by Zoe Harding

(Part 3 of a serialised prose fiction endeavour. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.)


I kind of like the attack map. It’s nice to visualise the whole thing, even if perhaps ten percent of what I’m seeing is actual data derived from a fearsome net of analytics tools and keyword tracking.he rest is pretty colours and lines for the cheap seats and the press. It’s a nice reminder to stay on my toes, as well – that grey blob that covers three-quarters of my screen would love me to let my guard down so it can eat my brains and make me sell insurance.

After the Meme War ran down, and three-quarters of the world were told it was safe to turn their computers back on (the remaining quarter were left with the choice of either really getting into subsistence farming or trying to hike past the now very much functional defences on the perimeters of the Ungovernable Zones, both equally complex options even without heads full of zombie memes), the question arose of what to put on them. After all, while it was definitely a proper war, the Meme War had pretty limited casualties among its actual combatants – it was always someone else getting brain-hacked into spouting drooling nonsense, or caught in a Carmageddon in a driverless car (what a naive concept that was, letting the internet direct three tonnes of explosives and metal), or getting irradiated by a collapsing nuclear plant. One of the principle drivers of much of the early movement anger was that most of the actual fucking meme warriors got to put on suits and go and work for one of the Big Three governments once it ended, rather than getting dragged out into the daylight and castrated in the streets as most of them deserved.

The preferred social reconstruction solution was simple, utopian, and utterly ignorant and uninformed in the way that only government proclamations about the internet can be. The anti-net neutrality vultures never quite went away, retreating into hardened corporate intranets too dull to get caught in the barrage of directionless nerd firepower. When they came out it was with gleaming eyes and a Marshall Plan that made that gleam appropriately infectious among the meatspace governments.

DeepGrey was sold as a harnessing of the nightmares of the Meme Wars, a way to take this new technology and use it for the good of all mankind (minus the people living in poisoned dead zones, both digital and radioactive). Productivity could be enhanced, the economy restored, the world could go back to being what it was before. I’ve seen some of the original advertising materials, and they’re laser-focused on the hindbrains of insecure men in suits. Charts with increasingly preposterous climbing lines plastered the news, attractive young models smiled and simpered in ads, and robocalls, investment journals and dodgy online financial advisers marshalled an energy and enthusiasm not seen in financial circles since some fuck invented payday loans.

And that’s without overt use of hypnotic brain-hacking DeepGrey memes. Mapping how deeply DeepGrey had already penetrated the internet before it became public knowledge is one of the Campaign’s lesser operations, and the glassy-eyed enthusiasm with which the men and women in suits began pushing a system they barely understood suggests that more than a few of them drank their own kool-aid long before releasing it.

DeepGrey was a productivity system, a new economy, a solution to the crisis of attention that had begun to savage even Global South economies still trapped fifty years behind the times. It was an inoculant, a way to ensure your entire workforce didn’t catch a meme that turned them into raving internet filth-nazis off a single dodgy email. It would revolutionise education, finance and industry, eliminate fraud, even cut down on terrorism and clean up the streets. You could install it by just reading a blog post or watching a video, and it created-self-sustaining feedback loops to compel you to install it fully. If there hadn’t just been a war in which the word ‘Orwellian’ was inflated out of existence and ‘Free Speech’ was the rallying cry of people spreading literal digital cholera to fight for white power, it would never have been accepted. There would have been a revolution.

At least, that’s one of the Campaign’s more pervasive memes. We’d like to think no-one would have fallen for it.

But they did. DeepGrey was spread at first, bombed out onto the internet, and pushed across the world in every form at once. The millions of prisoners taken during riots and protests across the US were exposed to it, marching in eerily blank-eyed lines to their assembly stations, uncomplainingly working off lengthening sentences and spending their off time chained to their bunks, out of sight of cameras. In this country they were a smidge more subtle, keeping it low-profile. Schools began offering it, then psych wards – once patches for mental illnesses were worked into the conditioning – and while supposedly they kept it voluntary, it soon became the only way to succeed. Want a job? Didn’t matter what it was, fifteen minutes on any corporate intranet and you’ll be fitting yourself for the same polyester suit everyone else is wearing and maybe a jaunty email signature. And while the disorganised counter-parties in government managed to secure a few concessions, like the killswitch that let you shut off DeepGrey whenever you didn’t want it, it wasn’t long before it was coded around that, hijacking euphoria systems and becoming addictive. You could turn it off, sure, but who would when every new trading platform app gave you a rush of dopamine that made your head spin?

Soon enough that ‘was spread’ became ‘spread itself’. We don’t know whether it was self-replicating all along or whether that function evolved along the way. Spies confirm that everyone they’ve found so far who works on DeepGrey is so thoroughly infected that they no longer even sleep, and can infect normal people just by speaking – but whether that’s a result of constant under-the-hood exposure or horrifying late-night business zombie nightmares may never be known. Whichever it was, the damn thing practically writes its own updates now. If we haven’t officially reached the singularity, we’re teetering on the edge of it, and when it comes, it’ll be deathly boring.


Featured image by Greta Healy


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