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Digital Trial: when your memory turns its back on you

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By David Amodio
Opinions Editor
opinions.asp@gmail.com

I died last week. Digitally.
Well, kind of. Let me explain. I
was on the Internet. Something
popped up and I thought I’d
surely go under. It wasn’t the
electric chair but it was a kind of
execution.
I was between study and dinner,
surfing aimlessly around the
web, when the page I was on
snapped into a notice from the
“Cyber-Security department of
the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Your browser has been locked.
You have been under surveillance
and have been found in
violation of one or more of the
following: Illegal streaming or
possession of copyrighted material
such as films, music, and/
or television shows; and production
and/or distribution of illegal
pornographic materials.
I was horrified. The subsequent
minute and a half were the worst
of my entire life.
I’m no porn producer, but
imagine all the movies and
music you have downloaded or
streamed in the past, say, decade.
Now imagine you at one moment
were going to be held accountable
for all of it, at once. All of
it. It was enough to make even
an innocent man like myself
tremble.
Every song, every streamed
minute of Good Burger you
watched three times that one
weekend you were stuck at your
grandmother’s house in Boston
with the rain, trying to avoid
watching Singing in the Rain for
the tenth time with old family
members when I was 17.
Every picture you’ve violated
copyright to share with your 57
Twitter followers. How many
times exactly have I listened to
all this music? I couldn’t’ even
do the arithmetic from the iTunes
top-played list quickly enough
in my head because the numbers
were too large. Blood pressure
rising. Suddenly it didn’t seem
so cool that I’d lost my virginity
to that Radiohead album.
And wait can they see the rest
of my hard drive? Or do they
just have Internet activity data
collected from my I.P. address?
And oh my god, the porn collection.
Are these pictures illegal?
I found them on Google, no,
they can’t be illegal, this is just
typical stuff. I dove deep into the
jungle of cleverly titled folders
and started indiscriminately
deleting gigabytes of pictures
and videos. I stopped part way
through this, realizing it was in
vain, and almost started to cry. I
read the notice over again. I’m
not guilty!
Found In Violation Of. Possession.
You. Locked.
There was no real cognition,
except passing over these words
each one sent a shock through
my body like when in these masochistic
moments of re-reading
a charge you know you may or
may not be already guilty of you
think that O.K. maybe somehow
there is a glitch or if I read it
again I will find that I am not the
person to whom the notice is addressed,
or that I’ll invoke some
insane epiphany by this automatic
reading, this compulsive consumption
of my own apparent
guilt over and over, represented
right in my face in language for
the first really-for-real time in
my life. It came out of nowhere.
It must be true. No?
Fine, I admitted to myself, it’s
over.
This is it. I have to scrap it all,
scrap everything. My identity
is done, and now an insatiable
voice is more or less screaming
at me from the backseat, like
distracting me from the lane
I’m in and making it impossible
to really navigate at all. Burn
everything. No, don’t burn it.
Dump all your belongings in the
river. But someone will see you.
But you’re innocent. Ok. but
the computer, yes, the computer
has to go. They already have the
data. There isn’t any data. It has
to go. You have to go. You are
no longer You. So really, You
are staying but you have to go.
Get it?
It was all pretty convoluted.
So my life was suddenly split.
Dutiful excrement and forced
emancipation. I shot out of my
chair, sending it careening into
my closet door, and stood staring
at the keyboard for a moment
totally helpless and rushed to
the next room to stand before
my bookcase. Of course there’s
no way I was going to take any
of them. But maybe I could
take one. Where was I going?
I started noticing the books
among the collection I had never
read, or never finished, and was
overtaken by a diligent terror
that in my new dislocated life I
wouldn’t even have these books
to remember myself by. Some of
them I’d be taking with me, so
to speak, but so many would be
lost.
I started pricing plane tickets to
Myanmar. Wait, would I be extradited
back home? I’ll just live
in the jungle. I’m not even really
guilty of anything. Seriously.
But there are probably horrifying
bugs. What if I’m sleeping
in my hole in the ground and
a deadly spider kills me in my
sleep? This isn’t going well.
My new emancipated self
and the already decaying other
one were standing side by side
before the bookcase, the old one
paralyzed in concentration upon
the spines as his flesh started
dropping away though seemingly
without his noticing it, as he was
still tethered to his world and
memory, and the new one hardly
looking and fidgeting around
pompously glancing at the books
and stray papers scattered around
the floor by the bed, pricing and
discarding them how an experienced
antiques appraiser walks
through a two-hundred year-old
house and places stickers on
ancient crystal as though it is a
toy truck at a yard sale, checking
her watch in between thumbing
eternal decadence upon the material
relics of a three-generation
family home.
My still decaying self went
back to the computer in a moment
of curiosity, and this time
noticed something new at the
bottom corner of the notice still
displayed on his large computer
monitor, with it’s terrifying blue
and red banner, and the seal
of the FBI. There was a note
that said the charges would be
dropped if You Deposit No Less
Than $300 Dollars Using This
Code to The Official Moneypak
FBI Account: A 7 D F L G V 8 T
E 4 S V 1 2.
Great.
A quick Google search of
“FBI Moneypak Scam” revealed
the ubiquity and depth of these
notices, and the flesh on my old
self started to re-materialize
out of my control, his control,
whatever.
I sat at my computer, with my
breath slowing down in long
waves of relief. But I was somehow
also disappointed. I leaned
back in my chair to see out into
the other room. I saw the newfound
ghost had gone into the
kitchen and was shuffling around
for something in the freezer.
He stopped, finding nothing,
and came toward me. Leaning
over my shoulder, he grabbed
the mouse and started scrolling
through my music collection.
He put on Radiohead. Apparently
my new self has a sense of
humor.
I laughed, and tried to push
him out of the way, which is
nonsense because of course he
moved not an inch, and simply
looked at me with mockery and
disdain.
Crossing his spectral arms and
rolling his eyes, which is quite
the attitude for a recently liberated
but then now dead subject,
he walked out of the room and
following him with my eyes I
saw him go to the front window
and peer out between the blinds
to look up and down the street.
He mixed somewhat with the
grey evening city-light. But I
could still see partially how he
conspicuously scrutinized the
location, his posture betraying a
particular confidence and awe,
though, as a child looks upon
their parent after a scolding, and
so he squinted toward the skyline,
barely perceptible between
the tall blocks of buildings all
the way down the street on either
side, trying to find the whir of
the highway.
“See?” he said, glancing back
toward me without moving his
head.
“This is how you communicate
with the dead.”

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