A Dystopic View Of The Future

Sun, 14 Apr 2013

Jeff was finishing up his undergraduate degree in history at the University. It was difficult to obtain research materials ever since the library closed. Chancellor Pankrat's declaration that all published works were to forever exist only in digital form and also be placed under perpetual and draconian copyright restrictions led to the systematic closing of all lending libraries, music conservatories, and bookbinding factories. Pankrat was not a huge fan of history in general, unless it was his private version of it. Whether they were books, music, movies or games, no one could access them unless they were government sanctioned digital copies encrypted for use with the Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) system that was also mandated to be present on every electronic device used by the public. Pankrat used to work for the largest electronic book publisher in the world. This DRM system, not coincidentally, was developed by that company.

This is why Jeff could only use the expensive digitized DRM-encumbered and government sanctioned versions of historical documents that the University had uploaded to its network. Otherwise, he would have to find unapproved paper books or decrypted digital copies and risk the consequences. A few of his best research sources came from a black market street vendor downtown that had unofficial DRM-free electronic books and paper books saved from the library fires. They had information that the government versions did not.

Jeff was fascinated with the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment, which he saw as the reincarnation of western civilization. To him, civilization had nearly ceased to exist during the Dark Ages. Knowledge of all kinds, like mathematics, linguistics and medicine, had seemingly been lost. Discoveries of previous eras rotted in the dust of books that no one was literate enough to read. He thought that the present time was becoming a new Dark Age, ruled by political barbarians whose goal was to suppress human thought. Jeff wrote his research paper on how monks shared knowledge during the Dark Ages and paved the way for modern scientific thought by painstakingly hand copying manuscripts to preserve them for future generations.

Jeff had been friends with Lysander since their freshman year. They hung out frequently on campus at the Student Pavilion where the old library used to be. Lysander's girlfriend Zoe often joined them, and they argued about history, philosophy and technology. This day seemed like any ordinary day, but Jeff arrived late and was distracted. After Lysander kept asking what was wrong, Jeff revealed something disturbing. The state police searched Jeff's apartment last night, erased his term paper from his personal computer, and seized the paper books he had hidden. After arriving at school he found all of his digital books had been removed from the University server as well. Not only that, but all his music files, photos, emails, term papers and research notes disappeared as well. The digital book reader that he purchased from a major distributor remotely deleted every book that he bought in the past three months. Zoe was sure there was a mistake and asked Jeff to log in to the network on his phone and show her. Jeff saw that his username and password were now invalid, although they had worked this morning. Zoe checked her phone and discovered that Jeff's name was no longer listed in the address book.

The next day, Jeff met Lysander and Zoe at a coffee shop off campus. He pulled two things from his jacket pocket. One was a ripped envelope with a letter jammed inside and the other was an eviction notice. He was getting kicked off campus before the end of the week. He was also being summoned to a court hearing to discuss his term paper. Lysander and Zoe spent the next few days helping Jeff clean his dorm room, pack his belongings and move into an apartment. Jeff applied for a janitorial job to help cover his expenses, but he already had a criminal record before the hearing even began. He was degreeless and no one would hire him.

Toward the end of the week, Jeff's hearing took place at the courthouse. There were no juries or lawyers anymore, since Chancellor Pankrat's government believed that evidence collected by the state police and computer to be irrefutable. When Jeff entered, there was only the judge and a television camera on a tripod. Before Jeff could say a thing, the judge told him that he had already made up his mind. The government had reviewed his research paper and found his ideas too radical. The law said that copying in any form was unauthorized, and the judge believe that a paper talking about how monks hand copied manuscripts to preserve them glorified copying. Jeff remembered when his mother was forbidden to perform Debussy's Claire de Lune at her piano recital since the sheet music she used was photocopied. The judge continued that the offense was so severe a reprimand wasn't sufficient. Jeff was sentenced to death for circumventing the state mandated Digital Restrictions Management system, for possessing those paper books he bought from the street vendor downtown. A death sentence for doing historical research was not the way he ever thought he would die.

Four security agents entered the room, and tied Jeff's hands and feet with plastic cables. He was led away to a sanitized room in the execution hall, where his death was broadcast on every television network to set a public example. Lysander and Zoe witnessed it all in horror on the television in Jeff's apartment. They spent most of the night together grieving for the loss of their friend, eventually going their own way home to get a couple hours of sleep before going to the University the next day.

While enroute to the University the next morning Lysander grabbed her phone to call Zoe but found that her name was no longer listed in it.