“Killing-Time” / Memorable Fancies #220

“Tired of just killing time? Do you really enjoy all those games of solitaire, those TV re-runs, reading those finely wrought first novels? Don’t they just make your boredom more intense, make time go by even slower? The solution, my friends, is FastForward, a simple device that turns off your brainwaves, blanks your mind for a time interval you select. The FastForward system normally sells for $149.95, but if you act now we will rush it to you for only $19.95. That’s right, just $19.95, friends. Act now! Operators are standing by, or place your order online!”

Joe Conway ordered a FastForward with great anticipation. A few days later it arrived. Joe plugged it in, hooked it up to his head, and set it for ten minutes. He made sure that he was sitting down and that his kettle wasn’t heating up on the stove, and pushed “on.” At first he thought it hadn’t worked, but when he glanced at his watch he saw that ten minutes had indeed passed.

Joe was impressed. In the next few days he mindblanked several more times, for longer and longer periods. By the following month, he was blanking whenever he wasn’t at work or attending to his bodily needs.

The machine malfunctioned once, and Joe had occasion to call the FastForward Customer Delight Center. The problem was soon fixed, but the rep’s mention of “network connection” caught Joe by surprise. He hadn’t realized that the machine was on the Net while he was blanked. The rep carefully explained that FastForward was performing periodic upgrades and diagnostics, and monitoring Joe for abnormal vital signs. If a serious abnormality were detected, the rep said, 911 would automatically be called.

FastForward became a hit; millions were sold. Of course there were the usual crotchety doubters who dump on every kind of technological progress, and so it was in this case. One commentator even accused FastForward of stealing brain-cycles from millions of people and using them for computation – “crowd-puting” she called it. “The government,” she confided, “could use FastForward to hide processing it doesn’t want citizens to know about, preparing for biological warfare for instance.”

This news didn’t trouble Joe, because he was blanked at the time of the broadcast, and also when the government vehemently denied the very possibility of such abuse.

Nevertheless, every time Joe came out of mindblank he had a thought or two, for no apparent reason, about new kinds of microbes and what they might do for our great nation.

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