What is reality? It’s whatever you see, you hear, you believe. It’s what you are shown.
The filter was painless to wear. No more inconvenience than wrapping a headband around your head.
Brain to computer, computer to brain, it was tech that made everything easier and that’s why it was a commercial success. I could open a car door before I reached it, dictate an email without writing, order a pizza without leaving the sofa or reaching for a phone.
When direct brain augmented reality emerged in the update the world changed. I could see everything clearer. It would show me the route to clients on the actual road as I drove, placing a flashing arrow on the exit to the motorway, marking the office car park with a beacon. It showed me who was convicted of a crime when they talked to me in the bar, lighting them up with the warning colour, bright red. It told me what nationality people were as they walked by and how much they earned, and crucially it gave me data on who had an illness, whether hereditary or contagious – all colour coded for easy labelling and comprehension.
It was my rudder for every day. The news too, no more Twitter feeds, it flowed into my mind as images and feelings. I had to explain my political and personal preferences and it did all the rest for me, found the right news at the right time, gave it to me straight – as I say, easy.
It was this one day in September, when summer was beginning to fade, I had become quite comfortable with even wearing the Filter to bed as I slept. It tracked me, made sure it collected information even when I was unconscious. This one day, it was raining – I remember that, for real – not a preference, because there was a fault – like something flickered in its circuitry and it died, went totally blank. It was like being slashed in the mind with a blade.
No more images drifted up as I awoke, no more voices softy advised me as I made breakfast from the news channel I had on preferences. The adverts that streamed on trees, houses and shop windows disappeared when I walked down the street.
I began to get a headache and it got worse, until it turned to a migraine over that first day. Everything was too bright, too solid and too up front. I called for help on a normal mobile using the tech support number but it was busy and soon after that is when the vomiting began. I couldn’t go out the next day. I was kind of afraid, like I had lost instructions to function, to operate in social situations. I didn’t know anyone’s political bias any more just by looking at them, I didn’t know how they spent their weekends online, I was afraid – there was no information. I wore the Filter to bed anyway, just for comfort but it didn’t deliver, it didn’t give me what I needed.
It was my third day, I’d taken the day off work with a fever and ended up hurling the phone against a wall because no one was answering me. It was just music and an intermittent message apologising and saying I was ‘important to them’. The trouble was, in my haste, my smashed phone meant I was completely cut off. That’s when I screamed and hid in the corner of the bedroom, with a pillow over my face. At some point I drifted off with the exhaustion but when I awoke the next day my sweats had gone, I felt real and I took the Filter off my head and placed it on the chest of drawers. For the first time I regarded it as a small item. A thing.
I walked across the bedroom, down the stairs and in nothing but a dressing gown, opened the door and walked out into the front garden in full view of the street. The air was rich with oxygen. I blinked in the sunlight. I heard birdsong. There was a conversation in the trees that I had never noticed before. Under my feet was grass. It was dewy. A man drove by on his way to work and he didn’t even notice me out there, bare foot in the sunshine.
The most incredible moment was simply listening to my body. I could hear my breathing, feel my blood surging with each pulse and there was a serene silence within me – like the feeling of existence that I had been avoiding, no, that had been smothered from me.
“Holy shit!” I said out loud. “I’m alive!”