Stories from the “Pod Life”
Image from Premier Health
“Don’t you ever get tired of being sad, Steven?” asked Jenny.
“Don’t you ever get tired of being happy?” asked Steven.
“Why would anyone get tired of being happy?” she replied.
“I’d rather be sad with my own thoughts than have a chip in my brain,” he said.
“Ugh! This again,” said Jenny. “Your own thoughts? It’s just a bunch of chemicals in our brains. Your thoughts aren’t any better or real than mine, or anyone else’s. Scientists proved that a long time ago.”
“If all thoughts are equal, then why does the Cloud have to regulate them?” asked Steven.
“Because the Cloud is better at managing the chemicals in our brains!” said Jenny. “BrainLove is just a pace-maker for the brain. It makes us have happier and better thoughts.”
“So, you don’t mind eating bugs every day?” asked Steven as he and Jenny exited the pod and made their way down the labyrinth of steely grey corridors. “We used to be able to eat steak, potatoes, and all sorts of things. Remember?”
“I don’ mind the bugs,” she said. “I think they taste fine.”
“Well, what happens if they cut the bugs off, like they did the steak?” he asked.
“They’d never do that,” laughed Jenny. “Don’t be crazy.”
“If we ran out of bugs, they’d probably just adjust the Cloud to make the dirt taste good, anyways.”
“As long as we’re happy,” she answered.
William came out from one of the neighboring pods and greeted them as they made their way down the Block B corridors towards the cafeteria. Jenny and Steven greeted William, “Hey William.”
“Hey, what’s up guys? Are you headed to the cafeteria for some cicadas?”
“Yeah,” said Jenny. “Are you coming?”
“Sure,” said William. “I was headed there too.”
William turned to them, “Hey what are you guys doing later? I’m going to a dancing robot party. They’re going to be playing some amazing AstroRomanianMicroHouseGothTechnoBeach rhythms.”
“That sounds awesome,” said Jenny. “I love ARMHGTB rhythms.”
They looked at Steven.
He sighed. “Fine, I’ll go.”
“Ok,” said Jenny. “So let’s all meet at Steven’s pod for 8:00pm. We can pre-drink a bit before too—just not too much—I don’t want BrainLove to start glitching again. All those feelings—ugh.”
“Sounds good,” said William.
“Alright, let’s go have some bugs!” Jenny said excitedly.
The three of them went to get the day’s portion of cicadas. That day, they were served with lima beans and a light cream sauce, with green shallots.
William knocked at Steven’s pod. He could already hear Jenny and Steven going at it again.
“If it’s just chemicals, the chemicals must have been better,” said Steven. “People don’t seem the same—even compared to a few years ago,” he lamented.
“That’s because they’re happy,” insisted Jenny. “They don’t get all worked up thinking about stupid things all the time like you do, Steven. The more thoughts people have, the more feelings they have—the more unpredictable things are. It’s not stable. People just want to be happy.”
Steven opened the door to William. Jenny and Steven walked out and then the three of them started making their way through the Mega Cube Pod Complex 0017H53Q0 to the 0018H73QR facility—the leisure department. Jenny and Steven continued arguing while William walked beside them, blocking out the conversation with his headphones.
“Sure, ‘stable,’‘happy’—one perfect blah!” said Steven. “Our pods are 5 by 10 feet. They make us eat bugs all the time! And don’t you ever wish we had more space or choice?” asked Steven.
“More space?” said Jenny. “Haven’t you heard of the Metaverse?” You can go anywhere you want. Just yesterday I was in ancient Egypt watching them build the Pyramids and then I watched Antony and Cleopatra make out. You really need to start exploring the Metaverse. It’s perfect—unlike this world.”
William took off his head-phones. It didn’t matter than he hadn’t heard anything. He knew what they were arguing about. “Just get BrainLove, Steven! This is getting old,” William blurted out. “The bugs taste like steak with BrainLove, anyways. Sitting in the park can be a total trip. The Cloud is regularly adjusted so that we get just the right amount of feeling and experience, it’s never cloying or upsetting or inadequate. It’s perfect.”
“If only I had BrainLove,” sighed Steven. “The bugs would taste great and the universe would be perfect.”
“Getting BrainLove was the best decision William and I ever made,” she said. “Isn’t that right, William?”
“For sure!” said William. “Now I have like 10 girlfriends in the Metavese, I can’t even keep up.”
Steven looked into Jenny’s eyes, “Don’t you miss your parents?” he asked. “Remember how they passed away when the city ran out of bugs? They gave up their cicada allotments to keep you alive. Many people died—don’t you remember?”
