Stop Vising at Me

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

The narrator of this fictional short story is looking back upon the effects of a light teleporter that he invented. This device changed the way that we look at light and privacy the way that radio and microphones changed the way we think about sound.

He invented it only thinking about its technical qualities, but soon the social implications became a much bigger problem. Now, he expresses some regrets.

Numerous writers have compared me to the nameless ancient Greek who invented the steam engine but viewed it as a toy or to Thomas Edison, who invented the phonograph to be a telephone answering machine. These devices changed the way we move and learn, but for entirely different reassons than they ever thought.

I don't know whether that's true; both of those devices improved people's experience on this earth, while mine was kind of amusing at first, and then it became a monstrosity. I built the Nanoprismatic Light Teleporter as a novelty, as a toy for my 14-year-old son and his friends when they played paintball with each other.

It had been known for some time that the laws of quantum mechanics allowed for the teleportation of things, mostly really tiny things. Photons were massless and it was very simple to duplicate their quantum state and teleport a beam of light from one side of the lab to another. As the technology advanced, we realized we could also teleport objects that had a small amount of mass.

I am a physicist, and I loved to experiment with these particles. By choosing specific dust particles to teleport along with the photons, I was able to create an effect that bent light. I called these nanoprisms. When I learned how to teleport them at the same time as the light, I could make the light show up at a place not on the trajectory of where it had started. I could make light turn corners. I thought this was cool and so did my son. Really, that's the extent of what I meant to do with this -- make physics work in anew way that could inspire my son to take science seriously in school. And, make him proud of his mad-scientist Dad.

I designed a teleporter that could fit in a backpack that could carry while running around the paintball course. It would teleport the light he reflected 10 feet to his left or right, confusing his competitors and giving him a critical advantage. At first his friends thought this was really cool, and then he started winning, and they thought it was cheating. Then the device started malfunctioning and getting wavelengths wrong, making his avatar turn a bizarre array of colors and shooting red streaks of light from his forehead, earning him the nickname of "rainbow demon." Eventually they banned the device from the course because the game always stopped when the teleporter malfunctioned and everyone needed five minutes to quit laughing.

The prototype was successful enough that I patented it, improved it and started taking it to trade shows for paintballers and advertised it in paintballing magazines. I called it the Nanoprismic Light Teleporter, which didn't really catch on, but I put a picture of myself on it and a brief explanation of what it meant to me to make the device actally work. It was not cheap, but a summer of lawn mowing could pay for one, so it sold pretty well and became known as the "Bob Smith" because my name on the back of the box was much easier to remember than its official name, similar to how bookstyle two-sided electric grills became known as "George Foremans." I didn't mind, but I really wish I'd come up with a different name for it.

It was bulky, but the paintballers seemed to be a specialty market that didn't mind an awkward device, especially since they pretended to be commandos while carrying compressed air tanks everywhere. The light teleporter slowed them down, but some were willing to take the trade-off.

A clothing manufacturer noticed the popularity of the Bob Smith and asked me to partner with them. They helped me find an electronics company that could miniaturize the teleporter and integrate it into the fabric of a shirt. Our first product was a ladies' shirt that came in an extra-large size but bent light to appear to be two sizes smaller.

"The Medium is the Message" was the slogan we used, and it, too, was a novelty product. I had neglected to invent pants to go with the shirt, which made most women to have a nice, tight waist and a very large pair of thighs. It was the sort of thing you wore to costume parties. This silly fact turned it into an Internet meme, something people would forward to one another. It didn't spread as fast as the usual viral meme because the photos weren't that remarkable, realy, they just looked like the result of goofballs playing with Photoshop. And, the shirts did basically that, but on the other side of the camera.

We came out with pants a little later, and a skirt, too, and they sold well because the silly stories of women with shrunken torsos had spread the "Bob Smith's" noteriety.

I had made a tidy sum of money from these inventions, and I felt very satisfied with their acceptance. They were popular among people who liked technological accessories and who liked science, and I'd entertained -- and perhaps educated -- them with the inventions.

