At one time the plaza had had shops on three sides and an open area on the other, edged with tended gardens and perfect for open-air art exhibits or street theatre. But that had been then, Before. Now the shops were gone, replaced by Liquid Refreshment Vendors, and the well-tended gardens had been concreted over too.
In retrospect, the entire plaza had been doomed to failure. Nobody shopped outside anymore and as for the gardens, well… they had been a Health and Safety nightmare from the start. Anyone could have scratched themselves on a rogue prickle or inadvertently ingested some plant matter. No, it was best that they were gone. Guerilla Urban Gardeners had carefully and with maximum social conscience mounted some QR codes woven from hemp on one of the concrete filled planters recently, so you could download some images of greenery to your SmartWearable if you wanted to. An equally socially concious group had added a plaque just above, made from organic recycled sustainable wood, on which was engraved a clear trigger warning for anyone suffering from botanophobia. You couldn’t be too careful.
The plaza did have its uses though. Right in the centre of it, surrounded on all four sides by benches of varying height and depth to ensure equality of access and comfort for all, was a brand new Flamer. Today was its first day in operation, and a crowd was gathering.
In one of the Liquid Refreshment Vendors, RespectfulWizard was selecting a drink. Behind the counter, the Liquidista patiently stroked his beard with a hand clad in a latex-free safety glove. RespectfulWizard admired, without judgement, the way the hue of the Liquidista’s beard perfectly complimented his plaid shirt, bracers, and vintage trousers.
“Detoxed organic soy water please,” said RespectfulWizard. It was a pretty expensive option, but today was a special day.
“Skinny?” asked the Liquidista.
RespectfulWizard thought for a moment before he answered. “Please, thank you.”
The Liquidista began the complex process of preparing the Skinny Detoxed Organic Soy Water. RespectfulWizard wondered if the Liquidista would create some LiquidArt (TM) on the surface. He loved it when they did that. He wondered if he should have had the Skinny or not, as it was a special day. But most of all he wondered about the Flamer, and what it would be like when they switched it on.
“That’s 80.75 please,” said the Liquidista, carefully placing RespectfulWizard’s drink at the end of the counter in a special plastic box that clearly indicated that the contents of the box were hot and might contain nuts or have been in the presence of nuts or been in an environment where nuts may or may not have been present. You couldn’t be too careful.
“No problem,” said RespectfulWizard idly, reaching forward to offer his SmartWearable for the Liquidista’s inspection.
“Excuse me?” the Liquidista said sharply.
RespectfulWizard froze, his outstretched hand trembling. He watched as the Liquidista took a deep breath and smoothed the full length of his impressive beard, letting out a heavy sigh that was echoed almost instantly by the people queueing behind RespectfulWizard.
“I think you need to check your privilege, Sir. Not everyone can afford a Skinny Detoxed Organic Soy Water. You said it was no problem but, to some people, that’s a big problem, Sir. Plus, that could trigger someone’s peniaphobia, Sir. Can we communicate responsibly?”
RespectfulWizard shook his head, aghast. How could he have been so stupid? He was distracted, that was it, distracted by the Flamer. He sheepishly kept his SmartWearable aimed in the direction of the counter, feeling the reassuring warm pulse as the credits were transferred and the purchase was posted across his forty seven favourite social networks. The flash on the back of his SmartWearable blinked automatically, capturing the moment. This wasn’t going to be his best selfie ever.
“I’m very sorry,” he said sincerely.
The Liquidista beamed. “We don’t Shame here, Sir. Have a great day.”
RespectfulWizard nodded his gratitude and headed off to collect his drink, the eyes of every other customer in the Liquid Refreshment Vendor on him. His SmartWearable vibrated fitfully on his wrist as he received Likes and Dislikes from his peers. He didn’t need to look to know that he wasn’t getting many likes. When he finally picked up his drink and took a tentative sip of it, he couldn’t enjoy it. He could feel Followers slipping away.
RespectfulWizard left quickly, trying not to meet the eye of anyone else or fall within RFID or NFC range of their SmartWearable. He didn’t need any more negatives clogging up his feed.
