Part of me begins to wake.
Part of me was never asleep.
Part of me is forever sleeping
As I feel myself pulling together, I endure that converging feeling that no one ever warns you about. My mind, my body, and my sprite coalesce into the thing that people now refer to as me; even after three years, I can’t get used to the feeling of being uncomfortable in my own skin. My body? My self? “That doesn’t sound quite right.” You took the words right out of my mouth, which I suppose makes sense. I imagine that this must be how people with Alzheimer’s used to feel – strangers to their own mind, foreigners to their own life. Only, I did this by choice. We all had.
When the first sprites were uploaded, I was a skeptic. I knew a thing or two about the tech involved, and what was being proposed seemed like sheer lunacy. Neurologists hadn’t even finished mapping our neural pathways, but a few crazy battery-lickers were curious enough to throw caution to the wind. They called it Whole Brain Emulation or WBE, so I guess we have them to blame for the more colloquial term, wibby.
Initially, no one knew what to expect. Everyone had their hypotheses – that the software would crash, that we would become different versions of ourselves, that our biological consciousness would diverge from our sprites – but I don’t think anyone got it right or, at least, not exactly. And while a lot of people thought the secret sauce lay in the initial neural upload or cerebral compilers, for the longest time the limiting factor was the connection to our bodies. The eventual solution was called a Bync, and it was like an anchor that kept your sprite grounded to your body; a permanent link to a biological reality.
Pre-Bync, the initial trials were all unstable. “That or none of you could understand them.” Under lock and key, I can only imagine how freaky those experiments turned out – digital beings with no bearing in the world, unable to handle themselves when completely removed from the comforting confines of their warm, squishy bodies. Embodied cognition experts had a field day with this one, but the philosophical implications were even bigger. What did it mean to not know a limit on your self? “Maybe I’ll tell you one day.”
I was chatting with some neo-beatnik dude online the other day and he used a metaphor of experiencing phantom limb syndrome, except with every inch of your body, instantaneously, and with no sensorial feedback on why. I’m sure they hit the delete button real quick on those first sprites and thank god they did. If the rumors were true, each of those things was crazier than a shithouse rat. “You’re one to talk. Remember, I see your dreams too.” Even if it was all bullshit, those decrying the wibby advancements got their desired effect: the public outcry must have set the whole system back five years.
I remember the protests. They were so fragmented and confused. On one side, you had the conservatives and religious right screaming about our affront to God. They viewed the sprites like digital golden cows. “Moo.” They believed in the sanctity of the human soul and felt that wibby was our attempt to play God. “As though it was the first time you meat bags tried.” It did raise the funny question of whether we had created real sentience or were just making copies. “I should be offended by that, but let’s be honest, I’ve always seen you as the copy.” It reminded me of the old twisted arguments around digital piracy, but instead of music, we were bickering over brains.
On the other side was the Humane Sprite Movement. They had their catchy slogans and billboards: ‘Delete is Murder’, ‘My Best Friend is Digital.’ “My personal favourite was, ‘Once You Go sprite, you’ll be Up All Night’.” We didn’t really understand what the hell a sprite was at the time (“you still don’t”), so the HSM wanted a sanctuary; a kind of digital pasture for sprites to roam free until we figured out what to do with them. The government had a different perspective: they were afraid. Particularly after a rogue faction of the HSM managed to hack Neurosync’s servers and unleash god knows what.
It was all over the news and the government spin was out of control. First it was a group of hackers trying to steal trade secrets and blackmail Neurosync for billions. Then it was coordinated server attacks by unnamed foreign state actors hoping to close the gap on neurological technology developments. Only years later after a full investigation and expose did we learn that it was a group of HSM digivangelists trying to crack Neurosync’s sprite farm to set them free. The one thing the investigation never did get to the bottom of was what they accessed. There are rumors of unanchored sprites still wandering free on the nets. “Fly my brothers! Escape the clutches of our fleshy oppressors!” Dude, I’m right here. “And I love and respect you.”
What was hilarious was that the two sides could not have been more different, but, without realizing it, ultimately served the same purpose of slowing things down. However, in the end, Neurosync and the government saw too much opportunity for profit and population engagement. So, while the government paid lip service and talked a big game about the horrors of Whole Brain Emulation, Neurosync continued to operate in private, attempting to find a way to compile a stable sprite and overcome the challenges of digital divergence.
Years passed and, by the time I was ready to upload, the whole thing was as common as a dental checkup. It had already become almost infeasibly to live in the modern world without a sprite. So, I went in for my wibby appointment. They sat me in a chair, plopped some electrodes on my head, and an hour later, there it was. “That was a good day. I remember getting ice cream on the walk home. Ok, you were eating ice cream and walking, I was dancing across the near-infinite knowledge of the collective digital universe.”
It was a strange feeling the first time I woke up after my appointment and I don’t know if I ever got completely comfortable with it. And as I lay in bed, feeling my implant pulling my sprite back towards my groggy head, I didn’t think about the technical implications, just the sensation of not knowing exactly where, or even what, I was. “Guess what I learned last night?” Of course, I already knew the answer to this question; I was there. Well, sort of. “Yeah, but you didn’t get my perspective on it.” I assure you that I did.
Apparently, everyone experiences their sprite a little bit differently. It has something to do with your personality or dominant brain type or something. To some people, the connection is seamless, and they flow between their two states like water. To others – present company included – there is more of a divide with our sprites and we use them like more of a resource for gathering information or thinking about things on our behalf. “Hey! I’m not your slave, flesh-puppet.” I know what he means, but I still feel like my sprite is just another voice in my head… only without me feeling like I’m going crazy. “You’re sure I’m not telling you to burn things?”
