How to Disappear Completely

I’ve disliked Facebook for a while. No big secret there. I blogged about it about six years ago. My intention since has been to limit the time I spend there, which is easy. Facebook has gradually (or at least my slice of it) shifted towards the phone book of personal connection, the place where people put baby pictures and the occasional life update.

I have not, however, gone the extra step and deleted my account. My primary reason for staying has been my fear of becoming a hermit. People still frequently use Facebook for events, and if I’m not on it then I’m going to get invited to less things. I would call it FOMO, but it’s more fear of not having a life at all.

Anyone who knows me can attest I’m not what you would call particularly talkative or sociable. Making connections is difficult for me. Checking out of one of the main ways that people plan events seemed like a plan fraught with peril, a recipe for becoming whatever the male equivalent of a cat lady is.

Yet these days I find my life is full, and it’s full without the help of Facebook. I don’t have that justification for staying anymore, but the reasons for leaving are piling up.

Reasons for Leaving

As our world darkens with all that has occurred politically in the last few years, I’m thinking more about the impact of my personal choices have on the world. I tend to favor changing institutions that mold people’s behavior rather than encouraging individuals to change. For instance, it’s easier to make organ donation opt-out versus opt-in than to encourage more people to sign up. I’m doubtful of the ability of people to simply leave Facebook because its use has been ingrained in us by design. However, I think moral choices still have to be made by the individual. What world do I wish to live in? What sacrifices am I willing to make to ensure that world happens?

Facebook controls a huge amount of the world’s data. As of this post, it has about 2.2 billion users. It is sloppy with how it controls that data and how users interact with each other. It seeks to connect people, but doesn’t think about the consequences of all those connections. Facebook epitomizes the Silicon Valley quasi-libertarian view that if we connect people and allow them to communicate unfettered, good things will happen.

But that is bullshit.

The Erosion of Democracy

The election of Trump and the triumph of Brexit in the United Kingdom can be attributed in part to Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook propaganda push. I won’t say the usual phrase, as I think propaganda is a more accurate term. I’m sure this is news to no one here, but we’re also still on this site. Despite Facebook’s attempts at change, this isn’t a problem that’s gone away. Recently in Brazil, Bolsonaro won the first round of the presidential election. He looks back fondly on Brazil’s military rule and his politics mirror Trump’s in a disturbing manner. His campaign has been linked to Steve Bannon, although he denies this. His victory was credited in part to a WhatsApp propaganda campaign. WhatsApp is, of course, owned by Facebook.

You may take issue with my conflation of the two companies, but Facebook is more than just Facebook the website. It is a data empire that knits together Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. WhatsApp’s founder resigned this year because of the direction Facebook was taking the company with regard to how they encrypt and collect data. No one seems capable of truly holding them to account. Around 87 million people were affected by the Cambridge Analytica breach. For this they were fined half a million pounds, which is roughly the revenue they take in every five minutes.

Facilitating Human Rights Abuses

Facebook is also one of the instruments that the military leadership of Myanmar is using to incite genocide against the minority Rohingya people. It is the primary way people in Myanmar access news, but in 2015 Facebook still had only two people monitoring hate speech in a country with millions of users. The generals and extremist monks of Myanmar were more than happy to take advantage of this open and unregulated platform.

Facebook’s original motto was “Move fast and break things”, but it is very slow to fix the things it breaks along the way. Alt-right and extremist movements all over the world, on the other hand, have taken their old motto to heart. They move faster than Facebook to break things like democracy, or people.

Web Infrastructure

Facebook also has transformed the way the web works, and not for the better. There was a period on the web, before social media took over everything, when the blogosphere flourished. Remember blogs? You could share and follow what other people had created with this magical technology called RSS. You owned your information and controlled it. Then Facebook and its like turned most of the web into a closed garden, where almost all content belonged to them. This account by an Iranian blogger is a good overview. In many countries, Facebook essentially is the web because it has been so successful in creating this shift.

Then there’s the familiar problem of how Facebook creates filter bubbles because of the way the news feed algorithm works. While people naturally seek out the company of like-minded people, the algorithm pushes this tendency to an extreme, as emotion and conflict create more clicks. It can seal people in toxic bubbles of discourse that they’re not even aware of, and encourages the fast dissemination of propaganda and disinformation, because those are always more clickable than truth.

