"I hate doing this list." EditorOne@TheList is pacing back and forth, his face a study in frustration. I try to capture his expression in a few strokes of my stylus on the n-pad I have resting on my lap so he won't notice it.
"We have six hours till press," I remind him.
"Swell. Like I needed that reminder."
I don't quite get what his problem is. The computer does all the work, after all. How hard can it be to crunch the data on the persona with the most F-friends? I should learn to keep my yap shut. But, of course, I can't resist asking what the problem is.
"The problem? The problem?" His face turns a dangerous shade of purple. Then he sighs, running fingers through his thick -- clearly implanted -- hair. "U young folks just don't get it, do U."
Heard that one before. I add some shading to the sketch to capture his flushed face.
"R U listening?"
I snap my head up. "Yes, sir."
"No, UR not. UR texting somebody."
Like, I can't listen and text (or draw) at the same time? I slip the n-pad beneath my thigh. "Sorry. U were saying that I don't understand the problem. Frankly, that's true. We have six hours to collect jpegs of the top ten, once the computer does its thing. What's the big deal?"
EditorOne parks his buttocks on a nearby desk and crosses his arms. "Sometimes I think I was born at the wrong time, the wrong century. U ever feel that way?"
"Sure. I'd like to be living in the future after they've finally solved the problem of time travel. They should have done it by now, U ask me. How hard can it be, after all? U could go back to the past or move forward to see what's coming down the pike. U could skip the bad times, like the wars and the plagues of olden days, not to mention the Armageddon that everyone's always predicting. Sweeeet."
He shakes his head sorrowfully. "I might have known. Me. I'll take the late twentieth century. Nice and peaceful. Pre Terror Wars, pre Consolidation, pre all this . . ." He waves his myData in the air. "U ever hear of a dictionary, FridayTwo?"
"A relic of the print age that contained definitions of all the words used in a particular language," I reply, pleased that I've had the foresight to do a recall-inject before coming to work this morning.
"It did morph to cyberspace, U know."
"Yes, sir. I use it often, especially when I'm dealing with topics of a historical nature, like, say, automobiles or wilderness."
He raises an eyebrow. "Did U ever look up the word famous?"
Obedient as ever, I call it up on myData. "Someone who has more F-friends than most."
This solicits a heavy groan from EditorOne. "All right. That's the basic meaning. But we keep getting the same people on our list every year. Somebody's gaming the system, which shouldn't be too hard to do since it's only a transaction. Friend everybody U possibly can, and, if U really work the system, soon enough, U wind up with more F-friends than anybody else."
"Exactly. Got to hand it to those folks."
He shakes his head. "They're debasing the currency."
"Ah, what?" When did money come into the picture?
"How many F-friends of URs do U really know, FridayTwo?"
I'm about to say all of them, but I figure that isn't what EditorOne really wants to hear. "Depends on what U mean by know, I suppose."
"Exactly," he says. "The old dictionary made the point that knowing something meant U understood it. How many F-friends do U have, FridayTwo?"
I shrug. "Two, three million, I think. Haven't checked the count lately."
"Do U understand every single one of them?"
"Sure. I know what they look like -- and sometimes they even offer up "before" jpegs just to show how great the "after" is -- and what kind of media they like and what they're thinking and what they're doing or going to do with links to their F-friends. U know the drill."
"I have only the minimum number of F-friends required by law. Hate it."
"Look," he says, trying to come across all reasonable. "Let's try it from another angle. What do UR three million F-friends know about U?"
"Well, here, let me show --"
He holds his hand out to stop me opening the page on myData. "They know only what U want them to."
"And UR point is . . .?"
"I bet U don't tell 'em U've got an obsessive grooming habit, always picking at UR cuticles or that mole on UR neck. Or how many lifestyle procedures U've had. Six? Ten?"
I can feel my face getting a bit hot. "How'd U --?" "-- I'm not criticizing U. I don't really care, actually. But I do have eyes, and I'm sure U know what the word observant means." He pauses. "Look, the point I'm trying to make is UR F-friends don't really know U, just as U don't really know them."
Now, it's my turn to cross my arms. "So what? I don't care if SirenNine picks her nose, for gosh sakes. Or whether she's even done one lifestyle. I dig her jpeg, her taste in media, her cool F-friends. That's all I need."
"U ever met her in the flesh?"
"'Course not. She's on the other side of the world."
"UR saying U don't even want to meet her? Touch her? Even kiss her?"