The next stage was when they went mainstream, which is when I had the best chance of stopping what happened, or at least slowing the progress enough to disassociate my name from it.

We came out with a line of Bob Smith clothing that allowed the wearer to broadcast his or her image around corners. "He'll see you even if he turns away!" one of our early advertisements read. These clothes specifically bent light to make people's images -- the clothes and the rest of the person -- follow others' eyes as far as visible light could go.

I intended this to be another novelty item, a gift you could give a shy girl on her 16th birthday to make her the center of attention for a day.

It turned out that the extroverts of the world weren't interested in being the center of attention for a day, but all of the time. If you were at a party where someone was wearing this, you'd see the extrovert pretty close to them, all at the same time, no matter which way you turned. You could go to the next room, and they'd still be following you, which often had the amusing effect of making them float through walls. One side effect is that speaking to a teleported image often left people confused because the person wearing the Bob Smith couldn't hear unless they were pretty close.

To stay fashionable, we came up with a model that could download different clothing styles and teleport them on the wearer, or around the room.

We made huge amounts of money of these popular clothes, but ended up defending ourselves against a number of lawsuits after some pranksters had figured out how to get in to the software and make the wearer appear to balloon up like a microwaved marshmallow. That was the less harmful early hack. The other one was to cause the teleporter to first look inward before sending the image around. This is known as "nuding."

The first time this happened, a cheerleader named Britney Thomspon was wearing one of these outfits at school. I use her name not to embarrass her further only because the case is so well-known that it wouldn't make any difference. She was a somewhat popular girl at her school, and she wanted to be very popular girl. She was walking down a hallway in her high school when some hacker boys broke into the Bob Smith's control device with a Wi-fi transmitter. The girl didn't notice anything as she was, after all, fully clothed, but 20 to 30 feet away from her as she walked, people could see her naked and oblivious. Her classmates snickered, a few teachers sharply said that this was really inappropriate. One tried to put a towel over her only to have it fall through her.

Britney kept walking, thinking all this distant noise had to do with someone else, since, after all, it was happening some distance from her. A friend of hers, Aimee, realized what was going on and chased down the real girl and put her coat around her, but this had no effect since, after all, the device operates by teleportation. Aimee explained that her clothes were malfunctioning, which caused Britney to burst into tears and run down the hallway to get away, which meant that bystanders saw a nude girl running by, followed by a fully clothed girl with an additional coat wrapped around her, also running, followed by a fully clothed Aimee, followed by the nude girl again. It was a moment of hormonal joy for the pranksters, and it was humiliating both for the girl and the dozens of people whom she had run past who could not make the image of the nude girl stop even if they turned away. Closing their eyes was the only option.

For the panicking Britney, no amount of covering up would stop the show she was giving. The software (the data system, not the clothes) did have a shutoff mechanism, but the hackers had locked out that function. Aimee finally caught her and told her to strip down nude in reality, which was the first time cold air had touched her skin. She got her clothes off quickly, which no one saw because they were transfixed by the teleported images, and Aimee wrapped a coat around her bottom half and a sweater around her top half. She hid in a girls' bathroom stall until her mother could come with normal clothes for her to wear.

This hack spread on the Internet faster than nude cheerleader pics did back when they had only two dimensions. The world's pranksters felt they were justified in doing this for several reasons: The people wearing the Bob Smiths had it coming because of their selfish desire to be the center of attention and because it was impossible to stop looking at them even if you turned away from them. It took us a week to get the patch ready, and the stories of unwitting streakers filled the news headlines. Children transferred schools, and parents sued.

The defense we used was that it was sabotage, not faulty programming, that caused the incidents, which the courts mostly accepted, but the legal fees were monstrous.

At that point, I decided it was time to get out of the light-bending business and sold my patents with the stipulation that none of the subsequent devices could be named after me. And that, unfortunately, is the moment that most historians call The Singularity. A Singularity in technological terms is when something happens that completely changes the rules, such as the invention of the printing press, which made books -- and knowledge, and belief, accessible to so many more people in so many more ways that authority was turned on its head. It created all kinds of cultural phenomena that had never been seen before, and, in response, a whole new vocabulary of words came in to being. Despite my best efforts, "Bob" became a noun and a verb to describe the device and to wear one. To say that your friends are "going Bobbing" meant to attract attention to yourselves with the outfits. The name "Bob" fell out of common use, and soon I began to pity Sir Thomas Crapper, inventor of the toilet.