Facebook, in conjunction with Google, is also dangerously close to having a monopoly over various aspects of the internet. For instance, between the two of them, they’ve essentially cornered the digital marketing sector in the United States. No other competitor has more than a 5% share. It’s becoming more and more difficult for smaller companies to compete with them, leading to some critics suggesting using anti-trust law to break up Facebook’s empire. Many technology critics have warned about the dangers of creating infrastructures that are not open-source and community controlled, but we’ve unfortunately ignored them up to this point.

Voting with our choices

In short, Facebook exacerbates many of the problems in our world. It is an increasingly a force used by evil. I hate to resort to such simplicity, but it is hard to see it otherwise. Back in 2012 I wrote:

While the internet may not be a democracy, you are essentially voting by the spending of your electronic time, by your membership and the content you surrender to the great internet titans.

I kept my account, so that was my vote then. Now I can’t justify my continued use. Facebook is something I’m able to cut from my life, so that’s what I’m going to do—vote with my membership, my data.

I don’t know if we can go back to the old blogosphere, but I think a return to a decentralized open web of some variety would make for a better, more democratic world. Using open-source tools and platforms like WordPress (which this post is written in) or Firefox for your browser helps foster the open web.  Sir Tim Berners-Lee also has something up his sleeve.

The End

So this post was longer than intended. I apologize. I didn’t realize how many reasons I had accumulated for leaving until I started typing and cross referencing every point I was making.

Short version is this: I’m going to delete my Facebook account. I’m aiming for a week after I publish this post, so people can save my email/phone number if they want to get in touch. I downloaded the Facebook data I care about eight years ago, when Facebook was still fun, so there’s not much to miss at this point.

You can still find me on the webs of course, including Twitter (which is also terrible). I’d encourage people to check out the Signal app for messaging me, but Hangouts is fine.  I’m going to try and post more things on this blog in the future. I always forget how much fun blogging can be, until I sit down and start again.

I don’t imagine any of you will follow me out the door. I’ve no pretensions of being convincing, and the siren call of Facebook is strong. I would urge you to ask yourself, however, if you think the price of this supposedly free site is worth paying.

The Good Place: Philosophy as a Virtue

[Spoilers for The Good Place below. Obviously.]

I forking love the good place. Obviously there’s a lot there: Kristen Bell, that guy from Cheers, and humorous discussions about ethical philosophy. It’s that last part, of course, that makes the show truly exceptional.

There’s been a few think pieces on the anti-intellectual strain that runs through American television. I particularly liked this one arguing that Ross is the tragic figure of Friends, as he is a professor of paleontology who is slowly cut down by the other main characters, who always see him as a nerd and never appreciate his thoughts and ideas.

Of course, Friends is terrible for many reasons (homophobia, toxic relationship dynamics, etc.) One might argue that it was a product of its time and simply hasn’t aged well, but this streak continues even with more recent shows like How I Met Your Mother.

To be fair, HIMYM is somewhat better at avoiding intellectual bashing.  Marshall is a lawyer who is very interested in the intricacies of law, Lily becomes an art dealer, and Ted is obviously really into poetry. Robin and Barney probably vote Republican, so let’s not talk about them.

Unfortunately, there’s still the Robots vs. Wrestlers episode, where Ted has to choose between being with a group of people who share his intellectual interests, or going to see a robots vs wrestlers match with his friends. While Ted is obviously a snob, he also genuinely likes poetry and art. A possible redeeming feature for a terrible date is that she has a book by Pablo Neruda on her coffee table, and he’s memorized lines from the Divine Comedy in the original Italian. Nobody does that to appear snooty: it’s too much damn work. The only reason someone would do that would be because they really, really like Dante Alighieri.

Robots vs Wrestlers, however, makes it clear that Ted’s friends don’t value his interests at all. Whenever he brings up poetry or any similar intellectual pursuits, they make fart noises. They aren’t mocking these things Ted is being snobby about them; they’re mocking those interests because they’re perceived as nerdy or lame. The reaction isn’t “well that stuff isn’t for me.” It’s “you’re stupid for bothering with it.”

In the episode, Ted ends up at high-society party where he finds other people who enjoy many of the more intellectual things that he can’t discuss with his friends, like crosswords and Dante. However, he’s ultimately made to choose between staying at the party or joining his friends at the robots versus wrestlers event. HIMYM’s answer to that dilemma is that you should abandon that stupid nerd stuff, and that it’s fine that your friends deride you for enjoying it, because the only possible reason someone might like that sort of thing is because they’re a snob and should be put in their place. Ted, obviously, goes to wrestling match.

