Everyone decided the internet was a bad idea. The progenitors of this network recanted their utopian visions for shared information. Even tech billionaires and politicians called for its abolition.
By the time we’d had our fifth pandemic in 10 years, all our brains had warped inexorably. We couldn’t agree on the color of the sky. We couldn’t agree that gravity exists. I’d seen my own mother slip down the rabbit hole of gravity denial videos. We don’t talk anymore.
A switch was constructed that would shut down the entire internet. The President was there for its unveiling. He was to flip the switch, but awed by its power, and knowing its consequences, was unable to turn it off. Many of the other people at the unveiling tried their best to flip it to no avail.
Dispassionate technocrats and scientists of all sorts tried their hands at turning off the internet. All failed. It was opened up to the public. Anyone was allowed to flip the switch. People came from all over the world to flip it. A line formed behind the switch.
By the time I got there, the wait was three months. I’ve been waiting in this line for 88 days. I’m behind a white Soundcloud rapper from Jacksonville, Florida. His name is E-Rok, and he’s always enthusiastic.
“I’m gonna flip that fuckin switch mane,” he says for the 10,000th time. “I don’t give a fuck! I’ll drill that internet.”
He’s played his music for me on his phone. It’s awful. I don’t ask him how people will hear his awful music when the internet is shut off. I also don’t point out to him that he won’t be able to play Fortnite anymore. I don’t tell him this because I want him to flip the switch. That way I don’t have to do it.
The line to the switch has the vibe of a party that’s gone on too long. Everybody’s tired and they’ve long run out of interesting things to say. We sit in lawn chairs and move occasionally during the day. During the night, we pitch our tents, build barbecues on the sidewalk, talk about how far we got that day. Usually it’s about three or four city blocks per day. One day we went five blocks. We had a huge celebration.
Many people in line drink a lot. I drink a lot. The woman behind me, Amber, drinks a lot. E-rok is into anything that will get him high — from weed to lean to spray paint to wet. “E-rok goes hard,” is another of his catchphrases.
Amber was a management consultant from Nashville, who went on hiatus to do her civic duty to end the internet. I was a long haul trucker. We all gave up our lives for this aim to make life better, maybe. Or at least make a different life.
I pass the whiskey to Amber. “What do you think it will be like?”
She takes a pull of bourbon. “I think it’ll be hard at first, but it’ll get better once our brains readjust.”
She told me months ago when we were hammered at the end of the line, that her uncle believed that there was a coming storm, that the president was going to arrest all the bad people in the world, and replace all the celebrities with clones.
“He’s completely lost it,” she said then with wet eyes, reflecting the fire light. We were so idealistic then. Now we smell of old clothes, body odor, whiskey, despair.
“The scouts say we’ll get there tomorrow,” she says now, drinking from the bottle again. She’s wearing a threadbare pantsuit and getting pretty plastered.
E-rok is passed out on a pile of clothes.
“What makes you think that you’re the one to fix this?” She stirs the words together like a mixed drink. “Out of all these fucking people who can’t face this switch, what kind of hubris do we have to think we’re the ones to fix it?”
“I’ve thought about that.” I wrestle the bottle back. “I’ve almost quit and gone home more times than I can count.”
“And why haven’t you?”
“Months ago, my mother told me she saw a video that said birds weren’t real.”
“Oh yeah, I heard about that one.”
“I want us to be sure birds and gravity are real. That’s why I stick with it.” I take a huge pull from the bottle.
Amber looks distant, off thinking about birds or something. “You know there’s a chance that it won’t even work; that people will keep believing dumb shit. It’s not like the internet invented believing in dumb shit.”
I say, “But perhaps the dumb shit industry will find less purchase.”
The next day we can see the switch. It looks like an oversized light switch. It’s a little anticlimactic, but people are exuberant for awhile at the sight of it. I’m exuberant for awhile.
Then we see all of these people cowed by the awesome force of the internet switch and become disheartened. How many people had been to the switch? Probably hundreds of thousands and nobody’s been able to do what needs to be done.
We come to the head of the line. E-rok is pumped. He says again, “I’m gonna drill that bitch.” It’s his turn. He dramatically steps up and strikes a dramatic pose. “Let’s do this shit!” He grabs the switch. His eyes glaze over. He starts crying and quietly walks away.
It’s my turn. I step to the switch. I look at Amber. She gives me a reassuring nod. I grab the switch.
I am 8 years old now. It’s 1993. My mom is explaining to me what the internet is and what it could be. “I can just type in here ‘Looney Toons’ and then we can look at these pages filled with Looney Toons stuff.
“Some day the whole world will be connected. You’ll see.”