For the odd moments I can manage to think of something.

Mobile Web

I asked this, as you can see, on Twitter a few weeks back. Friends online were kind enough to give me their thoughts and I wove them into a story about mobile. It’s not meant to be high literature. It was fun to write and even more satisfying to collect and include almost all of the replies I got. My Twitter status is hooked into my Facebook account, so some of the cut out replies you see on this page are from that network too. I’m really grateful that people picked up the idea and ran with it so that I could make this story happen. Thanks chaps!

The Hesther house is bustling with morning goings on. Jay scrambles into the kitchen, snatches up toast and crams it into his mouth whilst checking his emails on his comm. He posts a note on the family’s calendar to remind Hannah that they both have to go to see their son Alex’s teacher that evening. Then he sends a signal to start Alex’s alarm clock to encourage him to get out of bed and go to school.

Upstairs Hannah is awake. She runs her comm over her swollen, pregnant belly. It monitors two heartbeats, shows a picture scan and collects data about her blood pressure and the general well being of her second child. She looks over the stats. Satisfied that they are both well, she sends on the data to her doctor to collate and look at in the hospital. She puts the comm on the bedside table where it syncs with a radio streaming service and sends a wireless signal to the bathroom. There will be music to sing along to in the shower. “If only it also made a good cup of tea,” she mutters on the way to the bathroom.

The shower is already running hot when she gets there, triggered by her comm on the bedside table which has made a note of her morning activities. She starts to sing.

In the other bedroom Alex is tunnelling further under his duvet cover and scowling at his bleeping comm. It’s a note from his dad telling him to get up. Nag, nag, nag. He turns off the alarm and finds the latest album by his favourite band. Jake has shared the file with him as he bought it already this morning. Music blares from his wireless speakers.
He gets up checking messages on various social networks and looking up news on technology forums. His friend Jake has the latest AR MMOG game and will probably have it at school. It’s probably worth going in after all.

Hannah is dressed and getting ready for her day. She is making a list on her comm and checking the family calendar. She works from home as a virtual English language tutor and has a session this later this morning. First off to the supermarket and back in the late afternoon to meet Jay for the school meeting. She opens a list for the grocery store and knocks on Alex’s door as she walks down the hall. The door opens immediately to her surprise. Her teenage son is up, dressed and ready to go. He’s got his wireless plugged into his ears and she can hear music blaring away. She mouths at him that he can still get a lift with his Dad if he hurries. He scowls as usual and they head downstairs to the kitchen.

Alex and Jay get into the car. Jay plugs his communicator into the dash and checks the directional system while uploading the latest news bulletin. There is flooding in the area, automatically added to the data which corrects the map and route to the school. Alex hopes his school is flooded but the voice in the local news bulletin says otherwise. He scowls. They’re going to school, just via a different route. Jay pulls into traffic and adjusts the communicator to listen to a music station and sings along, mostly to annoy his grumpy teenage son.

Back at the house, Hannah is wrapping up warm. She switches her communicator to audio recognition and tells it to remind her to pick up some nappies. She feels as though she is close to the time when this will be essential. She waves the communicator near the fridge and via blue tooth it adds missing items to her grocery list. On her way out the door the house acknowleges that all three communicators are out and it shuts down power and locks the doors and windows.

The day is dark, grey and stormy. As Hannah approaches the bus stop the lights flicker on making her feel a bit safer. She checks the display to see when the last bus passed and when the next one will come. Cold and wet, she is reassured that the wait will not be too long.

At the school Jay pulls up. “Have a great day Sunnypants!” he grins at his son. Alex grunts at him and leaps out of the car before anyone at the school can see his dorky Dad. Jay smiles, opening all the windows he sings loudly to the streamed radio. Alex practically runs in through the school gates. On his way in they register his communicator and the truancy monitors know that he is there. He turns on his finder and sees on a radar screen that Jake is already there and sitting in the rec room before lessons, he heads off hoping that there will be time to mess around with their comm games.

Jay turns the music down in the car and plays a few email messages in audio while he is driving. There are a few appointments that need to be scheduled for regular fixes. He calls up his calendar and adds each one via speech recognition to plan out the day efficiently. The traffic is heavy as more of the roads are closed due to flooding. He stares curiously out of the window and hopes that Hannah is ok today. Jay records an audio message for her “Hi, just checking in on you two. Take it easy today and come home if it’s too wild out. I love you.”