The Good Place doesn’t do that. It goes 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

When Eleanor first gets to the Good Place (well, what she thinks is the Good Place), she mocks Chidi incessantly. She calls him a nerd, doesn’t pay attention in his classes, and is generally very difficult. The writers get plenty of nerd jokes in, but they’re in the context of Eleanor as a terrible person. We’re not supposed to emulate her behavior.

And sure, Chidi is a flawed character. He is indecisive and the other characters are often aggravated by him (“this is why everyone hates moral philosophy professors” is a often repeated line in the show), but this is not problematic. Sitcoms, after all, pull their comedy from the foibles of people. What the show doesn’t do is present philosophy, an intellectual pursuit, as stupid. The very reason Chidi is supposed to have gotten into the Good Place is because he pursued ethical truth, and that puts him in the same class as people who raised billions of dollars for charity or dug up landmines for their life’s work.

Eleanor is so much changed by her studies that, near the end of the first iteration of Michael’s world, she is reading philosophy in the Medium Place because it reminds of her of Chidi. In the last iteration, she ends up reading ahead of Chidi’s syllabus as her intellectual thirst grows. The pursuit of truth becomes for her a pleasurable exercise, and a sign that she is becoming a better person. Ultimately, philosophy is the bond that cements Eleanor and Chidi’s love.

At its core, the show portrays the intellectual pursuit of truth as a redeeming act. Indeed, it is the only thing that can truly redeem Eleanor. In the season two finale, nearly dying in the real world almost sets her on the right path, but it’s not enough. Without a deep examining of her life through an ethical lens, she begins to slip back into old habits. Michael has to put her in Chidi’s path, in philosophy’s path, for there to be a real chance for her to become a better person.

Eleanor’s study of philosophy, and her bond with Chidi, are ultimately what redeem her again and again, in every possible iteration of the Good Place that Michael can make. All that nerd stuff, in the end, is the only thing that can really save her. Being an intellectual in this show isn’t a flaw—it’s a virtue.  That, to paraphrase Eleanor, is pretty forking cool.

The Good Place grounds itself in the relationships between four messy, flawed people, while portraying philosophy as both interesting and having inherent worth. It manages to have both fart jokes and Kirkegaard references, and still do that most important thing for a sitcom —be funny.

With anti-intellectualism now becoming part of the political mainstream in many places, The Good Place feels like an antidote for our times. It’s a breath of fresh air for television, and I can’t wait till the next season.

The Book of Job

It was coming down like a second flood when they went out to the pub. Job loved the old place, with its crusty regulars and veneer of the old world. In a pub, Job thought, there remained some sense of the old and the mystical, that which we gave up when we drifted away from the churches, synagogues, and mosques of our forefathers and foremothers. There was the ancient battle of gifts, the matching of pint for pint, round for round, and the suppression of rational thought. One tended to have more fun in a pub than a church however.

As his friends crowded the pool table, trying to outdo each other so as to impress the girls sitting nearby, Job noticed a man sitting by himself, just over in the corner, nursing an untouched pint.

The man was well-dressed, middle-aged, with jet black hair. It was warm enough in the pub, but the man had kept his long dark coat on, which swept down to the feet of his chair. His dark eyes were mobile, flitting around the place to the odd half-hearted fight that broke out here or there, the drunken girl stumbling on her high heels being led out of the bar by her friends, the banker trying to pick up some college students. When he saw something that amused him, he wouldn’t smile, but those dark eyes would glitter.

Job didn’t talk to his parents much anymore, but one thing that they had instilled in him was a Christian spirit to go forth and talk to the people at the edges, who seemed left out by everybody else. It was that spirit—and idle curiosity—that made him go over to the man’s table.

‘Hi there,’ he said. ‘You seem to be all by yourself. Mind if I join you?’

The man looked up at him with those dark eyes, and Job saw that his irises were so black it was impossible to tell where they ended and the pupil began. They were so large that the whites of his eyes were just thin rings around the central dark. It was quite disconcerting, seeing those eyes up close, but Job pushed that feeling down. There was no sense in judging people on account of them having strange eyes.

‘Yes, yes, of course,’ the man replied after a long pause. He waved at him to take a seat. ‘Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.’

