Welcome to the Spot Writers. This week’s flash fiction comes to you from Val Muller, author of the young adult novel The Scarred Letter, a book dealing with bullying and truth in a world that lives a lie.
The prompt for this month: Opening sentence: “It’s still not clear what started it all.” Closing sentence: “What can be done to change that?”
By Val Muller
It’s not clear what started it all. It may have been the Fitbit craze, the obsession over fitness-tracking watches and smartphone apps tracking movement, exercise, and calories. It may have been people’s use of GPS technology as a crutch, or the constant need to feel connected.
But now everyone at school was Synced In.
His parents were old school. Really old school. They’d home-schooled him until the tenth grade, at which point he needed the advanced courses offered at the local high school. When he first got there, he didn’t know how to log on to a computer, let alone use a mouse for that matter.
Not that many people were using a mouse anymore.
Now, the students held their fingers up to the sensor, and they were logged in, able to save their work, able to access countless databases. In gym class (they made Charlie take Gym with the freshmen), students logged into a computer terminal to track their pulses, their activity levels, and their caloric intakes for the day. Charlie was surprised there was no actual physical activity.
Charlie, who had not been Synced, flipped pages on an old-fashioned book with his old-fashioned finger and read about the benefits of cardiovascular work—without being asked to get up from his desk.
In fact, the teachers were all pretty lax compared to the books Charlie had read in preparation for life in public school. The teachers in the books were always sly and sneaky. They all seemed to have eyes in the back of their heads, to catch students sneaking around, and to have all kinds of clever ways of inspiring students into caring just a bit more about life.
Maybe books were art and life was life.
Or maybe life had just become too synced.
These teachers walked around with a small tablet attached to their belts the same way cops walked around with guns in the detective stories Charlie read as a kid. Attendance was taken as the students walked into the classroom—their Sync Chips scanned by each classroom’s infrared sensor. The teachers needed only to input Charlie’s presence manually, a task they did with the subtlest eye roll.
“Charlie, we need to get you Synced,” they would sigh.
They also had to manually enter his grades. With no finger sensor for him to log into the network, he could not complete the online courses the way the other students did. At first, he was met again with eye rolls. But after a while, his physics teacher seemed to enjoy the quaintness of a pen-and-paper activity. In the absence of immediate online feedback, Mr. Bloomton sat down with Charlie to review formulas and problem sets, to talk of theories and the best way to solve each assignment.
With the other kids, he simply checked their progress on his tablet, making sure the data fed correctly into his grading program.
Before long, Mr. Bloomton had spoken with Mr. Frierson, the public speaking teacher. The class couldn’t understand why Frierson abandoned the computer’s speech algorithm one day and asked the students to deliver an impromptu speech—actually standing in front of the class with everyone actually watching and not logged into their computers.
The next day, gym teachers around the school were perplexed at the irregular pulse rate and calorie readings reported from students’ devices, and they, too, spent time away from the automated programs. The students were especially tired that week, and parents came to visit—in person—with concerns about anomalous readings on their children’s devices.
With all the human interaction, teachers were more tired than usual, prompting calls from doctors’ offices calling for actual appointments rather than virtual ones. It made for a crazy week for most, but when Charlie’s parents asked him how he enjoyed being a public school student, he simply shrugged.
“A little different from what I expected at first, but now it seems to be a bit closer to normal. I probably would prefer to remain home schooled, but there is something unique about human interaction that I just can’t get at home. Besides, I need those upper-level science and match classes, so what can be done to change that?”
The Spot Writers–our members:
RC Bonitz: rcbonitz.com
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: http://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Tom Robson: Blog pending