At the Supermarket Hannah is scanning the bar codes for jars of baby food. She is checking them against her favourite sites that keep an eye on fair trade and ecologically sound products. A private message arrives and she places the communicator next to her ear rather than play it out in the supermarket. It’s Jay.

Smiling, she changes the program and records her heartbeat and that of their baby. The stats collect and the audio is added to a file that she sends back to him. She adds to the message, “We love you too.”

She pushes her kart to the checkout. She found almost everything she needed and added her comm id number to an item that was out of stock so that the supermarket can notify her when it comes in. The comms device recognises the auto till and pays for her groceries, uploading a digital receipt on the way. She chooses a packer robot from a selection of till options and a machine arrives to put her groceries in bags.

Jake and Alex are giggling. In the rec room students mill about and chatter. The boys are looking through Alex’s AR tagger and adding offensive tags to their schoolmates. Reputations are ruined and rumours are spread as the networked phones light up and people check their comms AR screens. Annabell Jackson storms over. “You two are disgusting.”
The boys guffaw.
“You don’t even know what that is, let alone if I have done it!”
They laugh harder.
She continues. “I don’t need an AR screen to tell me how lame you are Alex Hesther,” she proclaims. “Your ex girlfriend already told us about what you can’t handle”.
Alex stops laughing and Jake is trying to suppress a grin. She has him there, whatever she’s talking about. Everyone knows that Alex was not pleased about being dumped.
Annabell flicks her hair and saunters off across the rec room as the bell rings. Alex calls her things that Jake notes to look up later in the Urban Dictionary.

They pile into the classroom for lessons and their comms are registered at the door. As the teacher walks in a jammer opens up and all the comms devices are no longer linked to anything. Every morning this solicits a collective groan as gadgets go back into bags and the students log in to the locked down school learning system on desk top computers.

At Jake’s house, his mother Eleanor is waking up. She works late at the club and never sees Jake leave for school. He’s a good kid, but she checks her comm all the same. The school has registered that he arrived and is in his first lesson. Hopefully he won’t be tempted to play truant with that Alex kid. She’ll check again later. Setting an alarm to snooze, she rolls over and sleeps on.

Jay is still in traffic. It’s crawling through the rain, though finally he can see why. A fire engine is blocking some of the road so single lane traffic from here to as far as he can see. He lifts the comm from the dash, snaps a shot of the scene in front of him and uploads it to a travel site for the area while sending it to the local news station too. The GPS tracker picks up his location and verifies his whereabouts. There’s something happening around the fire engine.

An ambulance whoops and slowly makes its way through the slow moving cars. Fire fighters are gathered around looking at one particular thing. Jay pulls up along side them, his cameraphone at the ready. As soon as he spots the issue, he smiles and switches the camera from stills to video.

One fire fighter has a different battle on his hands. A slippery ginger tomcat, soaked through and loudly unhappy is clawing at his coveralls. He’s trying to get it into a kitty box to take to the vet and it’s not having it. His colleagues are helpfully laughing their heads off. Jay records the scene. The cat is yowling louder and louder as eventually, breathless and irritated, the fireman gets the cat into the box. Jay stops recording and waves at them, the fireman gets a round of applause. Jay asks the nearest fire fighter what is happening.
“The estate’s flooded,” she points toward a street of new build houses. “One our guys tried to go back for that critter after we evacuated the place. The houses are not up to much it seems. A law suit waiting to happen. Bet he wishes he didn’t try to rescue that cat after all.”
Jay nods, starts his engine and crawls forward in the car. He sends the video and the sound bite to the local news station and sends a message ahead to the office to Chris to let him know he will be late.

In the local news room Jay’s message and video raise a smile. He’s a registered user with them and they know his material is likely to be kosher. The local reporters recognise the estate and forward the cat video to their TV and online teams. The note about the housing estate is interesting, something to look into at for follow up stories.

At work, Chris is bleary eyed and checking a few social networks to see what his ex-wife has been up to. She hasn’t updated for a week. He suspects she has found someone new but wants the confirmation to torture himself with. His comm beeps and he sees that Jay is running late. This means no more browsing and that he will have to pick up any urgent jobs that Jay will not be able to make. He uses the remote viewer on his comm to see if there is coffee in the refreshment area pot. He has a feeling he will need the extra caffeine today.