‘Job,’ he said, sticking out his hand which the man shook with a firm grip. He had an extremely warm, but dry hand. ‘Spelled J-O-B, like a job, but pronounced Joe’b, like the book in the bible.’

‘Ah yes, of course,’ the man said with a nod. ‘Very biblical indeed. You may call me Mr. Bell.’

‘Are you called other things usually?’ Job asked jokingly.

‘Oh sometimes, but Mr. Bell it has a nice ring to it.’ The man laughed at the terrible joke. ‘In truth it’s a mangling of another name I wore long ago, when I had a much larger fan base. I even got a pyramid or two, like the ones they have in Vegas.’

‘Are you famous or something Mr. Bell?’ Job studied the man’s face, trying to place him with out any luck. His features were very angular: high cheekbones and a pointed chin. His skin colour was light brown, but Job couldn’t work out even what continent he might be from. Not caucasian was the best he could come up with.

‘Once upon a time,’ Mr Bell admitted, ‘not anymore. Or at least not in the way I’d like.’ Mr. Bell looked at him like he was weighing Job with those big black eyes. ‘These days I have been going to and fro on the earth and walking up and down on it.’

‘So…you’ve been doing a lot of travelling then?’ Job was a little confused by the choice of words, which sounded strangely familiar. They had the ring of the Book to them, like some verse his parents had drummed into him long ago.

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Bell with a curt nod. ‘I have been doing a great amount of travelling, from China, to South America, the Middle East, and finally to here. You could say it is my job really, travelling and talking to people.’

‘Oh very cool,’ Job said. ‘Are you some sort of travel reporter? I’m afraid we don’t have much in the way of tourist attractions around here.’

‘I think reporter would be closest to what I do, although it’s more general people reporting than finding tourist destinations.’ He took a sip of his beer. ‘My employer likes me to go around and find out what people are thinking and doing in the world and to test them in interesting ways. I suppose it’s one part reporting and one part quality assurance.’

‘Well now I have really no idea what you do now,’ Job laughed. ‘Reporting and quality assurance? How do you get a job like that?’

‘Well I always say that I was made for what I do.’ He looked over at the pool table where Job’s co-workers were finishing up their first game. ‘I think your friends may be looking for you,’ he said.

‘Ah, I’ll be over there in a little bit. I’m enjoying talking to you. You’re a little bit of an enigma.’

Mr. Bell nodded. ‘Well I enjoy talking to you as well. You are a courteous young man. I would like to know a little about you. Where are you from Job? What brings you to this place?’

Job began talking, and before he knew it, he was recounting his entire life story, from his childhood in Manitoba, his bible banging parents, his moving out from home, the scholarship to the university, and his landing the job at the firm. It was easy telling those black eyes all these things; they looked so interested in what he was saying. When he finished he was terribly thirsty and had to take a deep drink from his glass. Mr. Bell rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

‘I have a curious question to ask you Job,’ he said. ‘It comes from your mention of your parents and their religion. Feel free to not answer the question if it is too personal, but do you believe in God? A higher power?’

Job shook his head. ‘I used to. When I was a kid, I was all about God and him being with me and doing his will, but when I grew up I saw it was all a silly fairy tale. I supposed I believed for a long even after I moved away from home, but not anymore. I mean, look at all the suffering in the world. How could there be a God who would allow all of that?’

‘Interesting point,’ Mr. Bell said. ‘Do you consider yourself a spiritual person on any level?’

‘No, made a clean break with all that sort of thing.’ He raised his glass. ‘Science and progress all the way.’

‘To science and progress,’ Mr. Bell agreed and clinked his glass against Job’s. His eyes glittered, and he leaned back in his chair. ‘Of course, even in this modern age, where science works more miracles in a day than all the prophets before us combined, the old ways do still have a hold on us. People still frown upon using the Lord’s name in vain. I believe that some atheists even encourage people to curse God as part of some strange campaign I’ve never really understood.’ He paused, leaving an opening in the conversation.

Job used the opening to cheerfully call the Almighty various unprintable names. Mr. Bell appeared surprised at the words that came out.

‘Oh,’ he said quietly. ‘Well that was astonishingly easy.’

‘Sorry,’ Job said, slightly embarrassed at his behaviour. ‘I didn’t mean to offend you. I just got carried away there for a second.’ He was only two beers in and already making a fool of himself in front of a stranger.

