At SXSW 2018, I was invited to participate in a four-day immersion experience called "SimuLife". Mounted by the creative laboratory of Austin Interactive Deep Dive, SimuLife aims to blur the line between fantasy and reality by letting me interact with history as part of everyday life. It's like the movie The Game by David Fincher, executed in the real world. Apart from those extensive edicts, they did not give me advance information about the experience. I am documenting my journey through history, wherever I drive.
The story begins with Part 1: I am a transdimensional dopplegänger.
By participating in several immersive experiences in recent years, I have been able to try many strange things. They blackmailed me, fought vampires, visited Westworld and even crawled through the storage space of a recently deceased family member. Throughout all those experiences, I would like to think that I remained a good person focused on morals, a person who would not let a sense of power or delusions of greatness get into his head.
It turns out that when more than a billion dollars are on the table, that internal moral calculation can change terribly fast.
From the beginning of my adventure in the history of SimuLife, Monday was marked as a great day: the moment in which the conglomerate Cooder & Cooder would try to finalize its acquisition of the OpenMind technology company, and return my transdimensional doppelgänger to the fold. But there were some setbacks along the way. I learned about a resistance group that was strongly opposed to the ethics of a device that could read people's minds, and I discovered that Faith, Bishop's wife, had her own misgivings about technology, since she had irrevocably damaged the mind from her husband.
But I still was not sure what would be the best way to handle such a moment, nor would I be caught even in the alternate timeline to see it go down in the first place. But before I could get there, things took a quick detour on Monday morning when I got a call from Paige, the inmate of The Verge. She was crying, and she wondered if she was available to talk.
We were outside the hotel where I was staying. The day before, she confessed to me that her parents did not know that she was in Austin, and that she had lied about her visit because they did not support her ambitions to become a writer and journalist. She was clearly bothering her, so I suggested that she tell her father when the time was right. She had, and it did not go well.
I did what anyone would do for a friend: I tried to convince her
And I did what anybody would do for a friend: I tried to convince her. I told him that his parents might be angry, but that he could cut his own way in life, no matter what they wanted. And if he wanted to write, he simply had to write, taking time every day until it became part of his daily routine. That seemed to help calm her down, and she suggested we take another round of blind walking, only this time, in the busy downtown Austin. Then his phone rang: it was his father, and he quickly went inside the hotel to answer the call where there was not so much noise.
It was then that it happened – wub-wub-wub-WHOOSH – that now familiar sound that told me that it had changed to the OpenMind world.
Almost immediately, I heard the two Cooder & Cooder executives that I met when this all started for the first time. They ran to me, telling me I was late for the big meeting, and that they were there to make sure I got there in time. I looked around, and tried to get stuck: the day before, I promised Nikita from the resistance group that I would let her go to the meeting to gather information. But the two executives did not accept a no for an answer. They guided me through downtown Austin, boasting of the large numbers they were seeing in the E * trade as the markets learned of the fact that the creator of OpenMind might be coming back to join the company.
We reached his building and took the elevator to his offices, full of open-plan work stations and floor-to-ceiling windows. Our destination was the conference room, where the director of Cooder & Cooder and the OpenMind directory waited.
The room was filled with apprehension and amazement; some board members could not believe that Bishop was there, while others were worried about what would happen next. A woman, I think her name was Hayden; It was a lot to assimilate, he approached me and silently told me how happy he was to have returned. The decision to expel Bishop from OpenMind had been her own, she acknowledged, but hoped we could work together to move forward.
Awoke a desire for something totally unexpected: a raw power exercise
In a previous chapter, I mentioned that immersion experiences give audiences the opportunity to act outside their comfort zone and do things they normally would not do. An additional benefit can sometimes be an unexpected self-lighting: a look at the parts of your own personality that you would prefer to keep under lock and key. And when I discovered that Hayden had been responsible for the overthrow of Bishop, and I realized how much leverage he would have in this meeting, he awoke the desire for something totally unexpected: an exercise of absolute power.
Faith, the bishop's wife, arrived and checked in quickly to make sure it was me, not her husband, with a key phrase we had established Saturday night. Then we sat down and the C & C executives made their presentation. The conglomerate was excited about the potential of OpenMind, but there was a public relations problem: people would not trust technology in the hands of a megacorp in the same way they did when Bishop directed it. So they wanted the company, and they wanted it, well, in this case, to me, for $ 1.29 billion. As part of the deal, Bishop would become the Chief Visionary Officer of Cooder & Cooder.
I did not want to talk about the ethics of using OpenMind, and I did not want to talk about safeguards or implementation details. I did not even bother to negotiate better terms. At that time, I simply wanted to break something because I could. I told them I would agree, on the condition that Hayden got off the board.
It was a cruel thing to do, but at a deep level, I think I just wanted to know what it would be like to have that kind of influence, if only for a moment.
Everyone agreed, of course. Faith suggested that we announce the news the next day, at the Central Library in Austin, and after a quick photo to commemorate the occasion, she and I were away; I thought about discussing what we were going to do with our new windfall.
But Faith was not that excited; she was completely confused. He could not understand why he would give up technology so eagerly, and a company with so few scruples. I explained that I thought I was going to buy time, to keep control of OpenMind until we could destroy the device and stop the interdimensional exchange. "Chief visionary officer?" He scoffed. "You will be a figurehead." And she was right. It would allow the appeal of fleeting power to cloud my general judgment, and now we had a problem to solve.
I let the charm of power cloud my judgment, and now we had a problem to solve
We went to a nearby cafe to discuss our options. I shared what I had learned about Kai Goodwin and the resistance group, and then it was Faith's turn to confess: I had been secretly channeling information to Max and his group all this time, in an effort to undermine her husband's efforts with OpenMind . The press conference would give us a platform to take some kind of action, we think, but we would need help. While calling Max, my phone rang with a number I did not recognize: it was Nikita, wondering why I had not fulfilled my promise to take her to the meeting.
I told her where we were, and shortly after, she and Jules arrived. If we tried to knock down OpenMind, I said, we had to do more than simply prevent this transaction from happening. We had to poison the very idea of OpenMind in the public eye, so that no other company could come and pick up the pieces. That was reduced to convincing people of the real human costs. The people who died due to OpenMind. The families that lost their loved ones by OpenMind. And the damage it could do to specific people as individuals, better exemplified by the bishop himself.
I asked Nikita if she and her group could bring protesters: find someone who has been hurt by this technology, and get them to appear at the current press conference. I would then start the press conference, I explained, acting as if everything was in progress, before focusing on the reasons why we could not move forward with the agreement: OpenMind was simply not safe. Then she handed the presentation to Faith, who could talk about how the side effects of technology had ruined her marriage. I thought I would, but she would make the audience feel the real cost.
We all had our marching orders. My three cohorts left, and soon after, I heard the strange noise. I was back on my timeline, as if nothing had ever changed. But I had some work to do.
Join us for the next installment of The SimuLife Diaries, where I discover how Ruben discovered that OpenMind had bled in our world, and we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal with a completely fictitious family.