Saturday, 10 March 2012

Opting Out

originally posted at, 14.11.2011

I really don’t think there’s much point in writing this, but it seems somehow wrong to disappear from life – such as it is – without leaving some kind of message. Message to whom? Hah! Nobody in this fucked-up world that I can think off anyway; those who would care have taken the same way as I plan to. Maybe I’ll meet some of them again. It’s one of my major hopes.

A message then to a person or persons unknown. Maybe archaeologists from some unimaginable future … in the unlikely event that humanity manages to survive the mess it seems to have screwed itself into. Or alien explorers, landing on a planet showing signs of an extinct civilisation. Or even humans from an alternate reality; the plethora of virtual alternatives we have been creating makes everything possible, in digital imagination anyway – for all that that’s worth.

So then, I suppose I should try to explain what this is all about. I have finally given up on RL, as they call it, real life and have opted instead to join the growing horde of those escaping to VL, virtual life.

It’s a one-way ticket, you see, for all intents and purposes. Oh yes, if you’ve got enough money you can buy the special withdraw-after-thirty-days option, but it you take it, it involves rather nasty withdrawal symptoms and extensive neurological reconstruction surgery. Even among those who buy it, only about one in ten thousand actually makes use of it – and many of them ultimately return to RL if they have the money or suicide it they don’t. That kind of news spreads so most people don’t bother with the opt-out – it’s a better bet to invest every cent you can in your VL package.

The biggest recruiter for VL is RL anyway. What with the low level radioactive poisoning from the brief but murderous Middle East Holocaust a few years ago, the increasing spate of natural disasters from a wheeling climate which can’t seem to decide between global warming and nuclear winter, the lawless chaos in many areas of the major cities worldwide, the ongoing recession because of declining growth, the press of illegal immigrants from the poor into the rich world, etc., etc. … do I really need to go on? A growing number of those who can afford it are opting out into VL every year; many of them the people RL would need to put things back together again, or at least keep them on an even keel. Most have lost any hope that the transnational corporations and financial institutions, who have the real control over the world, have the slightest clue as to what they are doing, apart from using complex questionable algorithms to continually maximise short-term profits. And the crux of the whole thing is that a continually growing amount of the capital they are working with comes from funds set up to finance the VLers who have abandoned RL and are only interested in obtaining the best possible returns to pay for their adventures in dream worlds.

You see, you get what you pay for and the VL packages aren’t cheap. Your unconscious dreaming body has to be cared for – on a basic level, with lots of automation to be sure – but it still needs to be kept alive. There are no guarantees, of course, and there’s no money back if you die but Microgoogle™ claim that 78% of all 65 year olds who enter one of their worlds are still alive at the end of their contract. Amazapple™ has a much better figure (93%) but their packages are much more expensive.

When you have decided to go for VL, you have to make some basic decisions, the most fundamental one being what you can afford. The corporations offer all sorts of packages and you really need to compare them and read the small print – in fact, a whole new service area has grown up to advise clients about the best package for their particular desires and means. The choices are complex and not always clear, so that most people feel that the fee they take for this service is well invested. They’ll also help you to liquidate all your assets, taking care of the paperwork needed to negotiate with pension funds and life-insurance companies about lump-sum payments or models for regular payments, etc.

In my case, Virtual Bliss Consultants™ recommended a short-list of four packages. It didn’t take me long to exclude the Amazapple™ deal included; it would have given me a very high-quality experience and first-class care for my body, but the price meant that I would only have two and a half years in Virtuality before my contract was ended, I was disconnected and my unconscious body let die. The Microgoogle™ package I have chosen gives me nearly nine years, partly because they’ll also pay me for a kidney and my eyes (one kidney is plenty for a resting body and I won’t need my eyes any more – there’s the added advantage that their removal makes an easy brain-hardware interface over the optic nerve possible).

My package also has some other interesting features. I get a guaranteed eight years, 334 days but, depending on the performance of the investment of my payment, it can be extended. There’s no way, of course, that I’ll be able to find out about this when I’ve moved to VL but that means that I won’t know the moment of my death there; when the money runs out I’ll simply wink out of existence – no warning, no pain.

Though, of course, it may happen before that; if my adventures in VL bring me into a situation in which I’m killed then that’s it. It’s a feature which “enhances the verisimilitude” of the experience, as Microgoogle™ puts it. Apparently, a guarantee of practical invulnerable immortality (even if limited for the minimum contract period) introduces such a high chaos factor that the algorithms controlling the VL world you have chosen have problems dealing with it. Amazapple™ have just offered a new package with a (limited) invulnerability option but the price means that you have to be very rich to even consider taking it.

There’s also a teaser. My package contains connections between the world I have chosen and many others. There’s no guarantee you will find them and less as to where they will lead you but Microgoogle™ is playing up this feature in their advertising with phrases such as “endless adventure in exciting quests for new worlds.”

I know it’s a tiny chance, but it opens the possibility that I might even find my son there. It’s been five years since he went virtual, after his wife and daughter had been killed in the terrorist thermonuclear incident in Paris. The life-insurance payment for his wife, plus his considerable assets, meant he was able to buy a twenty five year contract. So, as far as I know, he’s still in there somewhere.

As far as I know … The gulf between RL and VL is absolute. When the enabling legislation was being hammered out between lawyers, lobbyists and lawmakers in the US Congress and the European Parliament, this was an aspect on which both sides agreed very quickly. The idea of regular contact between VL and Real Life was anathema to both sides; an avalanche of complaints and people changing their minds, the constant destabilisation of the “real” world through news from thousands of virtual ones, lawsuits and questions of liability, pressure for RL regulation of all sorts of specific issues in the myriad RL worlds. So the decision for VL is an irrevocable one (apart from the optional thirty-day-withdrawal clause I mentioned earlier, something pushed through by the consumer-rights lobby during the legal negotiations) – a one way ticket to … wherever you want and whatever you can afford basically.

So next Tuesday I will be entering Microgoogle™’s GrandeurWorld® (3.2.01763). It’s a comfortable, fairly secure one, designed around 18th Century motives, and my role is that of a modestly wealthy, handsome young dandy with pre-programmed expertise with the rapier. Two thousand other participants will also enter with me (Amazapple™ make a play for exclusivity by trumpeting the fact that the maximum number of participants in their worlds is three hundred, but my counsellor at Virtual Bliss assures me that GrandeurWorld is big and complex enough to easily accommodate us all and that a larger number of participants can actually make the experience richer and more interesting). While I feel a little nervous, I have no regrets about leaving Real Life – as I mentioned at the beginning of this, I regard it as being irrevocably fucked-up anyway. The only worry I really have is that things here will go downhill so quickly that the whole infrastructure supporting the VLers (often called the “undead” in popular culture) will collapse, but both Microgoogle™ and Amazapple™ claim that they are prepared for every foreseeable eventuality for at least the next fifteen years (including a state-guaranteed option for them to employ private armies if they judge this necessary).

The only certain thing is death anyway, and I’d rather have mine somewhere else. I must finish this now, it’s time for me to catch my flight to British Colombia, where MicroGoogle™ have the facility where my body will be stored – along with around eight million others. They have ten others worldwide and Amazapple™ has its own as well. Cynics call it the Necropolis. What do I care? This world is dying anyway.

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