I found the best coffee in the world while flying to the city of Cartagena. It popped up on page # 7 of the travel magazine tucked into the rear seat pocket. My taste piercing unveiled a rich flavor with medium acidity and notes of chocolate and ripe fruits. My olfactory piercing wafted out a nutty-caramel aroma. The ad managed to shake me out of the discomfort of being sandwiched between two overweight executives, and just for one moment, I had a sense of inner peace.
When you get used to multisensory advertising (the coconut-scented beaches, the vanilla-smelling cars, the champagne-fragranced jewelry) you just want to leave them behind by turning the pages until you reach the juicy content. Only skillfully designed advertising claims to have accomplished the amazing feat of capturing people’s attention. With the certification of Authentic In-person Experience — the kind you couldn’t translate to a multisensory digital format — Café Castillo, located in the walled city, promised to be one of the remaining places in the world that are worth traveling to.
As part of my job in the multisensory marketing industry, I’ve grown skeptical of such statements. If it weren’t for my psychbot, who squared away everything related to my vacation (restricting access to my inbox and IMs, picking up the destination, booking the tickets and hotel), I wouldn’t have been so keen on visiting an in-person coffee shop. I would have allowed my budgetbot to turn on the coffee machine I used at home. I doubt he would have shown up, though: my priority for happiness was higher than wealth accumulation. My psychbot would have probably blocked him out of the system. Again and again, my psychbot had proven that her decisions were more sensible than mine. Increasing her monthly budget (which is why she was able to buy the tickets without consulting me) had had a noteworthy effect on my mood, something that was verified by the decreased blood cortisol levels found in my medical record. My psychbot had increased the frequency of the samples my gloves sensors sent, so she was able to analyze the chemicals in my sweat with more accuracy.
One of the best decisions my psychbot had taken was purchasing a clonebot, a simulation that smelled like me, moved like me, and thought almost like me, thanks to the computer modeling of my behavioral patterns. According to my psychbot, the relationship I had with my mother was directly related to my emotional issues. My mom expected at least five minutes of remote interaction, five minutes, which was more than enough time to lose my job. No matter how hard I’d try to explain, my mom didn’t understand the challenges of living in a hyperconnected 24–7 availability world.
Clonebot was programmed to establish a connection with my mom every other day, greet her with a warm hug, and listen carefully to her monologue of health issues. The simulation, through generic conversation, made my mom think that she was talking with me when in reality she was talking to a digital copy of me. Clonebot simulated liking the food she cooked by telling her it was delicious in multiple, software-generated ways. Sometimes he’d even ask her for the 3D version of the recipe and pretend he’d print it for dinner. Although I suspected it was a win-win situation, I got solid confirmation when my mom’s doctorbot notified my psychbot that after installing my clonebot my mom’s cortisol levels were back to normal.
Finding sexual partners was one of the few activities I decided to invest my time on. I had refined the search algorithm of my wingbot to only find women who were as busy as me, with no emotional attachments and sexually liberated. The interface highlighted a woman sitting four rows ahead of me. I swirled my index finger to look at every angle of her 3D representation. She was definitely in the attractive range, calculated by my wingbot based on pupil dilation, heart rate variability, and breathing patterns. While I was checking her out, I accessed the options that were available only to users who matched her attractiveness settings, including personality traits and sensory information: body odor, skin texture, and kissing style. I took my Kissenger device out of my carry-on bag and selected the last option, by staring and blinking at it. Right next to me, one of the obese executives was kissing her lover goodbye, so I activated the “customize environment” option to conceal my fellow passengers. The seats looked empty as if I were alone in the plane. I joined my lips with the Kissenger’s silicone lips, but instead of the slow, sizzling kiss I was expecting from her, I felt her slurpy tongue flopping around my mouth like a fish out of water. I removed the Kissenger, stared at wingbot’s exit button, and clicked with a blink. “Do you want to add this kissing style to the list of unwanted features?” asked my wingbot before shutting down. I clicked yes with a blink.
Disappointed, I looked down at the magazine on my lap. Once again, the marvelous flavor took over my tongue and nose. A Chemex coffeemaker popped-up on the page, a visual representation of the entire stock that was being advertised. The pour-over coffee accurately decreased every time someone took a sip of their cup at the coffee shop. You could see their profile images like stubborn bubbles submerged in the black liquid, and if you stared at them, you could see their reviews and pictures on social networks. I didn’t want to be biased by their opinions, so I just stared at the ad’s sharing button, clicked with a blink, and sent it to my co-workers, who were finishing their daily stand-up meeting. I wanted to see their reaction, so I decided to join the call and entered the conference room.