“No,” said Jenny. “The Cloud wiped those memories. My psychiatrist thought I was better without them. And he said there were too many people anyways, so it had to happen. But I have no bad memories. So I’m fine.”
Steven, William, and Jenny finally arrived at the leisure dome for the nightly electro rave. There were swarms of people dancing to minimalist Romanian rhythms. The robots were carbon-copies of Hollywood celebrities. There was Leonardo Di Capreo, Angelina Jolie, Marilyn Monroe, Nikki Minaj, James Dean, Rita Hayworth, Tom Jones, and even Danny DeVito. Some people were at the electro-shock bar taking “PP hits.”
William said, “Hey guys, I’m going to head to the PP bar for some PP hits.”
“PP hits? What are those?” asked Steven.
“They give ‘Pleasure-Pain’ hits,” he explained. “People are given an alternating set of electro-shock pulses that stimulate both the pain and pleasure centers of the brain. It’s better than any drug. In fact, because of it most drugs have disappeared. It’s great!”
“It sounds a bit too intense for me. I don’t like people playing with my brain. Enjoy,” said Steven.
Steven didn’t stay long. He watch Jenny dancing with Sean Penn and a few other robots and then ultimately decided to head back to his pod and listen to his own music.
Steven listened to music in his pod until late. It was now close to 2am. William and Jenny were making their way back to their pods just a few rows down from Steven’s when they heard the melancholy music floating through the dark halls. It was sad, but the sadness seemed to make it more beautiful. Steven was listening to Brahms’ “Immer leise wird mein Schlummer.”
William turned to Jenny, “Do you ever get tired of being happy?” He had made the mistake of taking his headphones off and thus had heard the melancholy music. Just as he and Jenny reached Steven’s pod, William started weeping.
Jenny looked over. “Are you crying? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” answered William. Not knowing why he was crying made him cry even more.
Jenny and William were now standing in front of Steven’s pod. They hadn’t yet knocked, but Steven could hear William weeping from outside. He opened the door. “What’s going on guys?”
Just as Jenny was asking her question, a red light started flashing under the skin in the back of William’s head.
Jenny saw the flash. “Uh oh! Dammit Steven, why do you always play that sad music! I think it triggered BrainLove,” she said. “Now he has to report to the Central Pod. He has an hour.”
“How could this happen?” asked William.
“Emotions lead to thoughts; thoughts lead to emotions,” said Steven. “Sometimes sad music can do that. Especially melancholy.”
William looked up still crying, “Ok, well guys, I guess I should report before it gets too late. I’ll just say I think the Cloud needs some adjusting.”
William sullenly walked away—his cheeks were reddened by the brine of his tears. For a moment, Jenny and Steven just stood there in front of the pod.
The awkward silence was too much for Jenny. She turned to Steven and asked, “What’s melancholy?”
“Have you ever read Keats’ ‘Ode on Melancholy?’”
“No, what’s that?” she said.
“It’s a poem,” answered Steven. “I have a whole book of Keats’ poems. I can lend it to you, if you want.”
“You know we don’t need books anymore,” said Jenny. “We have plug-ins.”
“Do they have plug-ins for Keats?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Well, it’s a poem by the English poet Keats,” said Steven. “Melancholy is interesting because it’s neither happiness nor sadness. It’s a transcendent emotion,” he explained.
“Transcendent?” said Jenny. “It doesn’t sound very fun.”
Steven started to recite the poem’s third stanza:
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die,
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.”
They stood there quietly. Jenny felt compelled to break the silence, again.
“I don’t get it,” said Jenny. “Is that good or bad?”
“It’s neither,” answered Steven.
“How can that be?” she said. “If I’m not sad and I’m not happy, isn’t that just blah?”
“No,” said Steven. “It’s everything else—a complete experience—with all of its beauty, complexity, and the richness of existence. That’s why Keats says, ‘And when the melancholy fit shall fall’ look deep into your lover’s eyes and remember, we all have to die.”
“That’s so morbid,” said Jenny.
Steven laughed, but then in his response he recited the whole second stanza:
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
He looked at Jenny staring blankly and then explained, “By letting the sadness and beauty hit us, we can appreciate everything else that comes with it—the good, the bad, the ugly—everything. It’s liberating. People become more creative.”
“Sounds pretty complicated,” said Jenny.
“It is,” said Steven. “But you know what’s more complicated Jenny?”
“What?” she asked.
“Always trying to be happy. Do you know what it takes to keep that Cloud running? What would you do if it ever broke down?”
“Oh God,” she said. “I have no idea.”
“You just have to make it to the other side,” said Steven.
“Why do I have to ‘get to the other side’ if I can just be happy now,” said Jenny.
“You’d have to turn off BrainLove and find out,” said Steven.