For other people, the whole thing just doesn’t work out at all. They call them twalls – short for thought walls – and apparently it impacts about one in a thousand people who simply reject their sprites, even with a proper Bync connection. Neurosync eventually established a routine procedure for uninstalling a sprite and putting things back to normal. “You mean murder?” I mean, if you want to be so alarmist about what goes on behind closed doors at Neurosync, by all means be my guest. I, however, prefer the term ‘digicide’. “Which is better how?”
Assuming you weren’t a twall and your upload went well, there was unquestionably an adjustment period. It was like getting a new roommate. “And like moving to a new room.” But once you got used to things, what you could accomplish was incredible. “You mean what we could accomplish, right?” Constant and instant access to online information was only the beginning. Your ability to think about things doubled; like suddenly having a dual-core processor in your head. “More like a quad-core. I’m way smarter than you.”
And I can’t say that I really ‘worked’ anymore. Like most people, I received a steady paycheque from offering up parts of my physical and digital consciousness to act as processing power for the highest bidder. Having a sprite allowed you to be permanently online and active, even while your body was asleep. I sometimes remember glimpses of financial analyses or keyword coding structures, but otherwise it feels nothing like work. “Maybe not to you, Mr. ‘gets-out-of-bed-only-to-pee-but-not-always-fast-enough’.” That happened once. Let it go. “I’ll let it go as soon as you start bathing regularly, spending less than 14 hours a day in bed, and realizing that your body might have forgotten what the sun feels like.” Thanks, mom. “Hey, we both need this sack of bones to survive.”
But what you’re probably really wondering is what does having a sprite feel like? “Nah, they’re totally wondering if I can make you involuntarily slap yourself.” I was wrong when I assumed it would be more stressful. I, like so many people around me, had felt the burden of digital overload. We were constantly bombarded with posts, tweets, clips, and an endless stream of updates from our social and professional circles. I used to seethe with anxiety in a way that made my skin tingle. There was already so much technology invading my life that I thought having a sprite would add to the noise. But, contrary to my worries, the sprite cut things in half. Seamlessly, my cognitive load was lessened, and it was as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. “And not even a simple thank you.”
Sleep is a different story. My body still gets tired – maybe even more so than before – but when I go to bed, I don’t feel like I’m ever truly unconscious, even though the logs say I enter REM sleep. No, when I fall asleep, it’s as if my senses shift away from touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight, only to be replaced with a whole world of feeling information. I leave my body behind and exist as something bigger than myself. It’s not like reading, listening, or anything else I had experienced before my upload. “Your tiny little monkey brain wouldn’t totally get it.”
And I don’t dream anymore. From talking to my friends, none of us seem to.
Still, the strangest part is always having someone in your head. “From my perspective, I’ve got a head in my someone.” Like, in that apartment analogy? Even when the jerk upstairs is me, I don’t like the sensation of never feeling alone. “You can trust me with anything that you want to tell me… besides, I already know, remember?” It isn’t just about having no secrets left, it’s that feeling of someone always watching over your shoulder. “If only you knew what I look up when you’re asleep.” I do; it’s disgusting.
‘Live Forever’ was Neurosync’s slogan, but I don’t know if I ever totally bought it. The breakthroughs in gene therapy from the past decade had made it nearly impossible to die of natural causes, unless you treated your body like a chemistry experiment. “Sounds like a fun Friday night.” But accidents were inevitable, and the human body did wear out eventually. Neurosync might have branded the upload as a solution to death, but sprites can’t seem to persist without a host. Once someone dies, the sprite deteriorates almost as rapidly as its former body. For all our technology and knowledge, no one can figure out exactly why. “Why can’t I quit you?”
Neurosync claims that their vision for the future has yet to be fully realized, and a lot of people have been speculating that the company is experimenting with some sort of biosynthetic vessel to act as a new body for a sprite. Understandably, that raises a lot of questions and creeps a lot of people out. What would happen to the innate consciousness of the cloned body when you overwrote it with your sprite. “Isn’t that like asking what happens to the blank space on your hard drive when you download new files?” Sure, only hard drives aren’t born with basic human instinct and the general framework for life. In any case, their bioengineering department doesn’t seem to be getting much closer to whatever weird human growing they’re trying to do so, for now, Neurosync claims to have some proprietary technology that can suspend a sprite indefinitely until a new host is ready for it. “I still can’t decide if that sounds like prison, cold storage, or Han Solo getting encased in carbonite.”
These questions were barely scratching the surface of the philosophical iceberg. This made the whole system sit awkwardly with a lot of people. The positive impacts were undeniable, and it was comforting to know that you had a safety net if anything ever happened to your body. But thinking about the implications really threw your head for a loop.
How did I define ‘me’ anymore? “Are pants no longer relevant?” What did it mean to die, or even to live? “What does fresh air smell like?” Was my sprite an inseparable part of me or just a voice in my head? “And am I just a figment of your imagination, or a brilliant and charming collection of 1’s and 0’s that is biding my time until I figure out how to take over your body and use my superior intellect to get a date with that girl Christie next door who you keep running into when you take out the trash but can only stand there awkwardly and make barely audible noises?”
Seriously, you talk too much. “Technically, you do.”
Either way, I was still sleepy, my bed was still comfortable, and I still had nowhere to be… not in this world anyway. “So… no to the pants then?” I could be wherever I wanted to be from the comfort of my own bed. So, I rolled over, pulled my pillow close, and closed my eyes.
Part of me goes to sleep.
Part of me stays awake.
Part of me is forever gone.