Hannah returns to the house with her shopping. As she puts it away her refrigerator and cupboards scan bar codes and adjust the shopping list on her comm. A reminder sounds and she puts the kettle on to sit down for today’s teaching session. She’ll be helping a grade three English language student. Sometimes she wonders where they are and what they do, but the lessons can be thorny enough without wondering too much about other things like this. She’s glad their comm data doesn’t arrive with their appointments.

Leyla’s reminder has also woken up. She works late so this lesson seems quite early. She’s been practising new words and trying to improve her sentence structure. English is such a funny language. A lot of the time she gets lazy. At the club she has her comm linked to her cochlear implant so she can automatically translate things from English to Russian. But often when her boss Linus gives her a hard time, he uses slang, so the implant is not always fast enough to pick it up for her. Better settle into a lesson then, otherwise she is sure one day Linus will catch her out.

Eleanor is also finally up. She is clearing a space and setting her comm in a cradle with the camera facing her. She has a pay per view fitness stream every day. She’s fairly sure that a high percentage of the people who tune in are not keeping fit. But while they still pay to stream, she’s not complaining. It helps to pay for Jake’s comm fees and at least she gets to keep her clothes on.
She warms up and starts the camera. “Hi there! Who’s ready to sweat off some pounds!?” She grins enthusiastically at the camera and wonders if it is really worth it.

At the school, the students are taking a short break between lessons.
Annabell Jackson is tittering with her friends. They are looking at something on her comm and glancing over at Jake and Alex. Jake is shy with the girls, uncertain, but Alex is braving it, showing face after this morning’s put down. “Looking at kittens are we?” he calls over to them.
They giggle some more. “Ask your friend Jake if he can touch his toes like his Mum.” Annabell shouts back. Alex keeps a straight face as Jake reddens and hopes this will pass quickly. Most people in the school know that his Mum does exercise videos, he hopes he can get through high school without them working out what she does in the evenings.
Alex shouts back at them, “At least she gets paid for looking good. You’re mom’s on another website entirely.”
Annabell looks livid. It’s time to move. Jake doesn’t feel much better about this. Annabell is smart, he worries that some day she will work it all out and he will be living in a hell of digital bullying and worse in person. Alex looks at him, “C’mon,” he says. “Let’s get outta here.”
“I can’t,” says Jake. “If the truancy monitor registers my comm leaving again, I’ll be in real trouble.”
“Not a problem,” says Alex. “I’ll send you a new file. It masks your comm for you so it can’t be registered. We can come back and adjust the class room monitors tomorrow.”
Jake is unsure, but he’d rather be elsewhere than end up as the focus of Annabell’s wrath. He uploads the software file Alex has sent to him and they head off toward the gates.

Jay has finally made it to the office. He greets Chris and apologises.
Together they catch the latest video update from the local news network. Jay’s cat video has made it to the floods coverage. Included in the report is a crowd sourced map of the local devestation. It looks pretty serious, buildings have been damaged and many roads are not passable. The weather report is adding fierce winds to the mix.

Chris opens up his comm and orders a grocery delivery, more scotch at home, just in case he cannot get out in the evenings. A few videos are sent to his home viewing system too. Jay worries about Hannah but decides to wait until later rather than mithering her. She’s probably running a lesson anyway.

Alex and Jake have passed through the school gates. Alex’s comm was cloaked. Jake’s software didn’t upload properly, so the truancy monitor knows that he is out of school again and sends a note to the headmaster and to Eleanor. They decide to go and look at the flood waters on the way to Jake’s house. His Mom will be on her way to work, but not yet, so they have some time to kill.

As they approach the storm drains and sidings, they can hear the rushing water. It’s exciting. They film each other messing about, pretending to go fishing or swimming. Then they start to throw things in.
“I wonder how deep it is,” Alex ponders.
“Dunno, hard to remember it without all that muddy water.”
“We’re going to have to go the long way around to your place if this is rushing all the way down to Park St.”
The boys are getting bored of being out in the cold, home seems further away as it starts to rain again and the wind bites through their coats.
“What about near the turning, where the siding is narrower?” asks Alex. “I bet we could cut across there. We’d get a bit wet, but it’s got to be better than being rained on all the way to your place.”
Jake considers it. They head off to find out.