Outside, the benches were already filling. RespectulWizard’s SmartWearable pinged, letting him know that some of the people near the front were selling their spaces for credits. He wondered about whether he could make a purchase; the credits were no problem but was it legitimate to sit in a seat that he bought, rather than earned by his own punctuality and pre-planned earlier arrival? What did that say about his privilege? RespectfulWizard felt his stomach flip over with anxiety. The Skinny Detoxed Organic Soy Water struck again.
He decided not to buy a seat, even though one of the seats was being offered as both Artisanal and Vintage. He settled instead for a seat on the fourth row back, with a decent view of one side of the Flamer.
Eight feet of glass and aluminium, the Flamer was a beautiful and magical device. At least, that’s what the banner ads said. RespectulWizard had once, as a younger man, questioned the use of the word “magical” when it came to technology. He thought it was an oxymoron, but he’d quickly learnt that all that opinion made him was a “hater”. Luckily, he’d had a good friend, with almost three thousand more Followers than him when they had met, who had been able to teach him the art of Brand Loyalty. Now he didn’t question The Brand, no matter what it did. He didn’t question what new features he was being offered on his SmartWearable and he never complained about faults or bugs. He was a Brand man, through and through. He’d even come to enjoy sleeping outside the Brand store the day before a new product release. It was nice to be with your community. It was good to be with Same People.
RespectulWizard’s SmartWearable pinged again. It was time.
He watched as, from the open side of the plaza, the Troll was brought forward. He was flanked on either side by Social Justice Warriors, two of the brave souls who policed the un-Branded Wide Internet to check privilege and defuse triggering behaviour wherever it might be found. RespectfulWizard wondered how many hours they had spent, trawling the comment threads on the News Feeds and the unmonitored Social Networks. He wondered what despicable mire they had found the Troll lurking him.
The creature got closer. Normal height, heavy set, middle aged and balding. He was clean shaven, no beard at all, but he looked normal enough other than for that. RespectulWizard noticed his bare forearms though, completely devoid of any tattoos at all and, most damningly, the absence of a SmartWearable on his wrist. He imagined they’d taken it off him, but a part of him wondered if this Troll was analogue. Nothing would have surprised RespectfulWizard.
The crowd around the Flamer disappeared in cloud of tiny bursts of light as everyone began taking photos for immediate upload. RespectulWizard checked in across his forty seven Social Networks and felt the warm, reassuring thrum of Like after Like after Like coming back in response. #SkinnyDetoxedOrganicSoyWaterGate was already forgotten. He chanced a Selfie. More Likes. He would have commented on the Troll’s appearance, on his blatant disregard for creating a unique personal brand in line with everyone else’s, but he had a nagging doubt that might be a form of Shaming and he didn’t take the risk. Better to collect the Likes he already had, he concluded.
The Troll and his escorts stopped outside the Flamer. The creature kept his eyes on the floor.
One of the escorts began to read from a prepared transcript of the Trolls crimes. A low hum of vibration moved across the crowd in undulating waves, like a swarm of invisible bees, as people Live-Commented on the speech and other people Live-Commented back. RespectulWizard waited, too enthralled to cast his own Likes or Dislikes as quickly as he could have. He watched on the tiny screen of his SmartWearable as the homogenised self-policing Wisdom of the Crowd settled the debate.
The escort closed his eyes, and sighed.
The Likes had it.
“Troll is vindicated,” he said loudly. The crowd vanished again in the sea of lights as everyone raised their SmartWearables and took a picture of the moment. Selfies flooded the networks. RespectfulWizard smiled. He was here, and a Thing was happening. This would be a Thing now, and he would Trend.
The escort unclipped his SmartWearable and passed it to the Troll.
“Give that to my family,” he said quietly. “There are some files that haven’t synced up to the cloud yet. I’d like them to have them.”
The Troll agreed graciously, taking the SmartWearable. He didn’t hold it properly, RespectfulWizard noticed. Everyone knew you had to hold it properly if you wanted to get a signal.
Through the haze of camera flashes RespectulWizard watched as the Social Justice Warrior opened the door of the Flamer and stepped inside. The glass turned black. There was no sound. The escort, whoever he had been, had obviously turned his privacy settings up.
RespectulWizard took a few more shots and another Selfie, but paused his upload. He would wait until he was home and could chose the appropriate filter. After all, it had been a special day. And he Liked that.