Image from USA Today
I hesitate to write to you so early. Every time I set out to say something before my prescribed date, you go and do something horrific mere hours before my scheduled posting, necessitating a complete rewrite. But I write to you today somewhat ahead of schedule, from the floor of where the future is supposed to be sprouting.
I’m speaking of the Computer Electronics Showcase, or CES as it is more widely known. I am told it brings some 30,000 people to the city of Las Vegas, and judging by the traffic snarls, I can believe it. I know this city, from far more pedestrian gatherings, and it’s easy to avoid the snarl–just take public transit. Many of these tech types, though, seem to consider themselves above such things. I suppose they figure they cannot spare the time to walk to the monorail–these people who refer to the place where their desk and computer is in their homes as “labs,” and who go to parties featuring pole-dancing robots.
You are everywhere at this event. In your hideous golden tower that looms at the end of the strip. In those dancing robots and the shameless buffoonery with which the invite attempted to coax partygoers out to see them. And in the screams that went up from the floor, as what was later revealed to be a flashover from the deluge plunged North Hall into darkness.
I, like countless others, immediately assumed it to be an act of violence. I watched darkness claim the area I’d been standing in only moments before, watched the flashlight settings on smartphones wink on in the blackness, and listened as with what felt like the speed of a snail, the initial collective scream morphed into the excited, curious buzz of a crowd suddenly more of a piece than it had been moments before.
“That’s not good,” noted a well-dressed man standing next to me–who probably earns more per year than the entire sum value of my home and who seconds ago had been about to plow into me, because I have been experimenting here with refusing to always be the first one to give way in a crowd, to see how many of these entitled tech bros return the favor.
“No, it’s not,” I replied. We had both turned to look back at the crowd moshing its way toward the entrance.
“Do you think it was an accident?”
“I don’t…know…I should go tell my team,” I murmured, and fled. Because I was afraid. Because we were out in the open. Because every salaried job I’ve ever had has given us training for shooting events, and because herding people into one close space as this power outage was doing was a good way to line them up for the slaughter. Because I was ashamed (I had come to this event envisioning having to rescue my sisters being pawed up in elevators by abusive execs drunk on media attention and overpriced liquor–I’d spent extra time in the gym to facilitate absurd readiness for that–and here I was fleeing at the first sign of tumult). And because I worried if I did something foolish and got myself shot, the people at whose behest I had attended would suffer the weight of my idiotic death at the hands of some blood-crazed jerk, and that would be a waste of their time and, sort of, mine.
These are melodramatic thoughts, I know. But these are melodramatic times. Trying to find an alternate exit, I hovered by the doors where a security guard stood, barking into his walkie-talkie about keeping everyone from running to avoid a stampede. With him there, I didn’t know if I would be allowed to exit, and I very much wanted to just be told what to do. I detest that feeling, but this is where you have placed us. In a time where we have more reason than ever to doubt the motives, morals and self-control of the people sworn to protect us, you send us fleeing to them like lemmings, gibbering with relief at the thought of decision-making in the face of chaos becoming someone else’s concern.
How are you involved in all this? Your inaction on gun laws, for one (though of course you are hardly the first to come up impotent in that regard). But also the sense of doom you have draped over this country like a fog. I am hardly alone in having to do rewrite after rewrite, any time I want to address current events–no sooner do we lay our heads on our pillows, our drafts saved, than our phones shriek some new warning about your seeming desire to blow us all into oblivion (sometimes more literally than others, as was the case with Hawaii last night).
With the way you have been carrying on, who among us would look at that text and think “ah, this can’t be real, this must be some terrible flub of the system?” Not me. Not anyone I know. Had someone like my father–old, bitter, in possession of weaponry–been in Hawaii and received that text, he might have shot himself, just to deny North Korea, presumed launcher of the missile, the pleasure. Again, this would have been a melodramatic act. But these are melodramatic times. Gone are the days when we could witness the appearance of some ridiculousness and think “but surely things aren’t this way.”
They are. They are this way. And while this time the power outage was innocent–the result of a city overburdened with more water than it ever expected to have to deal with–there is no reason to believe that there won’t be a next time, and a next time after that, where people will die. And not all the technology on this entire show floor can stop it.
One French company’s automated home security system–complete with video cameras and self-deploying pepper spray–rang at first, in the videos playing on constant loop in its booth, as ridiculous. A wizened old man, interrupted in the pouring of his drink, resumes it with a satisfied air as his robotic security system maces a burglar. A woman glances at her phone in relief as her home security system berates an abusive babysitter and sends the police in for a violent arrest. “Things aren’t that bad here,” we want to laugh. “This is just how we look to people outside. They must have a terrible impression of us. But we’re not really that bad.”
We are, though. And you’ve helped us get this way.