Web 4.0

As John Francis sat down to his breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, he earned the achievement “One Year Without Bacon.” As if that wasn’t enough for him to feel good about himself, the congratulations began to roll in immediately.
“I’ve been trying for that one myself,” a friend of his told him, “But every time I make it past the one-month mark I fail!”
“Maybe you should get your doctor to sign you up for a more realistic set of achievements,” John replied, “One month without, three months without, six months…earning those early achievements is a great motivator.”
His daughter Cynthia came down the stairs. He turned towards her with a smile, then realized that she probably hadn’t seen the news.
“Honey, I did it,” he said.
“Did what, dad?” she asked.
“I did what the doctor said, I went a year without bacon.”
“Oh, was that today?” she said. “I forgot! Congratulations!”
“How could you forget?” he said, “I’ve been keeping track of it on the family calendar every day!”
She shook her head. “You know it’s harder for me to check those things than it is for you. Without an implant, I actually have to spend time looking it up rather than just thinking about it.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” he said, “Your 18th birthday is coming up, and your mother and I have talked about it, and we’ve decided that we’re willing to pay for the surgery for you to get one.”
“Thanks,” she said, “I appreciate it, but I don’t want one.”
John was stunned. “But honey, how are you going to be able to keep up?”
She shrugged. “I’ve done OK so far.”
“Do you really want to be chained to a phone or computer to be able to look things up or get in touch with people?”
She smiled at him. “I’m less of a slave to technology than you are, dad. I’ve got to go to school, I’ll see you later.”
As she left, John shook his head in disbelief. Most kids her age couldn’t wait until they turned 18 and could undergo the surgery to get their own implants. What was wrong with her?
He carefully considered the thought, then tweeted it. “My daughter doesn’t want an implant. What’s wrong with her?”
Amazingly, it took a few minutes before anyone responded.
“You should take her to a shrink!”
“Is she afraid of the surgery? Did you tell her it’s not that big a deal?”
“It’s her choice…but I sure don’t get it!”
The replies started coming in quickly, almost overwhelmingly. He was even starting to get responses from strangers. John had had his implant for years, though, and was used to sifting through the flood of information to weed out the useful comments from the crap. As usual, most of it was crap and none of it was any help. Finally, though he got a message from an old high school friend of his.
“I don’t think it’s such a big deal,” the friend said.
“What do you mean?” John asked him, “I’m worried about her. She’ll get left behind! She won’t be able to do as well in school or work as other people her age…I’m sure these days not having an implant guarantees you’ll never get a very good job.”
“Of course,” his friend said, “But she’ll learn that on her own. Every generation has its own ways of rebelling, but they eventually grow out of it. Even the hippies eventually cut their hair and went and got jobs. My son didn’t want an implant at first, either. It only took him a month after all his friends got one before he changed his mine.”
John was relieved. “Thanks,” he said, “You’re right, of course. I feel a lot better now.”

Later that afternoon, after Cynthia was back home from school and John was back home from work, he sat down to talk to her.
“Of course, it’s entirely your decision not to get an implant,” he told her, “But you do realize this will make life more difficult for you.”
“Oh, I’m sure it will,” she said. “A couple people in my class have theirs already and I can already see that they’re much better off than me in most ways.”
“Then why don’t you want one?” he asked.
“It’s just…I know people can turn them off, but nobody ever does.”
“Sure they do,” John said.
“When was the last time you turned yours off, except when you were going to sleep?”
He paused. “I…I don’t remember,” he said.
“Exactly,” she said. “It’s one of those things that once you have it, you can’t live without it.”
“But that’s because it’s so useful! You’re never alone, for one. You can instantly get in contact with your family or friends. And if you need to look something up all you need to do is think about it! Nobody ever turns it off not because they can’t live without it, but because it makes everything so much more…efficient.”
“It’s not really that much more efficient,” she said, “My phone has access to the same internet that your implant does, I just use my voice instead of my thoughts to tell it what to do.”
He shook his head. “It’s not the same, you can’t understand until you have one. It’s just so much…better.”
“I’m not arguing against that, Dad,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s bad, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it. I’m just saying that it’s nice to know that at least inside my head I can have some peace and quiet. Try it. Turn your implant off now. Remember what it was like before you were constantly connected.”
John considered it, then remembered what his friend had said and shook his head. “You’ll grow out of it,” he said.

The Museum of Improbable Things

The curator walked the new security guard through the premises. “Have you visited the Museum of Improbable Things before?” he asked.

The guard shook his head.