Despite the brief scare by women that they were going to be nuded -- and because of the publicity caused by the hack -- the popularity of the light-teleporting clothing continued to rise. The company I had sold the patent to decided to license the technology to dozens of different manufacturers, who applied it to every kind of task in which one wanted to communicate something, although the word "communicate" itself was beginning to take on a more aggressive meaning.
One brand of clothes with the nuding hack intentionally put in became popular for pole dancers at strip clubs, who would dance fully clothed inside the clubs while nude, slightly compressed, versions of themselves seemed to be dancing out on the sidewalk.

Time Magazine interviewed me and put a picture of me on the cover with a headline "The Man Who Made Light Become Like Sound" with a subhead of "And why he regrets it now." What I didn't know during the interview was that Time had contracted with a new light-teleporter company to get a small device installed in each copy of the magazine so that it would jump off of the shelf and follow customers down the street if they didn't stop to buy it. It wasn't a very profitable arrangement for Time, but the point was that they wanted to be the first to accomplish a teleported magazine cover. That edition of the magazine, like everything else the technology touched, became a novelty item and sold huge numbers at first. And, it made it look like I had collaborated with the magazine to make the teleportation image possible, making me appear to be its promoter. The article was actually a pretty accurate description of my view of the whole matter -- I was delighted that the device worked but afraid of the potential consequences. But, not many people actually read the article. Rather, the thing they remembered was my head chasing them down the sidewalk. This, of course, led to pranksters printing an alternative cover of that week's Time with a bloody neck (and no head) that would chase people down the sidewalk. (They had tried hacking in to the device itself, but the manufacturer had remembered the nuding incidents and had written enough walls into the programming to prevent that.)

With subsequent generations of teleporters, the cost came down, the devices' ubiquity increased. Too many people in one party wearing them would cause light feedback. Too much light and too many colors of light in one place just turns white (for example, sunlight) but because the nanoprisms were being teleported along with the light, the bending beams began to cross, causing a cacophony of light to split and the entire room would become rainbowed like a computer monitor with water on it, only much brighter and everywhere. Actually, this was the cause of another new word: lighcophany, a light cacophany, to describe what happens when too many Bob Smith devices are in use.

Lighcophanies became a new kind of mass art form as alternative rock concertgoers would mosh in Teleporter Clothes, but with them programmed to send their images five feet above them, creating a rainbow sea above them out of which a face or a body would occasionally jump. More traditional dance groups, that followed set patterns together, would hold "Bobby Socks" dances, in which a second set of feet would seem to be dancing a couple of feet above them.

Eventually, the light teleporter was in such common use that the blast of rainbowed light made it impossible to navigate some areas at night. Car wrecks increased as billboards followed cars down highways. Complaints of streets being licophanized became commonplace, and a whole new set of devices came in to being to solve the problems caused by my light teleporter. Another inventor created a set of goggles that could translate ultraviolet light into visible light so that you could navigate a street only seeing what was actually there since the light teleporters worked on visible light. However, making the teleporters also broadcast in UV was just a matter of increasing the wavelength, an update that could be made with a simple downloaded application, and so even with goggles, people were being bombarded with advertisements. Schools for the blind saw an uptick in enrollment as people with healthy eyes wanted to learn how to navigate with eyepatches and white canes for when the visual stimulation became too much.

The advertisers were the most active users of the teleporters, driving around town with them in trucks and projecting them in to houses and businesses, making televisions seem to turn on -- although with no sound -- when they were actually off and changing the advertisement on the back of your box of breakfast cereal while you were looking at it.