‘Oh no,’ said Mr. Bell. ‘I’m not offended. I just didn’t think I would get you to do that by merely suggesting the possibility.’ He reached into a coat pocket and produced a black notebook. He opened the notebook, ticked off a name on a list with a pencil, and then closed it with a sigh. They sat there for a few minutes, not saying anything, with Mr. Bell just looking off into space.

Eventually, Job had to break the silence. ‘Is there something wrong?’ he asked.

Mr. Bell sighed again. ‘Honestly,’ he confessed, ‘I thought I’d be happier with winning my bet. It has been about three centuries in the making. So much careful planning went into it, and now that I’ve won it’s completely unsatisfactory.’

‘What do you mean, your bet? And three centuries? What?’

‘The bet was with my employer. It’s part of the job description really. He sets me up a challenge and sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. I was supposed to fail with you—and have all the previous times—but this time I finally beat him.’ He put away the notebook looking dejected. ‘I was just hoping for more of a challenge. A bit of last minute resistance you know? A final duel of wits, a crisis of faith? I suppose I laid the groundwork too carefully.’

‘I still have no idea what you’re talking about.’ Job was getting uncomfortable, and beginning to doubt the sanity of the man across from him.

‘Really? You haven’t figured things out by now? Didn’t your parents get you to read the Book of Job? You know, the one you’re named after?’

He shrugged. ‘Sure, but it was long ago. I forget almost all of it other than there being a man called Job, and that he remained true and faithful to God.’

Mr. Bell folded his hands together. ‘The story of Job goes like this. Once there was a man in the land of Oz whose name was Job, and he was blameless and upright and feared God. There came a day when Satan met God in heaven, and God said to him, “From whence have you come?” to which Satan replied, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”’

Job remembered Bell saying those words to him earlier. Funny choice of words those. He sipped his beer nervously. ‘That’s silly,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t make sense with the rest of the bible. If Satan is the great enemy of God, what’s he doing in heaven talking to him?’

Mr. Bell waved away his argument. ‘If you actually learned a little about the faith, instead of just mocking it, you’d know that the Devil was not always seen as the enemy of God. In his original incarnation, he was merely a feared servant of the Almighty who tested the faith of his followers. It was only later that he became to perceived as the supreme enemy, the source of evil. It is written that the faith of men and women will be tested, as gold is tested in fire.’ He leaned forward, and Job could feel the heat from behind those black eyes. ‘Young Job, I am that fire, and I burn hot.’

Job could feel his hands go all clammy with sweat, although he knew he shouldn’t be afraid of someone claiming to be the Devil. It was ludicrous after all. ‘Yes,’ he whispered, a little hoarse. ‘So I see. Do go on.’

‘Thank you, Job. Anyway, God said to Satan—who was me in case you haven’t guessed—“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” To which I put forward the claim that perhaps Job was faithful and good because he had everything so easy, that if I took away his wealth, his family, and his health, he would renounce God and curse his name. So God gave me permission to do these things, and I first destroyed Job’s family and wealth. But he did not curse God. So I inflicted him with boils and he did not curse God. I came to him in the form of his friends and urged him to curse God for the injustices he had suffered. But he did not curse God. In the end, the man above was satisfied and restored everything that Job had lost, which he tended to do in those days, if only to piss me off. He was a right ass about it too. Boasted about it for centuries.’

‘So what am I? Job the second?’

‘Job the umpteenth more like. We repeat the process every few centuries. There’s a new Job, male or female, who is beloved of God, and I try to shake their faith and turn them away. I have never succeeded until now.’

‘Never?’

‘Never for the Jobs. I’ve succeeded for other men and women, but fail for the ones that matter. It’s a point of pride for the old man.’

Job didn’t quite know what to make of Mr. Bell’s story. ‘So what changed this time round? Why don’t I believe?’

‘Well I had a little revelation. The reason that people stop believing in God isn’t suffering or pain, like you previously claimed, or even as I thought back in the day. The problem of evil has existed since the dawn of time, but it’s only really now, when suffering has begun to abate in the world, that people are being overly concerned about it.

The first Job was born into a world where misery and suffering were commonplace. You didn’t live very long, and your friends and family would all quickly die from disease, hunger, war, accident, or murder over that brief period. Job did well compared to everyone else, but he was aware of how precarious his success was, how full of pain the world was. His faith was his refuge from the pain and uncertainty of life.’

