A Brief (and unfulfilling) Conversation

18 April, 2011 § Leave a comment

This was exactly the sort of thing that annoyed her. She had chosen this table because it was empty. The cafe was one of the few places she wasn’t constantly connected to the Exchange. She had put her purse on the second chair so no one would be tempted to share. And this guy had the nerve to just move her purse onto the table and take a seat. No coffee shop courtesy.

Until he pushed the second cup in his hands over to her. “This one’s for you.”

“If you were meeting someone, you have the wrong table,” she informed him, pushing the steaming cup back his way. But to her surprise, the stranger shook his head and said briskly, “It’s a white chocolate mocha. Yours has been gone for half an hour, Vivianne.”

She was sure she didn’t know him, but it’s not like her port profile was a secret – anyone could have recognized her from it. So she pasted on a smile, thanked him for the drink, and waited to hear an explanation for why this stranger had sought out an Exchange administrator.

“We want the secret.”

She blinked and waited, but he just looked at her, expectant but guarded, so she began, “I’m not sure I understand what you—”

“Listen. I know your angle. Your team has been in charge for six years now and we’ve been watching. We know what you say, the face you put on for the world. We’re not unfamiliar to your *revolution/great shift* and how you say it operates. You say it’s the decision of the crowd—”

She raised a skeptical eyebrow in protest but he shook his head and continued, abandoning his cool demeanor from before. “Listen, I’m just a middleman, but you have connections, and my boss would pay a lot for what you’ve learned…on the inside. I’ve sent a number -in dollars – to your port device but that will disappear 24 hours from now. That’s how long we’ll wait for your information.”

Her eyes flicked over to where her port rested in her purse before she looked up to address him. “I don’t think you understand how things work around here, “she began, “um, what’s your name?” she asked.

“You can call me Lawrence.” He’d taken his elbows off the table and leaned back to sit, tense and upright.

“Lawrence,” she rolled her eyes, “you are welcome to my information. You and your boss are welcome to the Exchange files, all of the election ballots are filed publicly online and are synced to every citizen’s port account. If you’re looking for fraud, you don’t have to ask me, you can check the records yourself. And we haven’t been running this country for the last six years. Everyone has.” She shrugged and continued, “I’m just one of their favorite secretaries.”

“I organize. I enforce the rules. When eleven-thousand people suggest solutions to one problem, I figure out how we can sort through, pick the best ones, and let every citizen on the port vote on those top ideas. That’s what’s been happening here and you are welcome to see any of that data.”

Lawrence said nothing, just continued staring at her expectantly. She shrugged her shoulders, took a sip of the drink he’d put in front of her earlier, and let her eyes flit back to her e-reader sitting on the table. This was her personal time, and she didn’t appreciate being interrupted by those who didn’t understand the Exchange government and weren’t willing to listen when someone explained it to them.

Sure, she did work in one of the highest offices but that was because she was good at her job and everyone knew it. But Lawrence could ask anyone in this coffee shop how the Exchange worked and they could tell him as much as she could. They all contributed in one way or another, and they all logged their weekly hours contributing to the Exchange. Whether they spent those hours typing up proposals, making edits, or voting on those written by others, or a myriad of other tasks that were left to the crowd to complete, they were still all part of how things got done.

That had been the agreement when they switched to this form of government. Crowdsourcing will only benefit the crowd if the crowd remains active and involved in every level.

Lawrence finally cleared his throat. “Well, I feel like I’ve made myself clear. My employer wants to know who’s really running the show, and you’re close enough to the top to know. If you’re worried about repercussions, we can cover for you and make it look like the data was stolen from you. This will not reflect poorly on you. No one will know. Our offer is on the table and on your port device.” He glanced up from the table at her and softened his voice to add, “We’re only looking for honesty. We just want to know who we’re dealing with. You wouldn’t be endangering your country.”

She watched him push his chair back and walk out of the cafe. Past the group of wrinkled old men huddled together playing chess, past a woman on her laptop scrolling through some of the details for next year’s government health spending,, every now and then clicking and typing little notes, and past two high school students either doing homework or creating a new level for a favorite video game – maybe both.

The stranger got into a dark sedan and was gone. Another disbeliever.

She shook her head and tucked her hair back behind her ears. Before she could return to her reading, she took a moment to wonder why other governments and other peoples were still so skeptical. So unwilling to take seriously a country that had risen to the greatest in the world, riding on the never-ending crest of the ideas of its people.

All of those peoples, Lawrence and whoever he worked for, searching for answers that were so close to their faces they refused to see them. All of them underestimating their own power. Couldn’t believe a government could truly be as strong as each of its citizens — each of their contributions and all of the time they collectively donated to make everything function, little by little.

She was only one part of that, and thousands of others would keep things running while she took a coffee break. She allowed herself a brief, satisfied grin, and continued reading.

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