by Zoe Harding

(Part 4 of a serialised prose fiction endeavour. Read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here.)


This thing that’s now installed on the brains of nearly three billion people, across pretty much all but the top levels of every single first-world government (and even then, one wonders if MPs have always been this weird and robotic – oddly, history would seem to confirm yes). What does it do?

Well, like any living thing, it supports itself. It runs the economy, generating unbelievably vast quantities of financial data and running the pretty much entirely automated global system that keeps the food coming and the people clothed (although it’s still yet to figure out how to get around the unbelievable mess of post-divorce laws that now separate the UK and the Pan-European Government Area, which is why there’s a can of foul Ukrainian beer still festering in my sink). It runs pretty much everything you might need an Excel spreadsheet to run, and it tries to grow larger. Its designers were spurred by visions of a capitalist utopia where everyone works in offices and wear suits and is pretty much exactly like them, and their creation is still working towards that long after they’ve been turned into smiling drones with heads full of adware.

It’s even something approaching meritocratic, or at least it is when you’re white and cishet (of course). So far no-one’s been able to prove that DeepGrey is prejudiced against people of colour without getting too deeply indoctrinated to care, and while it just about tolerates gays and lesbians it was only programmed to deal with two genders, which rules me right the fuck out.

It also runs the police and the military – after all, soldiers are much more likely to obey orders if they aren’t in control at all, and after some of the things the various militaries did to each other over the internet during the war, turning their troops into meat-robots was an ethical step up, if anything. It  quashes dissent with an eerily soft touch – because why gun down rioters when you can blast them with concentrated boring until they all go and start SEO companies? Not that there was that much dissent, at least not among those whose voices were rich and white enough to matter. Five minutes on the wrong webpage will turn a brick-throwing rioter or an alcoholic in the gutter into a shiny-suited marketing executive ready to shamble into an office.Who could argue with that, read some of the last non-advertorial op-eds written on most of the major news sites. Who could argue with that?

We can’t go to those sites now.

When the various scruffy outsiders who populate the Campaign’s boards are feeling blue, they go and read a short story written by some nameless, long-lost contributor. Supposedly, they felt the infection taking hold early on, realised there was no getting out of it and decided to document it, to try and describe what DeepGrey is working towards. A lot of their account has had to be censored and expunged, because too much of it is inevitably infectious, but what’s left…

What’s left reads like a creepypasta from the good old days. Feeling their mind slipping away, DeepGrey scrabbling in the back of their mind, tormented by strange visions, even (clichéd dramatic flourish, but I suppose they decided to have a bit of fun on their way out). One passage that was preserved almost intact was their attempt to query DeepGrey for its ultimate mission, to see what it wanted to do to the world. I find the thread and bring it up.

‘Lots of identical little grey cubes, all lined up in big rooms. Meat robots making spreadsheets and moving money around, optimising and modifying and focus-testing, a vast omnicomplicated system that eats power and shits glossy ad brochures and then reads those brochures from cover to cover. A world without hope, without emotion, without any of those illogical but still vitally necessary things, a zombie capitalism disconnected from any of the desires that drove it in the first place.’

Well. Now I’m in a suitably hopeless mood, I wander off into the short list of forums and message boards that make up the Campaign’s sanitised internet preserve. I realise I’ve gravitated to the bullshit boards once I find myself lost in a swamp of animal memes. I’m fine with it – wasting time is a performance art among some of the resistance community, and while I dabble it’s nice to let my mind wander. I don’t have the patience to stay for too long, though – the same general ennui and disdain for bullshit that keeps me largely free of DeepGrey also makes me a poor shitpost artist. For all I personally don’t have much tolerance for a hundred pictures of sad-looking dogs with that #mondayfeeling (or retro-wankers who still use fucking hashtags, of course) I’m glad it exists. There’s a kind of idiot innocence to it that’s comforting.

Featured image by Scarlett Dawson


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