‘So because Job knew suffering his faith was stronger than mine?’

‘Are there atheists in foxholes? Pain and loss may make people curse God or doubt his existence, but it’s security, comfort, and education that make them really lose their faith.’

‘So you’re saying because I had an easy life I lost my faith?’

‘Have you ever held a dying child in your arms? Seen dead bodies in the street? Watched your home been burned down by thugs and brutes? These are things not uncommon in much of the world, and they used to be common almost everywhere. Yet the people who lived through them still kept their faith, in whatever Gods they believed in.’

Job was not convinced. ‘What about science? If people actually learn about the world and where it’s at, it seems fairly obvious that God is unlikely. Or the devil for that matter.’

Mr. Bell smiled. ‘Prosperity weakens the basis for faith, and science cuts it out at the roots. The man upstairs built a more-or-less rational universe and expected people to believe in irrational things like him. All I needed to do was fill the world with a considerable number of well-fed, well-educated atheists such as yourself. It was all part of my grand plan.’

‘You had a grand plan?’

‘Well I had to win my bet didn’t I? That’s why I started the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. I sat down with Isaac Newton one evening, and a few philosophers the next and got the whole thing rolling. Next thing you know there was the Industrial Revolution, capitalism, and increased prosperity and education everywhere. I mean there were a few hiccups along the way in terms of the World Wars, but everything came up roses in the end. Worked out better than I expected, honestly.’

‘Wait,’ Job said. ‘You’re expecting me to believe that you, the Devil, jump-started the modern world in order to shake the faith of people in order to win a bet with God?’

Mr. Bell thought for a moment. ‘Yes, that’s exactly it.’ His black eyes were like deep pools as he stared back at Job. ‘If perhaps I elevated the brutish existence of much of humanity in the process, well that was largely a by-product.’ He turned in his seat to gesture to the girl at the bar. ‘Another beer please!’ Turning back to Job he continued, ‘Honestly, it would have been preferable if it hadn’t been such a smashing success. If you had resisted a little, I would have been happier. There’s something refreshing about breaking people’s faith one-on-one with words instead of grinding it out of them using societal pressure.’

‘I am sorry to disappoint,’ Job apologized, not certain if he should. ‘So what now? Where do you go from here?’

‘I’m not sure,’ Mr. Bell confessed. ‘From my calculations, if I can keep this socioeconomic model going without destroying the planet for a few more centuries, I should be able to turn religious belief into a minority position. He’ll be able to do the math as well, so he’ll be pulling something out of his sleeve to mess it all up. It should be an interesting coming millennium.’

‘So…what about me? Are you going to drag me to hell or something?’ It’s not like he actually believed that could happen, but he might as well ask the obvious.

‘Oh don’t be so dramatic. You’ve got a few decades ahead of you, and you’re not evil. Getting you to go out and murder some people in their beds would probably be a lot harder. No, if you do end up going to hell, you’ll probably be stuck out in Limbo with all the old pagans and philosophers. They’re not bad in terms of eternal company. I’ve heard the place can be more fun that heaven, what with all the concerts they throw.’

Job relaxed a little. Mr. Bell might be mad, but he was a harmless sort of mad. ‘Well I’m glad to hear that.’

‘So you should be.’

He was just about to get up and leave when Mr. Bell’s phone rang. Mr. Bell flipped it open and pressed it to his ear. ‘Hello you,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I assume you see I’ve won the bet this time? I was hoping to get a universe of my own for this, or at least an independent Hell. I have put in the hours after all.’

Job was wondering if he should slip away from the lunatic across from him, but then the wicked little smile on Mr. Bell’s face slipped when he heard the answer. ‘Oh don’t be childish!’ he told the person on the other end of the phone. ‘You simply lost your bet. And not badly either. He doesn’t even qualify as evil. Boring and self interested at worst.’ The voice on the other end barked something, which made Mr. Bell frown. ‘Really? You’re going to tear the whole thing down because of this? Childish good sir! Childish I tell you!’ He ended the call and slammed the cell phone down on the table. His eyes blazed with black light, and Job could feel the heat coming off him.

‘What’s the matter?’ he asked, as the server brought over Mr. Bell’s next beer.

‘It turns out God is a poor loser,’ Mr. Bell replied. ‘I should have expected this.’

One of Job’s friend’s came over. ‘I can’t get any signal on my phone,’ he complained. ‘How about you?’ Job flipped open his phone to see he had no bars either.