The first few times it happened, the surprise factor that there were things walking around your house that weren't actually there caused a bit of amusement, but soon people began organizing boycotts against the brands that used the mobile teleporters. Pretty soon, only those with no reputation to lose -- pornographers, fraudsters and activists trying to slander a corporation or a politician -- were using the mobile teleporters.

People sued, claiming a violation of privacy by the mobile teleporters, but in court the defense would always claim that privacy meant that you had the right to keep information about yourself private, and no one was violating that. They usually agreed, but a few lawsuits succeeded claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Schools also began to ban their use, but it was difficult to do. Teachers certainly hated it when students who weren't actually there went strolling through the middle of a lesson, and boys' test scores plummeted as they were literally incapable of not looking at the girls. What made it especially difficult to control was that teleporting clothing looked the same as anyone else's clothing, and later models came with settings so that you would only "follow" certain people's eyes, and students became very savvy in making sure that they didn't include the teachers in their broadcasts. The only true way to make sure the students weren't disrupting the lesson with light teleporters would have been to strip them nude, which wouldn't meet the need of enforcing good educational order.

Governments got involved, and eventually the Congress considered a bill to ban light teleporters. All varieties of groups came to the committee meetings to register an opinion -- the technologists admonished the Congress for trying to kill progress likening them to the Pope putting Galileo under house arrest for the latter part of his life, the civil libertarians said that banning teleporters would be a violation of freedom of expression. Outdoor groups came forward and pointed out how it made hiking safety so much better -- if you were lost in the woods, you could make yourself appear to be 20 feet above the trees, making rescue much easier. The medical community extolled the benefit of teleporting sunlight into patients' hospital rooms. I got plenty of phone calls from reporters wanting to know what I thought about my invention possibly getting banned, but I was too embarrassed to answer. The Congressional committee chairman did write me a private letter asking my opinion, and I wrote back a brief answer that I thought a ban would be a good idea -- I thought that my son, now 30, would have grown up just fine if I hadn't invented the damn thing, and that's why I had done it, as an amusement.

The bill passed into law, and it lasted for about a year. A black market immediately arose for teleporters, and, being so small, they were very difficult to confiscate. Emboldened by the fact they were now doing something banned, just about every group with a point to prove used them to cause some kind of anarchy, one group even simulating an attack on the president, which had everyone thoroughly terrified until a Secret Service agent found and turned off the boombox that the protesters had smuggled into the meeting hall to provide the phony audio track for the phony hostage-taking attempt.

Also during this time, people got to learn far more about the mechanics of different ways of having sex than they had ever wanted. Communities of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered had for years been offended at being marginalized and at being in a world that made it clear that the heterosexuals were normal. When they organized as a community, they pushed for legislation that would give them rights to be left alone -- to be free of harassment, to be allowed to live with and be married with whomever they wanted. That was their mainstream message, but at the fringes of their movement were a number of people who were angry as anything at the heterosexist world that harassed them with sexual messages that were disgusting to them, which they believed entitled them to return the same kind of images to the rest of the world. The new outlet for this kind of sexual aggression was to open a window and use light teleporters while having sex, beaming the graphic details to the neighboring streets.

Streets would shut down with drivers stopping to close their eyes. In the best of cases when this happened, pedestrians who had taken white-cane classes from the schools for the blind could put on goggles and lead others out of the neighborhood. In the worst case, riots began, with groups of angry people breaking down doors, trying to find the exhibitionists polluting the neighborhood, generally beating anyone who looked gay. Police would investigate, but it was very difficult to find the point of origin of the event as the light began to bend.

The gay rights groups were in a bind when these riots occurred. On the one hand, they objected strenuously to the collective punishment they were receiving for these acts of ocular vandalism, but on the other, they had to denounce the tiny number of people who were broadcasting these sex acts. But, for the majority of "generally nice" people who had nothing against gay people, it was a time when they were forced to imagine all the consequences of a sexually liberated world. All of them had known straight men who were jerks and profiligates who had to hit on every woman they met -- did sexual equality mean that the jerks of other sexual groups were going to assert their right to behave this way to people now? Did half a century of magazine covers with women made out to be fertility idols on the front of them mean that now we had to accept the ubiquity of similar gay images? Chasing us down the street?

