IN SYNCH • by Paul A. Freeman

The end of the world, or more precisely the end of human civilisation as we know it, didn’t come with apocalyptic suddenness and all-consuming hellfire. It approached us far more insidiously.

This is how it happened.

I had always been a bit of a Luddite. I still sent letters by post, handwritten. There was no TV in my living-room, and when it came to listening to music — vinyl, of course. I did make allowances on the telecommunications front, though. I possessed a second generation phone — the dumbest of dumb phones. Which explains why I’ve witnessed the end of the world playing out while still in my right mind.

One evening, during my daily pilgrimage to the local boozer, the landlord of The Crown asked me: “What do you think about the new 12G mobile phone? It’s a tenth the price of its predecessor.”

“If it sounds too good to be true…” I said, hoping this was enough and that I’d be left alone to drink my pint in peace.

“They’ve got a synching app,” the landlord persisted. “It reads you.”

“It what?” I asked, perplexed by this turn in the conversation.

“It reads you. It appraises your personality and assesses your needs according to your interests and your desires. For instance, it selects the top-rated cat videos for you to watch if it recognises you as a cat person, or dog videos if it deems you a dog person.”

“And if you’re a perv…” said the lecherous customer slouched beside me at the bar counter.

As the discussion degenerated, I looked around the pub. Despite there being plenty of customers, noise-wise it was a quiet evening in The Crown. Everyone sat with their unblinking eyes fixed on their 12G phones, their drinks untouched, presumably watching videos of cats and dogs.

“I’m getting one tomorrow,” said the landlord. “A 12G, I mean. What about you?”

“Not me,” I said. I made a sweeping gesture with my hand, encapsulating his clientele. “This new phone seems a bit more addictive than previous ones.”

Feeling somewhat unnerved, I finished off my beer and left.

Within days everyone I knew seemed to have their nose stuck in a 12G phone, twenty-four seven. Walking to work involved dodging round people to avoid collisions and loudly informing fellow pedestrians the light was green on the pedestrian crossing. I even stopped going down the pub. The landlord was too absorbed in his ‘needs’, ‘interests’ and ‘desires’ on his 12G to bother paying much attention to me. So instead, I stayed in every night, sucking back a bevvy or two and listening to retro music on my record player. Worst of all, everyone I came across on the streets and in the shops had an inane grin on their face and a ready greeting on their lips, as if we were best buddies.

Universal bonhomie? Was that really what Mankind desired?

A week after its launch, a 12G phone dropped through my letterbox.

“Turn it on! Join us!” someone shouted from my front garden.

I left the phone where it lay. Unnerved, I couldn’t bear picking it up, let alone opening the front door and confronting the person who delivered it. A thousand questions were crowding my mind, and in the absence of a radio or TV to glean information, I found myself wandering the house like a caged beast, wondering what was going on.

Later that day, from the upstairs back bedroom, I spotted my neighbour-from-hell, Whiskey Will, dressed in black, stepping out onto his overgrown patio and gazing out over his jungle of a garden. Instead of slumping into the deckchair on his patio and guzzling whiskey all afternoon, as was his habit, he pulled a weed from between the paving slabs. For a moment he considered the plant, then put his phone screen up before his face. From my vantage point I watched shapes and colours growing and contracting in kaleidoscopic symmetry. No sounds passed between my neighbour and the recipient, or recipients, of his call. I can only imagine there was a kind of non-verbal communication, telepathy even, for within minutes a dozen people, also dressed in black, arrived and began work on his overgrown back garden.

In the midst of their work, as though by an unspoken cue, everyone stopped what they were doing, looked up and stared blankly at the net curtain I was concealed behind.

“Turn it on!” they intoned, in complete unison. “Join us!”

Consumed by panic, I ran downstairs and out the front door. I had some vague idea of fleeing to some place unaffected by the mysterious uniting force behind the 12G phone. Then I halted in terror. Everyone out on the street was wearing black, their uniform, except a young woman in a red coat. She was struggling in the grasp of a black-clad mob, her eyes tightly closed, trying not to be forced to look at the screen of the phone they held before her face.

I’m not brave, so instead of helping her, I rushed back inside my house, bolted the door and sat on the bottom stair. Some sentient or manipulated technology was expunging our free will, turning us into its automatons, its slaves. I had to be one of the few unaffected people who remained, and presumably we were getting fewer by the minute.

The chant of “Turn it on! Join us!” started up all around my house, closing in as neighbours and those from the surrounding streets gathered to assist in my ‘conversion’. Through the frosted glass in the top half of my front door I made out the black attire worn by those outside. Amongst them was a blurred splash of red. As I said, I’m not brave. Perhaps assimilation into a new, all-inclusive, equal society is easier, more desirable even, than resistance. Free will and independent decision-making lead to complications. So I’ll sit here awhile, eyeing the 12G phone that fell through my letterbox, and weigh up my options.

Paul A. Freeman is neither a cat nor a dog person and is therefore immune to 12G mind control.

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