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Upstream

K. S. O'Neill lives with his lovely wife on the Texas coast, where he teaches math at a small college. This is his second appearance in Daily Science Fiction.
Maddy's working a half-day even though it's Friday. She gives me a smooch and looks sideways at the cameras in the kitchen.
"They're off!" I tell her, rolling my eyes a bit.
She grins at me and leaves. She's in a good mood; we made bank last night. She doesn't mind cameras in the bedroom, and we play it up a little. Why not? We look good; we're good at it. Who cares? But for her cameras in the kitchen and the living room are different, so they usually stay off.
It's too bad; Danny's three, Caroline's thirteen. And we have a cute little spaniel, too. Prime demographics, active and charming. Lots of market.
I view the mail while the kids eat breakfast. A note from my Mom in Texas, starting her fifth marriage at 92. Typical. Old, horny, smart, rich, sentimental. Sleeps one hour a night. Investments across the world, manages them herself. Spends hours downstreaming vidya, watching kids and animals and nature shows and sex. No sense of boundaries--her BuyShare file is totally public. Thanks Mom, good to know what you think of the latest VibroSeat, that's great.
And she's getting healthier. Hell, she may never die. None of us may ever die of natural causes again. So they retire and pile up, more of them every day, investing money, controlling more and more of the economy, and gobbling up entertainment.
We're the entertainment.
I make jam sandwiches and dump a bag of Smart Bricks out on the living room floor. Caroline looks death at me. Very strong sense of order in a thirteen year old, she's easily exasperated by parental ploys like chase-the-bricks.
Danny is not. He hoots in delight and teeters off after them, waving his jam sandwich in the air, chubby legs running unsteadily.
Without thinking, I look up at the cameras on the wall. I could upstream for an hour and make bank. Danny's right in the fat part of the demographic; limited speech, high movement but also high error rate, lots of pratfalls and cute mis-speech. I'd probably have ten recutters buying the upstream in no time. Maddy would never even have to know.
Crap.
I get up and stalk into the kitchen for more coffee, mad at myself. She's right! She's absolutely right. Look at me. They're my kids, and I can't even enjoy a day with them. Right away I think about how to sell it, how to sell cute clips to hordes of dried up immortal ageless old... Crap.
The cameras. Always the cameras. In the bedroom, in the kitchen, everywhere. Sucking down our whole lives. Chopped up by recutters and software into endless streams, forwarded back and forth from retirement villas in Cuba to walled apartment compounds in SF and LA, tagged with squeals and coos and "Look At This!!!!" comments by the unsleeping, ever growing, ever wealthier, ever older, voracious and undying maw.
I walk back into the living room. Danny is on his back, his face smeared with jam, dissolving into laughter as the dog carefully licks him clean.
Something inside me relaxes a tiny bit. God damn it, he really is charming.
I could vidya this for Maddy. Just for us, no upstream, a little home movie like people used to do.
I look up at the camera bank, but they're already on. The lights are peaking, there must be fifty recutters all buying the stream. I look at the sofa; Caroline's beaming at me. I didn't know she could reach the switches.
I sit down next to her. Danny gets up and toddles over to us, still laughing. Caroline pulls her sandwich apart, sticks her tongue out at him, and smears more jam onto his face. He turns, runs and trips over the dog, and explodes into more giggles.
"Look at those NUMBERS!" Her eyes are shining. "Daddy, we're making BANK."
I forgot to sugar my coffee. I walk back into the kitchen, but behind me I can hear her telling me how cute he is, how much we're making, that we should upstream everything all the time, that if we do she can go to camp next summer, right? Right Daddy? Right?
"Hush," I tell her as I walk back in. "You'll mess up the audio. They want to hear him laughing."
We sit quietly on the sofa as the cameras track him rolling on the floor with the dog. He's squealing and giggling, and we watch the numbers climb.
Maddy will be home in two hours. Until then, we're making BANK.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, July 3rd, 2014


Who could have predicted at the dawn of the internet that so much bandwidth would be devoted to funny pictures of kittens and videos of people falling down on icy sidewalks? But the demand only seems to be growing. We're a funny species, aren't we?

- K. S. O'Neill

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