Do You Have a Choice?
One of the many aspects discussed in “The Curmudgeon Code” is the concept of choice.
How did you come to view this Kickstarter page or whatever page you are reading this on? Did a friend share the page? Did you see an ad that pointed to the page? Upon seeing the ad, you decided to have a look. Did you really choose?
In our virtual, digital world, it is more likely that an algorithm in some massive mainframe determined that you would find the information on this page interesting, so the ad or share was placed in front of you. These days we accept that, targeted advertising. However, consider for a moment that in order for the ad to be shown to you, the algorithm had to do a little more than determine that you would be interested – it had to determine it ahead of time. It had to predetermine it. It cannot make the determination at the moment. It has to know, in advance, that you would be predisposed to what the ad represents.
Moreover, in order to maximize the effectiveness of target advertising there is a strong desire for the recipient of the advertising to not only look at the subject material, but also to participate – to buy, pledge, or otherwise actively engage. The algorithm runs deep, studying your likes and dislikes, your habits and behavior, in an effect to create a picture of you. Not just a picture of who you are, but a picture of who you want to be, a picture of what you see yourself doing in the future. Whether that future is five years from now, or just a few minutes from now when you chose something to quench your thirst, it is all the same. The algorithm is predetermining you.
Did you chose that Coke or bottled water? Why bottled water? Why that particular brand of bottled water? Why not some other brand, it is only water after all. Why not tap water? Did you really chose, or were you led? The algorithm knows your preferences, your habits, and your behaviors. You prefer water to sugared drinks. You prefer a certain price range; you are overly attracted to health messages and certain colors. You live in a certain area defining specific availabilities. The algorithm knew you would select that brand of bottled water over the other options available. You think you made a choice. The algorithm knows better, and it knows it needs to keep you feeling like the choice was yours. The choice you had was really a Hobson’s choice, the dice already rolled by some company’s algorithm.
The concept of choice is what gives each of us a sense of free will, a sense of freedom. However, if everyone’s behavior and habits are scrutinized and calculated, then every action can be determined. Beyond that, they can be predetermined. Still beyond that, they can be led.
The following are two short excerpts from “The Curmudgeon Code”, along with a little commentary.
The first is from “Chapter 1 – The Curmudgeon Effect”. Joshua and his elderly friend, Ford, have elected to visit a small café for some refreshment.
The café is quiet with only a few customers. It is clean and well lit. It is so quiet and so pristine it is hard to believe that it is a real café and not some set piece for the benefit of the Throwbacks and Upgrades that are jogging in the park. The two walk up to the counter where a clerk, mostly likely a quality mechanical or automaton and not an Artificial, greets them, “Hello, gentlemen. What will it be tonight?”
Joshua selects a large coffee, as it is still early in the evening. Ford requests a large, double chocolate shake with whipped cream and a cherry. The automaton busies itself and in a very short minute produces both the coffee and shake. They each take their beverage and thank the clerk. Ford turns around and gazes out of the wall of windows that mark the entrance of the café. “It’s a pretty night. Let’s go sit outside again.”
The two of them head outside to one of the tables. As they settle down, Ford utters, “I just like doin’ it the old-fashioned way. I know it’s all the same stuff, still, there’s something about havin’ the feeling that you made a choice.”
How is it that the café had both of the requested items – coffee and chocolate shakes, and not just chocolate shakes but double chocolate, whipped cream and cherries? How is it that both these very hot and very cold items were produced to perfection so quickly? In addition, as you will note in the following excerpt, Joshua prefers cream in his coffee, though he did not request it here. He really did not need to. “His coffees have always come creamed, and the perfect amount of cream too.” Was it choice or predetermination?
This excerpt is from “Chapter 3 – The Curmudgeon Match”. On another evening, Joshua and Ford have gone to Ford’s apartment to play some chess, in addition to their normal chatter. Ford is preparing some refreshments.
Out of habit, he places the milk container and syrup back in the refrigerator. “I know I could just leave the milk out on the counter and at some point when I’m not lookin’ it would disappear and a new jug would be waitin’ in the frig. The Artificials humor me with these things. I like some of the old ways. It lets me feel like I’m makin’ a choice.” About that time the coffeemaker gurgles and the mug is steaming full of coffee. Ford asks, “You want some milk or cream in that?”
Joshua nods. “Yes. Cream please.”
Ford goes to the refrigerator again, pulls out a small carton of cream and hands it to Joshua. Joshua eyes the container, a little uncertain. His coffees have always come creamed, and the perfect amount of cream too. He is only barely aware that coffee could be coffee without cream. Ford takes back the container and opens it. As he pours, he says, “When it looks like the color you like, say when.”
Joshua asks, “Say when?”
Ford chuckles again, stops pouring, gives the brew a stir and adds, “There. Isn’t it good to feel like you made a choice? Besides, their nanites’ll fix it before it reaches your lips.”
Joshua takes up the mug, gives it a customary blow and then sips it. “Perfect,” he said.
Ford picks up his chocolate milk, heads to the dining table, and sits down. Joshua follows suit, sitting across from him. As he sits, he queries, “You say that quite a bit, feeling like you are able to make a choice. You make choices all the time, don’t you? Like you chose that chocolate milk, right?”
Ford coolly replies, “Did I? I don’t know, do you? I mean, you think I did. I think I did. Isn’t it amazing there is always fresh milk at my favorite temperature in the frig? …
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