It wasn’t like the headset after all. Randall was amazed as a flood of sensation seemed to flow into his vision. He could see what appeared to be his laptop’s screen in front of his eyes, superimposed over his normal vision. The headset’s interface had been similar, but the control over his computer was so much faster, now, it was almost an extension of his thoughts. He found that he was often unable to fully recognize that he was having a thought before the implant carried out the instruction. He was editing code, reading email and having IM conversations as the speed of thought. He barely noticed Ellen’s hand on his shoulder until she spoke aloud. “So?” her voice was thick with concern and anticipation. “How is it?”
“It’s…” Randall struggled for the words to explain the experience. “It’s… strong. Powerful.” He opened his eyes, without realizing that he had closed them. “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.” Ellen beamed and kissed him. “You’ve done it,” he said, awe in his voice. “You’ve made history.”
The first two weeks with the implant were not that different for Randall. He was faster and much more responsive online, and his coding was quicker, but it took him a while to realize the major advantage of the implant. He could finally be doing as many things with his computer as he could think of. He really could be fixing a bug, checking email and chatting at once. Not switching windows really quickly, but actually simultaneously. His computer no longer could just multitask on background tasks – he could input multiple commands at the same time.
For the first time since he sold the all in one reader, Randall consistently had no unread email. For the first time in his adult life, he even hardly ever had email he still needed to deal with. He was able to talk to people, to compose messages and to work at the speed of thought. His output increased exponentially, and his participation in his online social life went up as well.
Soon, he had moved all his work to online servers, and he gave up the tether to the laptop entirely. The implant would connect to any network available, and he could move seamless between them, working all the while. “I’m a fucking Superman,” he said to Ellen one night, as he stared vacantly toward the widescreen, his eyes flicking back and forth as he worked. He took the effort to focus on the physical world and looked at her. “This is unbelievable,” he said, taking her hands in his. “It’s like I’m, I don’t know, swimming in the internet or something.”
“It really is amazing how much more you can do, now,” Ellen said, her voice filled with equal parts awe and pride. “You still need to sleep, though,” she said, closing her own laptop and standing up from the couch.
“I’ll just be a few more minutes,” Randall said, his eyes glazing over again as Ellen walked off to the bedroom.
Ellen wondered when Randall had slept last. It was just over a month since they had done the implant, and the community had noticed that Randall’s online activity had spiked well beyond what a single human could manage. There was plenty of speculation – that he had impostors, that he had hired staff for either the work or the socialization or both. A few who knew of Ellen’s work and Randall’s relationship with her had come closer to the truth, but none of that bothered Ellen. Randall’s behaviour, on the other hand, was bothering her a great deal.
He rarely bothered to fully focus on the real world anymore. He had gotten able to navigate the physical world through the veil of the implant’s visuals, and he could be relied upon to eat without dropping food all over himself. He even could go the the grocery store without seeming to pay attention to it. Those trips were becoming surreal, as he offered a running commentary on each item from various online sources: prices from competing stores, ingredient lists, fast facts from Wikipedia on the parent company. More disturbing was that these weekly trips had developed their own strange fan club. Randall posted his findings online in real time, as he did with most things now. Ellen would be picking through the avocados while Randall chatted with a half dozen foodies around the world about her choices.
After one of these bizarre outings, they were putting the groceries away when Ellen finally decided she had to say something. “Randall,” she began, and winced as he didn’t even bother to turn toward he when he said, “yeah?”
She reached over and touched him on the shoulder, and he jumped as he usually did now when she touched him. “Randall,” she repeated, “could you focus for a second? It’s important.”
“Okay,” he said, and turned toward her. Ellen watched has he tried twice to focus on her face. He finally managed to force his attention on her, and said, “Here I am.”
“Randall,” she said. “You know that of everyone in the world, I am the last person to complain about you working so hard. And it’s fair to say that I want the implant to be a success as much, if not more than you do. But there’s something wrong here. You can’t even pay attention to the real world for five minutes. You’re different now, and I’m not sure you even know it.”
“Oh, I know it,” Randall said. “But I can’t turn it off. Hell, I don’t want to turn it off. How can I explain this?” He rubbed his head with his hands, and looked surprised to see a sheen of sweat come off on his fingers. “It’s like sitting in a lecture hall full of smart people, and everyone is trying to talk to me at the same time. Before, all I could do was ignore the noise and try to find some kind of signal in it all, a single voice to focus on. Now, it’s like I can perfectly hear every individual voice, every question. Everyone is available to me now. Time is no obstacle to getting things done, to having a conversation.” Ellen saw as Randall’s focus wavered for a few seconds then came back. “It’s so hard to stop listening,” he said, and sat down at the kitchen table. “So hard.”
Neither of them spoke for a long time. Finally, Ellen broke the silence. “Do you want to stop?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Randall said.