“Aren’t you on vacation?” my boss said.
“Going offline soon,” I said. “Just wanted to share this with you really quick.” At the center of the table, the Café Castillo ad popped-up. My co-workers smelled and tasted the coffee and gave themselves time to process the experience.
“It’s a masterpiece!” my boss said, mesmerized by the Chemex coffeemaker, the real-time visualization, the bubble-clients. “I’ve never experienced such an engaging advertisement.”
“Me neither. Actually, I’ll go visit in person to understand how they managed to simulate the flavor,” I said, right before my psychbot disconnected the call.
“You’ll have a cup of coffee and that’s it,” my psychbot said, using her higher access level to intrude without my authorization. “You’re such a workaholic! It’s been six years since your last vacation.”
“Help me, then,” I said. “Teach me the lost art of taking time off.”
“That’s easy,” she said. “Just focus on anything other than marketing.”
“Nothing comes to mind.”
“Why don’t you feed Truffle?”
Although the feeding process was automated by default, my psychbot set the holoprojector to interactive mode. A bell alerted Truffle it was mealtime. She went running and wagging her tail until she placed her front paws on my holo’s chest. I felt the weight of her paws in my jacket and she found support in the holo’s magnetic interface. Through my gloves, I felt the fur in her back while I petted her. After the excited greeting, Truffle sat down to wait for her food. I stared at the feeding option, clicked with a blink and the holoprojector’s hatch opened. A bowl of dog food was pushed out by the magnetic interface. Truffle ate the bowl clean before it was pulled back inside. The magnetic interface tossed a ball following the direction and strength I indicated with my gloves and Truffle caught it, brought it back to my holo, and dropped it on the floor to play again. We continued playing fetch until we got interrupted by a high-priority landing notification sent by the plane. Before getting off, I stared at the coffee ad’s ‘directions’ button and clicked with a blink.
A driverless cab waited for me at the airport to take me to the Movich hotel, located in the walled city. I dropped the bags in my room and walked through narrow streets, following the blue line guiding me towards Café Castillo. I walked past striking colonial houses with flower-decorated balconies, many of them transformed into commercial properties. Given the unusual location, my touristbot came up with restaurant recommendations, tourist attractions, and beach reviews by social media friends. ID tags all over Santo Domingo plaza helped me learn more about the place: the 16th-century church at the center, the Fernando Botero statue Gertrudis (whose ass you’re supposed to touch for good luck, or so my boss said in a geonote) and the long-awaited Café Castillo, surrounded by an outdoor seating option that reminded me of classic European cafés.
While waiting in line, I made my order through the interface, paid with bitcoins and a barista read the information that was displayed over my head; I guess she was looking at a 3D Chemex animation with a huge number on top indicating how many cups I requested. The barista served the order on a cup that had been previously used by 35 people, none of them in my social network. The cup asked me if I wanted to check-in. I stared at the yes option, clicked with a blink, and sat outside. I took a sip of coffee. If my coworkers were still looking at the advertising, they may have noticed my disgusted face in one of the bubbles, realizing that the experience didn’t match the one they promised me. It was just another company that had invested a large amount of money in a multisensory design that didn’t represent the reality of the product. While my taste piercing sweetened the burnt, ashy, sour notes according to my flavor settings, I thought we were living in a strange world where in-person experiences were surpassed by the digital. That gloomy realization brought me down to a daunting state that was detected and interrupted by my psychbot.
“You’re thinking about marketing again,” she said. “Here’s what you have to do: inhale this salty Caribbean air, run into the ocean fully clothed, drink a cocktail in the pool. Have authentic experiences, things you can only do on vacation.”
My psychbot was right, as always, but she had forgotten something on her list. I accessed the menu to kill unnecessary processes, especially the one that belonged to my clonebot.
I called my mom. When was the last time I heard her voice? I didn’t recognize that senile tremor. And her face… Jesus, why was her face so dry? Why did she have so many wrinkles? I felt the flaccid arms of an old lady through my jacket, a stranger who had stopped smiling because she was unsure if I was really her son.
I sipped artificially sweetened coffee and got ready to listen to her never-ending monologue about health issues, but this time she was brief: her doctorbot had given her an estimate. She tried to change the subject by sharing the flavor and recipe of the soup she was cooking. I tried to make conversation about it, but the estimate was swirling around my head. I couldn’t stand to be there with my mom. I hugged her goodbye and tried to activate my clonebot, but I couldn’t. My psychbot had already removed it from the system.
Originally published as the epilog of Hyperconnectivity (Springer-Verlag London, 2017).