Work or Live?




Up on the 12th floor, the printer that was responsible for the cacophony in Kabber’s ears let out another page. The pages came with two columns of text, each running jaggedly down the length of one of the sides. Kabber would take the pages, scan them into a computer document, and spend a few minutes setting making sure the columns were aligned into two straight columns a half inch from the margins on each side. He would then feed the pages back into a slot in the wall.




Down the chute to god knows where.

Kabber woke up earlier in the day and came to work at the building, as he had done for a year now. He had come across a job seeking an analyst, with just one desired skill listed–attention to detail. The job was listed under an innocuous company name: The Perfect Print Company. An interview later, he found himself feeding pages into a slot in the wall. The first week had been confusing: he didn’t get why they were asking him to do this. But he soon realized questions were not welcome at Perfect Print. They paid him, and that was enough for him. Kabber would come to work and ask no questions.

Kabber had never known anyone else at the company, so if anyone asked what he did there, he had no answer for them. He didn’t have the slightest clue what or who the pages were for. He almost didn’t remember about Perfect Print at times, since his job was not to think, mostly just to look for things that were out of line. Kabber worked in a room with a door, with a printer and a computer and a scanner, and that was all he knew.

Recently, his work had started to change. The computer screen had started displaying alerts that he’d never seen before. He had been summoned by email, and the summons became more frequent by the day. They were making it difficult to do his job, since he had to leave for the 3rd floor each time.

The first time he was summoned, he spent an hour trying to find his way to the 3rd floor. He had never seen it before. Never known it existed. See there were no stairs to it, no button on the elevator. He knew there was a 3rd floor yes, but he had never seen it and never known what was on it. He had been sent a set of instructions on how to get there, and it involved a trip out to the street into the neighbouring building, then a journey across a glass elevated footpath that led straight from the 3rd floor of the neighbouring building back into his. He had to enter a code multiple times: at the lobby of the building, at the elevator, at the end of the footpath. Strangely though, it was the same one he would enter to access the 12th floor elevator that led him to his small cubicle on the 12th floor. When the footpath opened to the 3rd floor, it opened to a long hallway with hundreds of slots along the wall. They looked like the ones he would feed pages into when done, but there were so many here! What were they all for?

Kabber was confused by this. Why was he here, in a different place? When he took a seat in one of the many numbered rows of chairs along the wall of slots, as the email had instructed, Kabber realized he had not only arrived, but was still at work. The printer and computer in front of him were similar to the ones he used, but he could not get the familiar blue glow to come out of the monitor. He looked at the keys: no familiar letters. No letters at all. All there was, was rows upon rows of the number 3. He spent the entire day looking at rows of 3’s. He could not place the 3’s in columns, just rows. And he could only sit and watch row after row of 3’s go by on the screen. This was no way to do work at all.

Before leaving, Kabber raised his hand and spoke to the gaunt-looking woman in strange clothing who had led him in.

“Uh, excuse me, ma’am. I don’t understand what this is. I think I was supposed to spend the day here working, but I can’t see any functions. It’s all just 3’s. What am I supposed to do?”

She looked at him sternly.

Today, as had become usual, the email had summoned him. I got here, Kabber thought. What am I doing here? The email didn’t say anything about this room, just to “report to 3.” The rows of numbered chairs filled the hall, and another row ran perpendicular to the one he was in, forming an L shape.

The room looked much different than on other days.
“What’s this?”

“I don’t remember this from before.”

“Who are these people? I’ve never seen this place.”

People like Kabber were filing in asking themselves these questions too, as well as others. Kabber turned to see a man sitting in the chair next to him, also staring at his screen. He had no name tag or anything. He had rows of 7s in front of him.

“You get used to it here,” the man said, looking at Kabber. He was bald and wearing a long tan trench coat.

“Do we all have the same problem?” Kabber asked.

“What’s that?”

“You don’t look like you know why you’re here, we all have the same problem. It’s just 3’s., or 7s in your case.”

“Excuse me,” the trench coat man said, “but what does that have to do with anything?”

“I don’t know. None of us do. I think we have been sent here as part of some set of tests.”

“I don’t understand,” another man said, “I got here at 9. I’m supposed to be here by 9. That is all I know.

“Where did you come from?” Kabber asked another man, who had been placed in the chair directly to the left of Kabber on the right side of the room.

“The 4th floor.” the man said.
“Oh! I didn’t know there was a fourth floor!” Kabber said.
“What about you?” the man asked.
“The 12th!”
“Ha! You must be a fool to think that a building with a 12th floor doesn’t have a 4th then.”
Kabber ignored his comment.
“Excuse me,” said the woman in the trench coat. “I think the test is about to begin. You all better quiet for now and see what happens.”

A voice suddenly came over a loudspeaker in the room.
“We are now beginning our test of the Analytical Program.”
Kabber looked at his computer screen. It had flipped to a menu with a lot of names on it.

