When I was in my teens I always thought about how my parents struggled with technology. How I was the one who always had the answers when they had questions. I’d grown to believe I would never have the same experiences with my children; since I grew up with tech and didn’t discover it midway through my adult life. But in my early 20’s I started to think how crazy it was that babies were playing with iPhones and iPads when we didn’t have any of that as children. My generation were the first to grow with technology, but just a few short years later, these kids were the ones to be born into it.
It’s been three weeks since the company gave us all the newly refined Oculus Workstation glasses, and I’m still struggling to get used to it. My cubicle is empty now. Gone are the photos I took while traveling, in are the photos I took while traveling. Now they only exist when I place the glasses in front of me. What we imagined in 2016 has come true, and as cool as we thought it would be, the process of getting used to it is difficult. So difficult in fact, that you could possibly make an error in typing on your virtual keyboard that cost your company $10,000 yesterday.
“Excuse me, Kevin?” an unfamiliar voice said.
I quickly take off my Workstation glasses and glance up at a woman in a purple pantsuit who is standing at the end of my cubicle.
“Helena needs to see you in her office in a few minutes,” she said.
“Okay, I’ll uh… just need to run to the bathroom,” I nervously respond.
She shakes her head in understanding and walks away. I look around my empty cubicle and grab my prescriptions off the table and put them on. It’s easy to tell when someone doesn’t have special glasses on because of the lack of glow on the underside.
As I walk down the aisle, everyone is deep within their Workstation. When you’re in it yourself, you don’t notice the world around you. But unplugged, as a man walking towards his fate, you realize how funny everyone looks at empty desks tapping on nothing. And yet, they’re as busy as they would have been twenty years ago with a PC in front of them.
I don’t need to use the restroom, I was just hoping to adjust my hair and straighten my tie before I go into this… Wait, is this meeting a one on one or a group thing? What did she say? I can’t remember. Did she even specify?
The mirror reflects a man with greying hair back at me before popping up my profile.
“Hello, Employee 234168, Kevin. Would you like the faucet temperature to your liking?”
Mirrors have always seen you, but the newly installed Reflections mirror actually does see you.
I ignore the question and wet my hand as I slide it through my hair, patting down a portion sticking out, before adjusting my tie tighter to my neck. I look into the Reflections mirror for a few seconds before nodding to myself.
“Looking good!” the mirror says as I walk away.
“Just go right on in, “the receptionist, James, tells me with a smile.
I wonder if he knows what’s about to happen. I open the door and Helena is sitting alone in her office, looking at nothing while typing on nothing, even though I know that isn’t true.
“Have a seat, Mr. Jung,” she says, still typing, “Thank you for coming in.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
“I’m going to assume you know why you’re in here then?” she asks.
“I have a pretty good idea of what this is about, yes.”
“Good,” Helena looks into my eyes and smiles, “Do you know of the WorkForce?”
I hesitate for a moment, thinking if my response will be considered stupid in her eyes before saying, “Yes… it’s me? My co-workers? We’re the workforce?”
Helena lets out a quick laugh. “I guess that is a correct answer, isn’t it? What I was referring to was the new Google WorkForce. They’re marvels in engineering and AI technology.”
“I hadn’t heard,” I said.
“Well, you will soon. Everyone will, actually. See, the company is transitioning to the Google WorkForce as soon as possible. That means transitioning the entire company to these robots.”
I could feel my heart beginning to race inside my chest. Is she saying what I think she’s saying?
“The company has already purchased twenty of these units. Cost them $50,000 each. Now, could you remind me how much you accidentally cost the company yesterday?”
Pausing for a moment I looked down, “Ten thousand. But please, I’ve worked here for five years, that’s…” I quickly try to add up the days in my head, “That’s almost two thousand days. I’ve made one mistake in nearly two thousand days. That has to count for something.”
“It does, it’s about half of a half percent of humor error,” she said. “See, humans aren’t perfect but these new WorkForce bots are designed to work at peak efficiency. They can work day and night and at a one-time cost. It’s going to save the company millions when we can replace an entire floor.”
“But your job-“
“Is safe for now.”
“Humans designed these things isn’t there-“
“If there is error, I’m sure it’s half of that half of the half,” she said.
“One mistake in five years and the possibility of one mistake in, what? Ten years? That’s why I’m gone?”
“No, Mr. Jung. You’re just unfortunately the first casualty in a fight you didn’t know you were in.”
I could only look down. Thinking about how I could ever recover if this is what was going to face us within years, or months, or even days.
“Samantha outside will help you with whatever you may need.” Helena pointed to the door, signaling me to head out.
So I do, into the uncertain future thrown before me. Wondering how can I fix any of this. Or how I get back for it.
Originally written at California State University East Bay in 2017.