At SXSW 2018, I was invited to participate in a four-day immersion experience called SimuLife. Mounted by the creative laboratory based on Austin Interactive Deep Dive, SimuLife is destined to blur the line between fantasy and reality by allowing me to 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.
The morning before I met Max and his anti-tech anarchist group, I received a text message. It was sent by someone named Kai, from a number I did not recognize. "Hi, things look good, but I could use your advice," he wrote, followed by a time and place for a meeting later that afternoon.
I answered him and I wish him good morning and I asked him what he was talking about. The answer came instantly: "Ha! Funny Bishop, how about you read my mind."
Two things stood out about the texts immediately. From the beginning, before I was formally invited to participate in this narrative experience, I was told that there would be certain windows in which the story would not be active, moments when I knew I could verify the evaluations, file stories, or visit the HBO's immersive Westworld installation. That particular morning, it was assumed that the story would not be active until 10 AM, but I received this strange text from Kai at 9:45 AM.
The other element was the sound, or the lack of it. Since the story began, I learned that every time the OpenMind timeline changed, there was a familiar familiar trilling noise. I had not heard it that morning, which meant it should be on my normal timeline, where I'm a journalist with The Verge. (I probably should have worried because I literally wondered what dimension I was in, but when you're so immersed in an immersive experience, these kinds of things can start to feel normal.) In his text, Kai referred to me as Bishop, the name that all use for the creator of OpenMind. So, what was going on here?
Later that afternoon, I headed to the meeting place: a branch of the Austin public library. There was no one there to find me, but a rickshaw was waiting. A quick text message for Kai confirmed that I had to take that rickshaw, so I got on board.
When it covers a festival or conference like SXSW, it usually operates within a fairly limited physical footprint. You arrive at the same convention center and the same few places of projection, and that is usually the case. So I was delighted when the driver of the rickshaw drove me south on the bridge over the Colorado River, with a glorious view on either side. The wind blew strongly, but it was a reminder of the pure physicality of the experience in which I participated. I was not in a movie theater watching another person have an adventure; Actually I was in the real world, living it myself, seeing parts of a city I could never otherwise find.
One of those places you would never think of visiting is a miniature train trip. However, when the rickshaw driver arrived at our destination in Zilker Park, we were exactly there: next to a small train called Zilker Zephyr. Kai was waiting for me, a big, bearded guy with a prominent purple eye. I asked him what had happened. He laughed, assuming he was joking; He had been there when he got it, he said.
The same uneasy feeling of the morning hit me one more time. People who expected him to know things he did not remember was something he associated with the OpenMind timeline, but he had not yet heard the familiar clue. Maybe I missed it.
He suggested that we go for a ride on the train (it was one of his favorite places to sit and think, he told me), so we sat down and he offered me a lollipop. Then Kai told me that he had received a preliminary investigation about the business in which we were working together and he handed me an envelope.
Photo: Deep Dive Austin
It was an email and a series of market research graphs, detailing how his company, Goodwin Communications, had acquired OpenMind technology and how he was going to use it together with a new Austin-based company called MyVox. The biggest commercial goal was to take advantage of the recent derogation from the neutrality of the FCC network to introduce a cured version of the Internet, one that would use OpenMind's thought-recognition technology to filter out extremist thinking, dissenting opinions and crime. cybernetic Your name: NicerNet.
And his black eye? That was courtesy of a MyVox employee named Ruben Kirby, who had attacked Kai when he learned that OpenMind was involved.
I wanted to take advantage of the derogation of net neutrality to launch a new cured Internet
My mind was reeling. The ethical implications of this type of censorship were obvious, but according to market research, customers were eager for an Internet free of false news and cyberbullying, and were more than willing to pay for it. But none of that made sense. How is it that Goodwin Communications bought OpenMind when an agreement with Cooder & Cooder was supposedly pending, and why Bishop was involved, when he was allegedly expelled from the company last year?
I asked Kai about both points, and he seemed confused. I was the only person in charge of OpenMind, he said, and he had never heard of Cooder & Cooder.
I tried to analyze what was happening. I could have jumped to a third timeline, on top of the other two that I had already been pinging between, and perhaps in this, Bishop was still in control of the OpenMind fate. It was the only thing that made sense.
Then Kai hit me with another revelation: he told me that OpenMind's association with Meow Wolf at SXSW was going very well, that the fun image of the company was really going to help polish the OpenMind brand, and that sponsorship had been my idea since the beginning.
OpenMind made its way into our world and sponsored MeowWolf in SXSW
To go back a little, Meow Wolf is an immersive company based in Santa Fe, best known for its massive and interactive House of Eternal Return. A documentary about the company – Meow Wolf: Origin Story – is screened here at the festival, and Meow Wolf is also presenting a series of brand activations in Austin this week, including a massive treasure hunt. At first, I was told that the interactive experience of the story I would be part of was being developed in conjunction with Meow Wolf, but apart from some planned meetings with a producer that never happened, I had only been dealing with the world of OpenMind. But Kai was telling me that the brand activations that were happening here, on my own timeline, were actually being sponsored by a company that I thought did not even exist here. And, of course, the test was on Meow Wolf's own website. The cognitive dissonance was overwhelming.
Was I in the middle of a massive, interdimensional spill? Did the exchange that started with me begin to spread to include the festival itself? My meeting with Kai had changed my basic understanding of what I was experiencing, and something dark resonated in my heart for the first time: fear.
Our train journey came to an end, and we went our separate ways. I sat on a bench near the park to sort things out, when my phone was lit with an incoming call.
On Saturday, before meeting Dr. Everett, Paige and I had met a woman named Marilyn who had lost her phone. She had borrowed mine to be able to call herself; She suspected that her phone was in the bottom of her purse. I let him make the call, without thinking about anything, but there he was, calling me out of nowhere.
I picked up. Marilyn showed up again and said she had called because her brother was looking for a journalist to talk to. He had had an altercation with a technology executive recently, he said, and had an issue related to Internet privacy that he was anxious to discuss with someone. His brother's name was Ruben Kirby, the same man who had attacked Kai.
We made plans to meet the next night for dinner, but I was still trying to make sense of what was happening. Marilyn's call showed that both Ruben Kirby and Kai had their base here, on my own timeline, but I still could not understand how OpenMind was involved and had established such a large presence in my world.
I sent a text message to Paige, the only person I could trust. His answer was so simple and obvious that I could not believe that I had missed it.
"Well, you've been coming and going a lot, maybe Bryan the second one came across him during one of the changes?" He wrote. "If Bryan 2 comes and goes, he must have a reason."
That's the time to change stomach in Fight Club, when the character of Edward Norton, Jack, realizes he has been running as Tyler Durden throughout the film, causing damage. That's the best way I can describe the shock that hit me at that moment. And a quick text for Kai confirmed it.
Kai had met Bishop for the first time two weeks ago. After being expelled from his own company in December, Bishop must have decided to take his technology here, reach our dimension and close agreements to spread OpenMind. He had even managed to entangle Meow Wolf in him.
In an instant, I realized that Bishop was more than a poor and wrong genius. It was an existential threat that jumped to dimensions and was about to inflict the same damage on our world that it had already inflicted on its own.
And I was the only person in a position to stop him.
Join us for the next installment of The SimuLife Diaries, where I must decide if I will accept a billion dollar offer to sell OpenMind to the megacorp Cooder & Cooder.