Eleanor is putting on make up and checking her LED tattoos. Her phone is programmed with music that set the lights moving under her skin. If any of them are damaged the display fails to mesmerise and she won’t get tipped. She monitors each one. All working. Time to go to work.

As she dresses her comm sends her a note. It’s the truancy monitor. Jake’s out of school. She sighs angrily. She acknowledges the message and confirms that she cannot be at the school meeting tonight. Another reminder chimes, she’s going to be late for work.

By the time the boys reach the turning, the water is crashing around a bend. The sky is darkening early in this bad weather and it’s cold.
“C’mon!” shouts Alex. He’s taller than Jake and has longer legs, he can probably jump across the narrow gap, but Jake is wavering.
Alex takes out his comm and films the rushing water. He then films his leap across the current. He makes it without too much trouble and laughs with adrenaline. The water’s really fast. He waves across at Jake.

Emboldened by his friend’s performance Jake takes a run up and jumps. He jumps too early and realises as he does so. With a cry Jake crashes into the cold water and is swept fast away from the bank. Alex is horrified and unsure of what to do.

Finally coming to his senses he sends an emergency message out to the services. A fire engine and ambulance to come to his geolocation. He then starts to run down the bank of the water to see if he can spot Jake along the way.

Leyla has finished her lesson. She stretches in a yoga position and flinches. Her ankle is giving her trouble after slipping in her work shoes. She adds and attachment to her comm and runs it along the aching muscle. An infra red signal helps with the pain a little, she will have to be careful at work tonight if it is to heal properly.
Thinking about her language lesson again she is pleased to hear that she is doing well according to her tutor. Leyla uploads a remote lesson to her comm and transmits it to her cochlear implants so she can listen and practise on the way to work.

Leyla gets the bus and notes how dark it is. “The nights are drawing in because it is winter,” she mouths to herself. Draws in, she wonders. English really is a funny language.
She gets off the bus and starts walking through the dark to the club.
Her audio lesson finishes and she can now hear footsteps behind her, quite close. She thumbs across the comm in her pocket and sets the personal alarm. It makes a racket and alerts the cctv to focus on her geolocation. Her heart beats fast as the steps draw nearer, a bit faster.
Almost ready to turn and hit the alarm, Leyla jumps as the man behind her runs forward to flag down a taxi. She almost cried wolf. She reminds herself not to listen to her lessons in the street when it is dark next time and turns the corner to approach the club.

Alex is in tears at the side of the water. Around him lights turn in blue and red and yellow. A police man has his comm and is finding the numbers to call his parents. Jake is shivering with the paramedics.
They found him clinging to the bank as Alex went into shock. They are cold and miserable boys dreading their parent’s reaction. Jake’s comm is wet through, so they cannot get to his mother just yet. He’s still getting medical attention so they will alert her when he has come to his senses. In the mean time Alex is being lectured by a policeman and waits for his parents to return the message. Grounded, he thinks, is not going to cover it. At this rate, they’re going to block his games and music from his comm.

Jay is trying to cheer Chris up. Since his divorce, his obsession with his ex wife is bordering on stalking.
“Why don’t we go to a gig?” Jay suggests. “There’s some great stuff happening at the forum soon.”
He draws up a page on his comm and shows it to Chris. They agree to head out for some live music the following week. Jay downloads two tickets to his comm and pays for them then and there. He gets the feeling Chris might not come, but Hannah likes the music too, so they won’t be wasted.
His comm beeps in his hand, smiling he expects a message from Hannah, probably not to be late for the school meeting. His smile fades as he reads the screen.

Eleanor steps out of the cab and pays automatically in the back of the car with her comm credit scan. She should probably update that with some real currency, but not just now. She’s spotted Leyla walking in so she’s not too late, but it’s close. She hurries inside.

