11:02 Saturday September 1st 2018

Today, another short story about the future.


The first generation of virtual reality was the written word.

Scratched into dirt, chiseled into stone, stained onto paper, stamped onto books, and eventually projected through a screen - the recording of speech was second only to speech itself as a way to make thinking communal.

And always among the first things recorded: Sex. Or rather, sex fantasy. Mankind is a social, political, speaking, thinking, imagining animal - one with an underlying need not to procreate, but to give and receive pleasure.

Wherever there is sex and wherever there is technology, there are moral guardians. Eternally offended prophets of doom, predicting imminent "moral destruction", a coded term for their own loss of power, always somehow associated with economic collapse.

Exactly by what mechanism this apocalypse was supposed to occur, and how a return to their favoured superstition could avert it, was never made clear. Likewise, the link between embracing religion and rejecting technology was kept vague. But the least understood fears are the greatest, and the least defined hopes the most alluring.

The second generation of virtual reality was a wax cylinder.

It recorded the waveform of a sound as the varying width of a groove, allowing a crude reproduction of speech and music. The wax became vinyl, which became ferrous oxide, which became silicon holding binary code, which became organic chemicals. To sound was added sight, first static on silver nitrate, then dynamic on celluloid, then on the same sillicon and chemicals.

Again, people instantly saw the possibility of storing their own sexual fantasies outside of themselves. And again, the moral guardians did all they could to create panic at the new threat, offering their usual solution.

The third generation of virtual reality dispensed with screens for vision and speakers for sound, plugging computers and data directly into the eyes and ears. Later, touch was added, with all the shades of hot and cold, rough and smooth, intense pleasure and subtle pain. Then smell, taste, and other bodily sensations for which no common words existed.

The sex fantasies changed from edited highlights of reality, to dreamscapes programmed directly to software. The user was no longer limited to experiencing the possible, or the expressible. Sex with dragons and unicorns never became the vanilla end of the market, but experiences like cooking and eating one's own body could be had repeatedly, and on demand.

The moral panic never evolved it's form, because it didn't need to. It always remained effective on the more backward of the population - who were of course also the most enthusiastic fantasisers.

The forth generation of virtual reality bypassed the sense organs altogether, directly stimulating the brain - and not just the sensory centers. For the first time, the user was able not just to satisfy desires, but to create them. One who had no desire at all for a forbidden taste, could nevertheless temporarily induce that taste, and sate it, inside a brain augment.

The guardians predicted the normalisation of the forbidden, as though this were in itself a problem. Some said the easily influenced (by which they meant anyone not themselves) would retain their new desires in the outside world. Others spoke of addiction, not to new satiations, but to the experience of attaining new desires.

Others feared the induction of emotional states that the brain had always been capable of, but which the mundane world had never called for. What actually happened was, people developed real-world uses for these hitherto undiscovered emotions. Unsurprisingly, these included the sexual.

It is true that natural reproduction dwindled as sexuality blossomed, but there is no evidence the link was causal. It was simply more convenient for a group to gestate batches of offspring in a fertility complex, as and when they decided.

As we write, work is proceeding on diverse projects for a fifth generation of virtual reality.

One line of research is into copying entire brain patterns to computer, so they can be manipulated simply as data, removing the need for wetware entirely. In this scenario, the already permeable distinction between sexual and non-sexual sensation can be entirely erased, making all experience erotic.

Another is a revival of the hivemind notion, whereby many users can collectively experience the sum of their individual augments. Thus in an encounter between N individuals, there are 2^N simultaneous viewpoints for each to sense it.

A third involves dispensing with the content of experience entirely, leaving only undifferentiated pleasure, inducted into nerve endings repaired and enhanced by nanobots. Some nirvanists even speculate that wetware can be mainained for centuries, or longer.

The political opposition to all these developments was inevitable, and it only loses ground slowly. We can't predict which, if any of the current projects, will become the way forward - and we will only know in retrospect when it has already happened.

It may be that sexuality has been transformed many times into unrecognisable new forms, and will be again. But it is our belief that, so long as the future is technological, the future is also sexual.

21:45 Thursday 30th August 2018

One of those days.

When I was asked to come here, I collected a load of old TV shows, music, ebooks and software projects, so I'd always have something to do - or be entertained. Part of my philosophy of life is: I refuse to be bored. Another part is: The world is full of fascinating stuff.

Now, Wessam is the learning disabled son of Jamal, my friend and host. And Jamal has employed Rana, a female therapist, to look after him. But it's part of arab culture that when you employ a woman like this, her husband and any offspring come along too. So there's Ibrahim that bullying 3-year old boy, and Anas, the husband, web developer, and completely functionless third wheel.

And he didn't bring anything to keep him active or entertained. Presumably because he's an idiot. So he's bored out of his skull with nothing to do. He's also a judgemental, interfering arsehole, or "devout muslim" if you prefer. And he's taken a dislike to the other children, seemingly on the grounds that they cry too loud when his son hits them. And he's decided the whole family (ages 1 and upwards) are alcoholics, on the grounds that, well, see above.

So, this moring, big stand up blazing argument. Lasted at least an hour, and every english-speaking person who heard it has given me a different, mutually exclusive description of it.

So alhough I'm pretty sure I know what it was <i>really</i> about, everyone's got a different version of the excuses.

Then, to get away from the bad feeling and help everyone calm down, Jamal takes his four daughters to the swimming pool - and invites me along. The pool is in a hotel/resort that promisses relaxation, and Jamal has hurt his back, so my alloted task is to watch the children paddle in the pool, while he gets a professional massage.