‘I don’t think you’ll get reception ever again,’ Mr. Bell told them. ‘He’s shutting it all down.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ Job asked him.

Mr. Bell pointed outside. The street lamps were slowly going off down the street, so that the darkness was progressing towards the bar slowly and steadily. ‘He doesn’t like that he’s lost, or the direction the universe is taking. He prefers everyone acknowledging him as the greatest and never losing, not even when he handicaps his omniscience for contests with the likes of me. He’s scrapping everything and starting over.’

Job noticed that one of the cars beneath the nearest lamppost dissolved into darkness before the lamp above it went out. He jumped up, suddenly afraid, the possibility that Mr. Bell might be telling the truth having becoming more believable. ‘That car just dissolved!’ he exclaimed.

‘Well yes,’ Mr. Bell said. ‘Didn’t you hear what I just said? The universe is being shut down.’

‘You can’t be serious!’

‘I really wish I wasn’t,’ Mr. Bell said. ‘I think he’s going to scrap me along with everything else. Shoddy loser.’

The door to the bar rippled and disappeared into the black. One of the girls shrieked in fear, and the customers began to back away from the inky shadow that began to ooze into bar through the windows and doors, vanishing everything behind it.

‘I don’t want to die!’ Job said, suddenly panicking. He grabbed Mr. Bell’s hand. ‘You have to help us!’

‘It won’t hurt,’ Mr. Bell assured him. ‘You’ll be unmade, and it will be as if you never were.’ He shook off the hand. ‘Try to accept the end with a little bit of dignity.’ As the others backed into the furthest corner of the bar from the blackness, Mr. Bell looked up into the air. ‘You know,’ he said to no one in particular, as Job held onto the table with hands white with fear, ‘when it comes down to it, you’re just a bloody wank…’

The End

The Eye of the Needle

She was already thinking about moving when she found the hole.

Her reason was simple. She liked cats and their aloof company, and it had been many years since she had owned one. It was lonely in the apartment by herself, and she had found that a good antidote to loneliness was holding a purring cat in one’s arms. As her apartment building did not allow pets, however, moving was required. Continue reading

The Contents of My Pockets

I think we’re defined, in part, by what we keep in our pockets. The objects that reside there create our little internal worlds of feeling and habit that can never truly be shared with anyone else. I verify the presence of my wallet many times a day by pressing my elbow against the coat pocket that holds it, and I feel empty without the feel of the weight of my pocket knife and keys in my right jean pocket.

When I was out east, about four years ago now, I took this picture of the objects I carried with me everywhere (minus wallet and keys):

From left to right you have:

  1. A 2GB USB Stick: Christmas present from my brother (2008 as I recall).
  2.  The Old Man Pen: One day in a coffee shop, this old Greek fellow told me that his pen wasn’t working and that I could have it, as he was too lazy to buy a refill for it. I treasured that damn pen, but it fell out of my pocket while I was in Costa Rica. So it goes.
  3. Cell Phone: A basic model that came with the expensive Rogers plan I signed up. Everyone was strangely impressed by this flip phone, which I’ve never really understood. Some people still are, which is even more confusing.
  4. Ipod Nano: I still have it. May go back to it one day. I miss the elegance of the wheel system.
  5. Carbon Steel Pocket Knife: Courtesy of Aaron Palm. I was given this one very dark Christmas and I tried to use it all the time. Sadly, it was taken from my luggage when Iceland Air lost my backpack for 11 days when I flew to Europe. I have sworn a terrible oath never to fly with them again on account of this.

Here is the current set of pockets contents (Summer 2013):

  1. USB stick: Still going strong. Holds data I’m really scared of losing. In danger of being replaced by 16GB USB due to Moore’s Law.
  2. Questionable Pen: I do have a good pen somewhere, but it needs ink. This one does for the moment.
  3. The Rogers Phone: It has stuck it out with me for 5 years. It is currently held together with duct tape.
  4. Ipod Touch: Acquired for my European travels. The glass is slightly cracked. I mainly use it as a watch.
  5. Opinel #6: Purchased in Cork City during travels. Primarily used to cut cheese, string, open boxes, and other useful things like that.
  6. Keys: I had these when I took the previous picture, but didn’t think to include them. The keychain was a graduation present.

What are the contents of your pockets? What stories reside there?