Eventually the Supreme Court struck down the law, saying it was an overly broad measure that banned freedom of expression, and said that appropriate time, place and manner restrictions could be applied, and Congress thus began the arduous process of creating a much complex law, the Eyespace Protection Act, which banned an assortment of different uses of teleporters, specifically using them on a person against their consent. But, it was difficult to enforce, rather like trying to ban graffiti.

In San Francisco, the rector of one of the huge, seldom-attended cathedrals got sick of the visual chaos invading his services, and he had some air-raid curtains in the basement left over from World War II. He taped down every window on the church, first starting with the clear windows, which stopped cohesive images from getting in, but they still came through stained glass, which he also had to tape down. He put up a sign saying "No Bobbing" at the front of the church. A few parishioners criticized him for putting all natural light out of the church, but soon they came to appreciate the notion of really just being in one place at a time. Attendance went up as people found shelter in this place that was not lighcophanized, and eventually a newspaper reporter came out to do a story on the new policy there. I was encouraged by the idea, and I flew out to San Francisco to meet with the rector, and asked him if he could change the sign to "No Vising" another verb that came about because of my invention. "Vising" was a shortened way of saying "getting in my vision," and the "z" sound of it did imply a certain kind of aggression. He did change the sign, and thankfully, that word is what most other places used to describe what they didn't want to happen. My name had become synonymous with the devices, with popular bumper stickers saying, "Bob Smith, Stop Vising at Me!" and "Bob Smith, Keep Your Photons to Yourself!"

The movement to light-seal houses of worship spread quickly, and attendance rose as people came in to have shelter from the chaos of the outside world, and yet, it became a difficult friendship to make between church and attendee as it was a negative relationship. The newbies came in because of what wasn't there -- no images harassing them. A savvy theologian got funding from some wealthy donors to start the Apophatic Church, which was housed in a light-sealed structure, with a huge, tilting light tube that followed the sun as it went across the sky, able to bring in only sunlight and distribute it evenly throughout the building. On the front of the church read "Let There Be Pure Light," and the sermons described God in negative terms, in terms of what God is not, since the founder of the church believed people were coming in looking for the absence of things that bothered them. "God is light, but he is not naughty light," the church's pastor began one memorable sermon.

Other non-religious purist movements got started, including the Legans, or light-vegans. They were an anti-corporatist group who first described themselves an anti-Bob movement, accusing me of extracting wealth from society, not creating it. I took offense as I had anonymously donated most of the profits from the Nanoprismic Light Teleporter to mental health organizations to deal with the increase in people going insane, although I had to agree that for the most part, the profit that the teleporter had earned for me and the companies to which I had sold the patent had done so at the expense of other economic activity. I wrote to them pleading with them not to call themselves anti-Bob, and our correspondence revealed that they were a more thoughtful group than most.

The Legans were a group with a clear understanding of where they thought humanity ought to fit in the hisotry of light. Their founding council wrote:

Until the industrial revolution, humans viewed light as fire, something both welcomed and feared. The sun could nourish or scorch. When their sacred texts wrote about light, they knew it could mean either Heaven or Hell. In the 20th Century, with the invention of the lightbulb, light became a gentle friend, allowing safety at night and allowing people to see more, learn more, and live more.

However, in our century, light has become a trickster, distracting us, overwhelming us and making us wish for blindness at times. We Legans believe this is wrong. We know that light can be for good and evil, and it can reveal both truths and questions for us. We believe light tells an important story, but we are the content of the story, as we live our successes and mistakes. The truthfulness of our story, as we see it and as others see us, is what makes us alive.

I agreed with that statement, mostly, but the Legans started out with a fundamentalist view of their own principles, locking themselves into light-sealed compounds so that they could raise children without their being exposed to teleported light. Rejecting both the bad and the good, they wanted things to be as they were before the change came to be, and their compounds tended to be museums of 20th-century modern life. The Legans did boast some important accomplishments in their communities -- a higher birth rate, for one.