This is getting uncomfortably personal. Of course, I've fantasized about SirenNine. Often. I've done even more than that, truth be told, considering I'm a perfectly normal guy. But EditorOne isn't a Peace Enforcer, and I'm not an Alleged Suspect obliged to confess all. And, anyway, U never know, do U? SirenNine could be a particularly complex and sophisticated avatar. I so don't need to discover that. Or she could be a Manti hoax, which would be truly embarrassing. "It's possible to have friends U've never met," I explain, as though speaking to a five-year-old.
At the look of puzzlement on my face, he adds, "Look it up."
"Yes, sir. But regarding our list of the world's most famous persona, it is our most popular issue."
"I am well aware of that. Through it, many lives are made better. And I'm sure some will also be lost."
Ah, so that's what's bothering him. Back in the Dark Ages, a study of friending showed that fame was the thing young people wanted most in life. Well, duh? As one of the study subjects had so aptly put it, without fame, U aren't alive. Later studies traced the rising suicide rates to people who felt they just weren't ever going to have enough F-friends. "We can't be responsible for people who don't make the effort to acquire . . ." My voice peters out as I realize I'm maybe talking about my boss.
"Like me, U mean?" He laughs, a short bark like a Beaglebot. "Don't U wish."
"No, sir. I certainly do not."
"Correct answer, FridayTwo. Now, back to what I was trying to explain: The same people show up in the top ten because it's become a profession for them -- their, to borrow an ancient term, raison d'être. Yet, it's all wasted effort. Completely meaningless."
"It's just numbers. The most famous person in the world is simply a guy -- or a gal -- who's devoted his life's work to acquiring F-friends. He/she probably has some kind of system, maybe a computer program that does the outreach even while he/she's asleep. Or maybe he/she's got Fridays galore whose only jobs are to keep on friending folks in his/her name. Who knows what's involved?" He throws his hands in the air.
And that's when it hits me. He/she might not even be human. Probably isn't human. Otherwise, it wouldn't be the same persona every year hitting the top ten. "Perhaps we should change the criteria," I say. "Not this year, of course. It's too late. But maybe we should say they have to prove it was all their own effort, not a program or a 'bot or a bunch of Fridays or something like --"
"U don't get it, do U."
Heard that already.
EditorOne starts up his pacing again. "Famous, back in the Stone Age, used to mean U'd done something -- or were somebody -- remarkable enough to be noticed by people who otherwise wouldn't even realize U existed. U know. Queen Elizabeth. Albert Einstein. Lance Armstrong. Persona like that."
Well, lectures from EditorOne go with the territory. I suppress a sigh and lean back in my chair.
"Didn't matter if people 'liked' U, either." He's using that old-fashioned gesture of putting finger quotes around the word liked. "Lance Armstrong, for example. People loved that guy. And then they didn't. Either way, he was still famous."
"That's the athlete who won all those prizes, and then it turned out he'd been cheating?"
"Apropos of this year's list, wouldn't U say? How many times can BakerFifteen
Dunkins turn up at the top of our list before folks begin to wonder?"
"UR saying, like, they'll think we've rigged the contest?"
EditorOne nods. "Or that these particular persona are big-time cheats, and we failed to catch them."
"We could call in the Peace Enforcers, U think there's a problem."
"Too late, my man. They wouldn't find anything in --" he peeks at his myData -- "five hours and change. Not enough time."
"So what do we do?"
"I'm asking U, FridayTwo. UR the F-friend expert around here."
I run his statement about fame through the recall center in my brain. Ah. There is the answer. "We change the head. Not, 'The World's Most Famous Person,' but 'The World's Most Friended Person.' It's accurate -- more accurate, in fact, if we go by what U were saying earlier."
"Hmmm." EditorOne is clearly searching his own recall center. "That just might work, FridayTwo. Hardly anybody will notice if we change one word in a headline. And then, next year . . . ?"
I smile. "Next year, we change the criteria. If U want to be The World's Most Famous Person, U have to have done something or be somebody that other people know about --"
"-- people who aren't UR F-friends," he jumps in. "U'd have to do something as life-changing as a Jobs" (he holds up his myData) "or the guy who invented myJet or win the Mumbai Prize or be mentioned in media often enough to get noticed by those ignorant billions who've never heard of U before."
"Like . . ." I snap my fingers, trying to recall that amazing super nova who'd dominated the media of the early twenty-first century. "Like Kim Kardashian?"
* * *