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Keeping up with Mr. Jones

Keeping up with mr jones -- image of hurricane from spaceThe war had been good for business.

From his opulent penthouse Jones watched the rivulets of rain flock down the shatter-proof window, and then scatter in a blast of wind. The city was brooding and grey under the tenth hurricane of the season.

Yep, business had been great, even if the weather had not.

He ignored the storm, and examined the latest model I-jack, straight from the shop he used in Chinatown. The Chinese did the best interface work, and they were cheap. The device was the size of a suppository, the external end loaded with inexpensive lasers that could handle terabytes of information. The business end looked like a gel-coated phone jack, and would fit directly behind his ear, where he’d had a permanent port installed. Where all the high-quality consumers had them.

The device was going to make him rich beyond imagination, as long as the UberNet held out. Though surprisingly resilient to terrorist attack, the network of networks was susceptible to extreme weather events. Power outages.

The wind roared and he sighed an echo. Another blackout and he’d lose millions on down Net-time. Each I-jack he sold collected data on the user’s Net habits, their virtual reality kinks, even their personal secrets. The information was so valuable, each moment he couldn’t collect it represented a loss. And corporations were howling for that data.

Unlike wars in the 20th century, in this conflict governments didn’t say, “buy war bonds,” but simply, “buy.” Consuming was good citizenship, but those customers were a fickle lot. It took wiles to know how best to train their appetites, to shape their trends. It took information.

The irony was that though Jones and his corporation had the most popular forms of I-jack, it was not product sales that mattered, but the sale of the data that product amassed.

He inserted the device. It went in smooth, liquid, like a wet kiss. The interface was sweet too. All juice, it kicked in immediately to show him a virtual representation of his own penthouse. This virtual reality was licked by sunlight; he could see the bay that was really socked in by rain squalls. In boot-up mode the I-jack presented a beautiful, asexual creature designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. As soon as neural impulses started to feed back through the device, it became the most sexually appealing person conceivable to the user. The creature morphed into a leggy blond in a sun dress decorated with florets made of his company’s logo and asked for Jones’s preferences: virtual reality or flat screen mode? Commerce or pleasure? A blending? The VR was flawless, and he could almost feel the device recording his reactions, sending intelligence to his data-mining facility.

Jones laughed out loud. He was going to make a fortune. The blast of the hurricane crept through the immersive VR. There was a flash, like a thousand strokes of lightning. The VR went dark.

The power was off … and business was never good again.

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