Anti-pornography advocates for decades had been saying that seeing simulations of sex took away from the real thing for years -- and I had the dubious honor of proving it with the teleporter. The onslaught of sexual images allowed those who wanted to control men's visual attention to have it temporarily, but it exhausted them and reduced their sperm count and their interest in conceiving actual children. In the general population, a man "who appreciated you because you were real" became a new virtue for bachelors looking to get married. Legan men, on the other hand, were able to better focus on their wives.

In my communications with the Legans, I at first received thinly veiled anathemas from them. While their attitudes were fundamentalist, they weren't closed to inquiry, and over time, they realized that an interaction with me was necessary to develop a mature ideology about light. Eventually, they allowed me to visit, and to speak to one of their annual conventions. Upon arrival, I was thoroughly searched and provided alternate clothes, and a pencil and pad if Iwanted to prepare my speech. Here is what I remember saying, more or less:

With every advance humans made in communications, there was always a group of objectors. When the printing press allowed enough copies of the Bible to be available for private reading, many said this experience reduced the quality of having it read to you.And, traveling minstrels were slowly put out of work as people did not have to have their news sung to them. The radio and the television allowed for immediacy, in learning information, but also for a lonely reception of entertainment, turning some into "couch potatoes." TheInternet allowed instant access to current information without the need for an editor or a library, but flattened the notion of context.

At each step our society took towards more advanced media, if you want to call it that, the critics could be brushed aside by telling them that the use of the new technology was optional, and why should anyone take away the choice of the people who want to try it? The critics complained that the new technologies created fake versions of consciousness and took away from the real, which, in the increasingly pluralistic market of ideas, was simply taken under advisement as one more opinion.

And then I came along and proved it with my child's toy. The Nanoprismic Light Teleporter proved this hypothesis correct as a generation of young people spent their time seeing and being places where they actually weren't. You know the effects of this change better than Ido. And, you have done a good job of reaping the benefits of fighting these changes -- the educational achievements of your children are amazing, and, I believe, they will preserve the possibility of clearer thinking and learning for future generations, after the general population has learned how to learn and think again.

However, I am sorry to say that you have locked yourselves into your compound, and you have little hope of helping the outside world. Expecting them to become novice Legans, forsake their old lives and accept all of your practices in the castle is no way to serve them. The longer you stay locked up here, you and the outside world are going to evolve on such separate tracks that you will not recognize each other when you do come out. You are only going to provide these benefits when you re-open your doors, which may seem unpalatable to you, but you have to do it, a little ways.

Eventually they are going to realize that taking advantage of the passivity of each others' eyes and ears is a sin. Wallpaper provides a pleasant background for the passive eye. Music served the same background purpose for shopping and advertising, and in last few decades before my invention, televisions provided the same kind of background in restaurants and gymnasiums, each advance becoming less passive. And now, with the Light Teleporter, it seems that the human brain itself has become space for the wallpaper that others want to paste on it. You have been smart enough to say 'no' to this theft of mental real estate in a meaningful way. Your society is dedicated to the reversal of this process, but the rest of the world is trying to get past it, and they need you. My device will persist whether Ilike it or not, but I believe that we as a society will eventually advance to an understanding when our thoughts and attention -- and that of our brothers and sisters around us -- is not a commodity to be taken and dominated. I cannot predict how knowledge will work when we arrive at this new stage, but Ican promise you that it won't be a return to the museum of the old values that you cherish. As we work to get there, we need your knowledge. And, we need you to live your knowledge, not just protect it.

As I finished, they applauded, gently. I like to think of it as a contemplative kind of applause if there can be such a thing. One of the Legans pointed a flashlight at my face and turned it on.When the light reached me, it looked exactly as it had left the lamp. I didn't know whether to take that as a compliment or a jeer.

Submitted: January 17, 2010

© Copyright 2020 tallestcousin. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



I loved it. Very well written. You put alot of thought into some finer details other writters may have missed. Very nice.

Mon, January 18th, 2010 6:36pm


Thank you! Your thoughts mean a great deal to me!

Tue, January 19th, 2010 12:36am

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