In the dressing room the women hand over their comms. Linus prefers that they are not distracted while they are working. It also means that they cannot leave a shift without him knowing about it. Eleanor is up first. She changes and checks her hair. Linus plugs her comm into the sound system and checks the audio files. Her song is first on the list and ready to run, he mutters into a mic on his jaw and she hears him in her cochlear implant. Ready to go. As she steps onto the stage, Chris walks through the door and takes a seat at the front.
Linus smiles. He wears a visor in a dark club because it has a video relay and heads up wirelessly hooked up to all of the cameras in the club. Eleanor’s ex husband is easy money.

Hannah calls Jay, he’s on his way home. The police are bringing Alex.
She paces the living room, angry and scared. Why would they be so stupid?
The doorbell rings and there’s a policeman standing with her boy, soaked to the bone, cold and exhausted. Hannah’s not sure whether to scream at him, but she rushes to hug him instead. He’s safe. Then she screams at him.

By the time Jay has arrived home, the police are gone and Hannah has details of the events. He had to take the long way home again, but at least this time the traffic as not so bad. Alex is sitting surley on the sofa. He’s had a hot bath and something to eat, Hannah is passing him some tea.
He gives his wife a squeeze and checks that she is ok. They sit down and look at Alex, he wonders how best to handle this without making things worse or stressing out his pregnant wife.

Eleanor is dancing. Men are watching. Linus is watching the remote cameras. She keeps an eye on the customers but Linus’ eye is keener.
He instructs her to head toward this client or that. The more empty glasses they have in front of them, the more easily they part with their money. The more she visits other men, the more her ex-husband puts on the stage to call her over. The music heads toward a crescendo and the programming in her LED tattoos lights up her body in an explosion with each swish and turn. She moves in light and music, mesmerising her audience.
From behind the curtains, Leyla watches Eleanor dance. She cannot afford the tattoos yet, but she does have a camera in her eye for feeding back data to Linus. He gets a better view of the punters from her close up view and can puppet her around the stage to find the cash. She’s next but there seems to be some altercation with Eleanor’s act. There’s a man on the stage. She hears Linus in her ear instructing her to move closer so he can record for the police if there is a problem.

Alex is explaining the afternoon’s events to his parents.
“So where is Jake?” asks Hannah.
He shrugs, “I think they took him to the hospital.”
“Is his mother there?” asks Jay.
“She’s probably at work.”
Hannah and Jay look at each other.
“Get your coats on,” says Jay. “We’re going to see your friend.”

Jake’s comm is fitted with a water barrier to avoid total destruction when wet. At the hospital a policeman is switching it back on and sending a note to his mother. Jake coughs raggedly. He presumes he is going to be expelled. His Mum’s going to be furious, but he still wishes that she was there.

Linus registers a message on Eleanor’s comm. Something about her kid again. But the bouncers are closing in on her ex. He’s going to be some real trouble tonight it seems. He monitors Leyla’s feed, she’s getting good shots, all recorded for later. He wonders if he should offer her enough of a raise to get some LED implants.

Hannah, Jay and Alex are in the car. It’s quiet and none of them feel like hearing the music Jay usually plays on journeys. Jay’s comm is chattering on directions to the hospital, they have to drive almost out of the town and back in again to avoid the flood water. The wind and rain are gusting hard against the windows, when suddenly everything but the dashboard turns black. A power cut, a network cut.
Jay pulls over to check his comm and Alex takes his out of his pocket.
Nothing is connected. Jay squints across to look into town, no street lights. In the dark, in a very small voice Hannah says, “I think I’m having contractions.”

Notes on writing this piece:


3 Responses to “Mobile Web”

  1. Ben Walker

    Brilliant. I’m on the train to #conkertu with a sneaky hangover and this popped up in my feeds. Just read it and loved it. I like the way that it’s fiction but brings in tweets from people I recognise. Makes it feel less fantastic, I guess.

    The plot had me going too. I always suspected friends’ mothers of living secret double lives. I’ll check out the post-its on a bigger screen…

    But what really drew me in (I know I’m a sucker for it, but who isn’t?) was the process. The intro, the screenshots, the Twitpics and especially the AudioBoo create a wonderful context for enjoying the writing and, importantly, give people a reason to invest some attention in it. The days of mysterious artists, rock star indie kids and authorial hermits are over.* And if every author has one of your magical comms (I’m half-convinced that you have one of these things already…) they can effortlessly share the process and context along with the work. Mobile FTW.

    *may not actually be true (they’ll be there, but nobody will know 😉


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