“Well,” the curator said, smiling, “I suppose I should take you on a quick tour through some of the exhibits, so you can get an idea what it is you’re protecting. I would recommend you come back some time during normal visiting hours to get the full experience, though. It’s all very fascinating.”

He stopped in front of a case containing a coin. “That,” he said, “As far as anyone can tell, is a regular quarter. It’s not weighted, not double-sided, nothing like that. The strange thing about it is, when you flip it, it always lands on whatever side you want it to land on.”

The guard grunted.

“Moving along,” the curator said, “Next up we have one of my favorite exhibits.” Inside the case was a copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. “Playing it forward, it sounds like it should, but if you play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards…”

“Let me guess,” the security guard said, “Satanic messages?”

The curator shook his head with a smile. “Not at all. If you play it backwards, you can very clearly hear ‘Glory to God in the highest, for God is great.'”

The guard stared at him.

“We don’t have enough time right now,” the curator whined, “But if you’d come back during normal visiting hours you could, of course, see the demonstration.”

“Continuing,” he said, walking to the next exhibit, “This is a VHS of ‘Return of the Jedi.’ The interesting thing about it, is that the ending is not the same. In this version, Luke turns to the Dark Side and joins Darth Vader, they kill the Emperor and take over the galaxy.”

“Never seen Star Wars,” the guard said, “But lemme ask you something, how do you know this, or that album, aren’t fakes?”

“They could be fakes,” the curator said, “They could be, that’s true. But if they’re fakes, the quality is incredible. The actors in the ending of this Star Wars, they look and sound exactly like the real actors. Of course, everyone involved with the film denies that anything like this was ever filmed, but…” the curator shrugged.

“So what the hell is it, then?” the guard asked.

The curator brightened. “That’s a very good question. Nobody really knows where the things in the museum originally came from. But it certainly shows that we live in a much stranger world than anyone thinks, eh?”

“Guess so,” the guard said.

Slumping his shoulders and returning to his “official” mode, the curator continued on. “All the exhibits in that part of the museum are pretty harmless,” he said, “Next up, in this section, we have things that are a little more dangerous.” He stopped in front of a case containing a hardbound book called Able Elba.

“What’s so dangerous about a book?” the guard asked.

“My friend,” the curator said, “Books are the most dangerous things of all! Books have resulted in more upheaval and societal change than…” catching the guard’s stony glare, he cleared his throat and changed the subject. “This particular book was written by a severely mentally disabled woman. According to her caretakers, the woman is barely even literate. Apparently though, one day she just sat down and wrote this book in twelve hours straight. The remarkable thing about it, is that it’s written entirely as a palindrome. A palindrome is a word or sentence that reads the same backwards as forwards…”

“I know what a palindrome is,” the guards said. “That’s definitely improbable, but why’s it dangerous?

“Well,” the curator said, “Most people, after they read the book, they find themselves unable to speak in anything but palindromes. Apparently for the rest of their life.”

The guard raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

“This is all well-documented,” the curator said defensively, “The book actually sold fairly well at first, what with its ‘inspirational’ back story and all. The publisher stopped printing it once the reports started coming in, though. It got banned from schools and libraries. In fact, it got so bad that the Department of Defense bought up as many copies as they could, burned them, and arrested the woman and her caretakers as threats to national security. You can look all this up, it was in the news.”

“I’ll have to do that,” the guard said.

They walked to the next exhibit.

“This,” the curator said somberly, “Is a camera that takes a picture of how you’ll look when you die.” He lifted what looked like a regular Polaroid camera out of the case and pointed it at the guard. “Say cheese!”

“Don’t.” the guard said, putting his hand in front of the lens.

“What’s the matter?” laughed the curator, “Afraid to know?” He glanced at his watch. “Damn it, I’ve got a dinner with the Board of Trustees across town in half an hour, I’ll have to show you the rest of the exhibits later. That OK?”

“Sure,” the guard said.

“Alright,” the curator said. “Well I’ll see you later. Don’t touch anything, I know how interested you are in this stuff!” he slapped the guard on the shoulder and dropped the camera rather unceremoniously into the case before running out the door.

The camera’s circuitry must have been pretty damaged. The bump from hitting the bottom of the case caused it to take a picture, nearly blinding the guard with its flash. After blinking for a few seconds and regaining his sight, he gingerly reached into the case and took the picture out of the camera’s slot. He shook the photo a bit as it slowly came into focus.

The photo showed him lying on the floor of the museum in a puddle of blood.

He lifted his eyes from the picture and stared into the depths of the museum where the rest of the “dangerous” exhibits lay, suddenly wishing he’d listened to more of what the curator had said.