“You may select one of these Analytical names to be yours to keep,” the voice said, “or you may choose one of these new names.”
“Wha…” Kabber started to ask, but the voice drowned him out. “If you choose a new name, you will be able to take on the Analytical Program. If you choose an old name, you will have your present situation. “
Right then, Kabber saw numbers and letters on the screen. He was supposed to click on, a name, but there was a long list to go through. He looked around the huge room. He saw that everyone had their own lists of names.
The man with the 7s in front of him said, “Listen, my name is Juniorville, but I want to take a new name.” He pressed the Enter button on his keyboard, the only other button other than the 7s, and a menu appeared.
“You may choose any of these names. Select one, and it will be yours to keep.”
“TOO CRAZY, I DON’T WANT IT,” Juniorville said.
“You may select any of these names. Go ahead, take your pick.”
Kabber turned back to his screen and saw that he now had only three options. If he chose the top one, he’d keep the name he had now, or he could pick any of the other 2. He had no directional buttons so he clicked enter on name number 1.
A new menu appeared.
“You may select any of these names, pick again,” the computer said, “Go ahead and pick a new name.”
Kabber did not know these names but he remembered Juniorville saying he wanted a new one. He decided that he wanted one too. He looked at the screen and picked the name “Mister No” because it sounded cool and funny, but also because it was the only one he could pick without buttons to move around on the screen–it was the first and the cursor had it selected already, just like his own name before. When he pressed enter, nothing happened.
The system had to be broken, Kabber thought.
“I want that one,” Juniorville said as he pointed at a name that was not in his list, but was on Kabber’s new menu.
The man’s computer responded to him.
“Only these are your choices, you cannot pick from another’s list.”
Juniorville moved right up to the ear of the speaker, and said in a very low whisper, “Do I get to change my name later?”
“Yes, it is a 24 hour formality: you will be permitted to change your name at any time after that.”
“Well, that is good,” Juniorville said out loud.
Kabber checked his menu again. He couldn’t change his name from Mister No–it remained highlighted–but there was now a “Comment” section where he could type. He thought to type a comment and pressed one of the 3s to try. A Q appeared on his screen. He pressed another, and a W appeared. He realized it was a real keyboard! All the keys had just been replaced with the number 3. He did not know if he wanted to write anything, and he had already chosen a name, so he just sat and waited.
Eventually, after the name picking was done, an announcement came for them to head back to their stations. Kabber waved goodbye to Juniorville and left. Every week after that, an announcement came that asked Kabber to return to the room, and every week he was made to choose his own name then another. And so he did.
This week, the announcement had come just like usual and Kabber had settled into the 3rd floor. Kabber looked at the screen. This time there was a question on the screen. It read: “What is your name?”
Kabber sat and thought and thought and thought. He was conflicted and didn’t know why. He wondered whether it was a trick. As he sat, a counter appeared on the screen and rapidly started counting down from 10. He panicked and pushed a button on his keyboard–a 3. Then another and another and another. He knew where the keys were supposed to be, so he didn’t need to really see them. He filled out the box, typing in “Mister No”, then hurriedly pushed the enter key. Just as he did, a red light came on on top of the computer in front of him. He looked around the room and noticed that the same thing had happened to everyone’s computers too.
The red light turned off and the question disappeared, but the counter continued to count until it ran to 0.
The stern lady was at the front again, and she let them know in an almost bored voice that the tests were finally complete. Kabber wondered if he had failed. Maybe he was supposed to enter his real name, or maybe he was supposed to enter both his real one and the one he chose. But he had no way to tell, so he asked the lady out loud.
“Do they want us to enter both names?”
“Of course not, now just hurry up and maybe you can go home on time today.”
Kabber considered if he should press the button and change his name back. Then again, he was so used to looking at it, maybe he should keep it. “Mister No” still looked cool to him.
The lady made her way to the front of the room. She grabbed the microphone and said, “Well, you are all qualified. You should feel privileged to be a part of the Analytical Program. I will now give you a quick rundown of what we do here. The Analytical Program uses advanced computer algorithms to infer the direction people will take. That’s right, I said infer. The mathematical nature of the work allows us to determine probabilities.
“First, we break down each individual’s life into a set of actions, and predict the next most probable move. If that predicted action is ordered by the machine, we conclude that it will happen. For example, if the machine predicts that at 3pm today a person will use his or her smart phone to buy pizza, then at exactly 3pm, we order pizza for someone.
The next most probable action is then chosen and the whole process starts over. Every day it is going on somewhere in your life.”
Kabber started to feel light headed. He had a headache and his stomach ached. He really had had enough for one day, but the lady kept on talking.
“We chose you for this program because the program has some quirks when it comes to your lives. And we don’t yet understand the meaning of these. The program, for some strange reason, seems to recognize you all by a different name. This name is what you have seen at the the top of the list of names you have been receiving each week. We ran this simulation to try and understand something about those names, and we think we have the answer now.”
“Now that you know this, I know that you are all thinking I am the big boss here and can change things. No sir!” She waved her arms in the air. “I am just a worker, like you.”
Kabber had many questions: how was this supposed to help them figure out anything? Who were they? How far was this program fixed into his life? And plenty more questions.
The lady said that there was only so much time in a day, and that she would continue to explain the next day. She asked them all to go home.
On the way home, Kabber thought to himself, “What could be the point? We could only each go home to the life we already have.”
He got home and ate his spaghetti with his cell phone and went right to bed.
The next day was Saturday. Kabber was at home, and it was still morning. He finally had a moment where he could think about all of the things that had happened over the last week. He thought about the program and he thought about the red light. He thought about a lot of things. Then he went outside to check the mailbox and found a check from work. And he went on a walk to the bank to deposit it. He thought, it has been a strange week indeed, but I will worry about that on Monday.

%d bloggers like this: