No Face

Is this what you wanted?

Posted by Parth Shah on March 22, 2021 [3 minutes]

You hold up your hand and check the time. You still have another 40 minutes before boarding begins. You have always been early to the airport, a habit you acquired from your father. As you stroll to your gate, you notice something peculiar. At first, you think it is a lucky coincidence and focus on the music playing through your earphones. You love this new band from Auckland. But as you walk around, peering to your left and right, it becomes more and more evident. "Am I dreaming?", you think to yourself as you try not to stare. Slowly, you can feel a pit forming in your stomach. As panic sets in, you abruptly stop walking and your hands fumble around in your carry on. You pull out a small device in disbelief and your worst fears are confirmed.

Everyone around you is engrossed in the same, matte black device that your slightly trembling hands are now holding. It's no bigger than a Kindle but weighs slightly more. You can now see people around you scrolling on this device, some with their index finger, some with their thumb as they blankly stare into it. There are no smooth edges and no buttons on it. As you turn it in your hand to inspect it, there is a dim glow that bounces off your face as the screen lights up. It's here.

You still cannot believe it. These state-issued devices are the only authorized means for the consumption of written media now. Any book, magazine, blog post, news article, opinion, message you "wish" to read must be through this. Since the advent of the virtualization of hardware devices and instant remote delivery, you are not surprised to find it in your bag. You knew this day was coming but how did it come so soon? Only a few months ago, the Chancellor had promised bilateral discussions concerning the new censorship laws. Does this mean we lost? Who are we anyway? As the pit in your stomach deepens, you realize that you will never get to peek at what the person across from you on the bus was reading. You remember how you loved looking around and observing what others were reading, trying to guess a part of their personality based on the book they were reading. This lacklustre device is all that you will ever see now. Was someone reading Dante or Tolstoy? Are they reading an opinionated piece or some propaganda? What about all the colourful book and magazine covers? What about chance finds? Multiple times, a stranger's book had piqued your interest and you had found out more about that author or that genre. You find yourself shaking your head partly to get these awful thoughts out of your head, partly in disbelief. Apart from the fact that reading will become fully anonymous, you can never be sure of what you are reading on this medium. Is it authentic or altered? Even if it is the same news article, are you and your next-door-neighbour reading the same text or is it personally tailored to elicit a specific response from you? You shove the device back into your bag and out of the corner of your eye, you see thousands of these devices lining the walls of a shop. Your mouth hangs open. They sit on the racks of this shop, in hundreds of rows, forming a huge, black wall. Additional devices with no face as if anyone would ever want more than one of these. You feel sick.