So once again, it's my job to watch the kids like a slightly paranoid hawk, making sure none of them drown themselves. Or each other. In spite of their oblivious incomprehension of risk, and determination to invite death by inhalation of water. And their refusal to do anything I say unless I shout it several times, sometimes grab them bodily to drag them out of harm's way - and occasionally slap them when they start hitting me. After which they cry and wail and screech for half an hour at the injustice.

One girl twice jumps into water twice as deep as she is high, and does the crying routine when I pull her out. I strap them into floatation devices, and they swim around happily for a good 90 minutes, only occasionally fighting or pretending to drown and laughing at me.

Then one decides she needs the bathroom. And can't go in the pool. And of course the toilets are on a different floor of the hotel. So I suppose I could take one to the little girls room, leaving the other three to possibly suffocate in chlorinated H2O. But not really. So I get them out of the pool, so they can make a group trip in the elevator and their swimming costumes, to the absurdly plush toilets.

Except one flatly refuses to get out. And I lift her from the water. Cue weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and dire threats that she'll tell her father what I've done.

After a complex half hour in the bathroom, which they mostly spend arguing in the dark about which combination of switches turns on the lights for ten seconds at a time, they refuse to return to the pool. Instead, it's time to find father, and get Kapitano in the deepest of deep trouble for spoiling their fun.

Father, as usual, gently explains that he doesn't want them to die, and they instantly accept it.

In the car home, there are only a few grouchy arguments about how I'm holding the youngest to let her doze off, wrong.

Then as we arrive, outside the house...is a police car.

It seems that Anas had gone for a walk in the day, and called his mother on his mobile phone. Some locals had witnessed someone they didn't know incomprehensibly making a call, and told the police they'd spotted a terrorist. Who, having nothing better to do, had actually investigated.

The police left, and Wessam started bawling his eyes out and furiously smashing the furniture, possibly for some reason. Or not. And his sisters tried their usual strategy of bellowing into his face even louder. This has never been known to work, on any child, ever. But after five years of Wessam, their hope remains strong that one day it might.

Two hours later, he and they did it again.

I have quite a lot of experience of teaching and taking care of children. But until now, all of my students - arabic, german, spanish and others - have been educated, dedicated, mature, intelligent and sensible people. Much better than your average adult, in fact. This is possibly my first experience with normal children. The kind smart enough to realise they don't have to obey, and dim enough to disobey on principle.

I really don't like teaching children.

18:57 Wednesday 29th August 2018

Recognise the difference between "I want to go home" and "I don't want to be here anymore".

Two weeks and three days to go, by current plans - always revisable. And after I've got home, had a little hug from mother, eaten a bacon sandwich, unpacked the laptop and had a doze...I'm absolutely no idea what happens next.

Oh, there's lots of small things to do, and one or two big things. Some cables and USB things to get from ebay, a load of stories to record and upload to youtube, a few friends to catch up with, some three-month delayed sex to have, a diet to continue, an upgrade computer to research, and some entirely pointless bureaucratic meetings to attend.

I could continue trying to be self-employed, searching for clients which don't exist. Or look for jobs working for other people - which also don't exist. Maybe find another school in another foreign country - which do exist but which mostly can't be trusted.

That's the trouble with "one day at a time" - too many days and not enough time.

22:16 Thursday 23rd August 2018

Oh great, I'm depressed again.

Not unhappy, not lachrymose, not even emotional. Just lacking in willpower, determination, motivation.

I don't know why it happens, though I'm pretty sure blood sugar makes it worse, but I've had it recurrantly my entire life and I wish it would just go away. It's the flat batteries of the soul.

Here's another definition: The inability to rise above it. "It" is any minor setback or frustration, of the kind which happens to all of us several times a day, which ordinarily we'd be able to get over easily. The weather is hot and sticky, your shirt won't wash properly, the cup of coffee has sugar when you asked for it not to, your friend said they'd be away for half an hour but it's actually two hours, there's a power cut when you want to charge your phone, etc. etc.

Molehills become mountains. And you know they're still molehills, but you still can't climb them.

It sounds like oversensitivity, but it's actually a kind of <i>in</i>sensitivity. You can't grapple with the handholds of the mountain, because you're wearing boxing gloves. You can't engage, which means you can't cope, and you can't solve.

15:42 Tuesday 21st August 2018

Today is Muslim Christmas. Specificlly, the bigger of the two Muslim Christmasses.

At least, that's how it was jovially defined to me this morning.

Eid Al-Athhar (Festival of the Sacrifice), also known as Big Eid, is the supposed anniversary of that time God told Abraham to kill his only son as a test of obedience, then at the last moment teleported a sheep into the son's place. This proving once again:

(1) Religion is for those who've internalised their victimhood, and

(2) Islam is just another sect of christianity. Which is just another sect of judaism. Which is a sect of zoroastrianism. Which no one knows much about because the jews, christians and muslims destroyed the evidence.

Little Eid is Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan and "Festival of Breaking the Fast". But I really want to translate it as "Breakfast Party".

If you're family on Big Eid, you put on your smartest clothes, exchange gifts, and spend time with family. And eat far too much. Yep, definitely like christmas.

But I'm not family, and neither are the other guests in the house, so we get to do...absolutely nothing all day. Festival of vegitating in front of the TV, dozing, and emailing family. And eating far too much.

We may be the lucky ones, as you're supposed to, in memory of Abraham, get a sheep from somewhere, cut it's throat, let all the blood drain out...and give the carcass to someone who <i>doesn't</i> have far too much to eat.

But, what what is it makes christmas special? The junk gifts in the shops, the terrible music in the shops, the terrible shows on TV? No, I think christmas is a special time simply because we agree to call it one.

Which is why I feel that today <i>is</i> special. But unless I'm here again for the next one, that one won't be. By which process, you can turn any day into a special day, and in result it will be genuinely special, so long as you and your circle agree to designate it as such in advance.