but now it’s gone. I’m a copy of a copy of a copy. I can no longer taste artificial watermelon flavor anymore.  When I put the candy in my mouth, I can feel it, and smell it, but not taste it. I think I’m missing a color too, but there are so many I can’t figure out which one. How small is a soul? Can that be rounded off into a one or a zero?

Tonight I sit at the kitchen table, eating dinner with my family and trying to remember my daughter’s name. I rack my brains, scouring memory after memory and finding only blank spots, smoothed over by a trick of rounding. The only thought that comes to my head, as I stare dumbly across the table at a girl I no longer recognize is a simple truth I discovered a decade ago. I am not myself today.


Daniel Zundl is an immigration attorney who lives with his wife in Jersey City.  When not working or writing speculative fiction, Daniel is an avid outdoors man and angler.  His greatest hope is that proof of life on other planets will be found during his lifetime.


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