Editor’s note: The powers that be at WND.com have told Michael Ackley he may submit the occasional column. As socio-political madness has accelerated, Mr. Ackley has succumbed to the urge to get back in the game. Hence, the items below. Remember that his columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
We ran into Howard Bashford the other day. Howard had a strange demeanor, kind of a dreamy look, and a tendency to drift away from the conversation and smile fatuously. At last I asked him why he was seemed so detached. The following is Howard’s narrative:
He began, “The change you see started, harmlessly, I thought, with an email from a friend who reported his promotion to a higher-paying job.
“Below his message and above the space for a reply were three boxes with words in them: ‘Congratulations!’ ‘Great!’ and ‘Way to go!’ You could click on any of these, eliminating the need to type in your own note.
“Of course, I ignored them.
“Then came another message, reporting the death of an acquaintance’s mother. Again there were three suggested messages: ‘So sorry!’ ‘Condolences!’ and ‘How sad.’
“And there was yet a third email, congratulating me on some minor achievement. This time the boxes said: ‘Thank you!’ ‘Much appreciated!’ and ‘Aw, shucks!’
“It dawned on me that somehow the email service was evaluating the contents of messages sent my way, and that it must be keeping track of my outgoing missives as well.
“Oh well, I mused. I’m not writing about anything shameful or illegal, so I shouldn’t worry about it.
“Then I received a lengthy, holiday e-letter from a friend. It told of his health and the health of his spouse, the achievements of his children and grandchildren, his home-improvement projects and the pastimes undertaken to relieve the boredom of pandemic-related isolation.
“I left the email alone, figuring I could come back to it later when I was inclined to compose an adequate reply.
“Days passed, and my friend’s email – the same one – appeared again, with a note from the server!.
“It said, ‘It has been three days. Do you want to reply?’
“And one of my own emails showed up with the notation: ‘Sent five days ago. Follow up?’
“Then I got a long, chatty message from my elderly aunt Ethel. The reminder reappeared: ‘It has been three days. Do you want to reply?'”
Howard paused here, then continued in an apologetic tone, “I admit to being annoyed, especially since I had telephoned my auntie (on my land-line can you believe it?) and enjoyed a lengthy conversation with her. So, I ignored the prompt.
“Another three days passed, and Ethel’s email again reappeared, along with a new prompt: ‘Your aunt is getting on in years. If you delay responding, she may die. Then it will be too late.’
“Angrily, I deleted the message, and in three days auntie’s note appeared a third time, this time with an admonition: ‘Answering your aunt’s letter would take just a few minutes. It would mean a great deal to her.’
“Another three days, another prompt: ‘Your Aunt Ethel doesn’t have an emergency alert bracelet. You can afford to buy one for her. What if she falls and can’t get up? She could die, knowing her favorite nephew didn’t care enough to answer her letter.’
“By this time, I had experienced more than enough nagging from this algorithmic watchdog. I sent off a scorching message to the email service company: ‘Quit reading my emails, you evil poltroons! Leave my aunt alone; stop nagging me.’
“Within two days, I noticed cars with roof-mounted cameras driving slowly past my house. Remote-control drones began hovering over my backyard. When I was out for short periods, I would return to find items on my desk had been rearranged.
“Then the server company’s email reply arrived. It said: ‘We only advise what is good for you, and if you know what is good for you, you will heed our advice. And clean those old prescriptions out of your medicine cabinet!’
“Above the space for an answer were three boxes. They said: ‘I agree!’ ‘I really agree!’ and ‘I HAVE to agree!'”
At this point, yours truly interjected, “That’s quite a story, Howard,” I said. “If I were you, I’d switch server companies.”
“I thought about that,” Howard replied, “but …” His faraway look returned, “I realized The Server knows so much, it must know best. I clicked on ‘I HAVE to agree’ and found serenity in surrender.”
Note: George Orwell’s “1984” was only a couple of generations early.
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