Thanks to advances in technology everybody’s death can be captured on camera and uploaded to the Internet.
On grey streets and in garish malls, images of violence hammered at the eyeballs during news bulletins. Crazed loners ran amok; their grievances against society transplanted on to bovine shoppers who shuffled away in terror, slowed down by plastic bags of products that refused to leave their sweaty hands. Gangs of restless youths prowled and scowled. Surly faces and dead eyes locked on to their targets and with casual and well-rehearsed movements homed in on their victims to administer vicious beatings for amusement and gratification.
In private homes, shouting matches developed into murder as spouses stabbed, strangled and shot their way to victory. Exposed affairs saw lovers overcome with emotion and assume the position of judge, jury and executioner.
In my home the cameras watched over my family and protected us from the violence and madness outside. The government, in a supreme act of kindness, provided these machines to all citizens. There was no argument, it was the law. I would often gaze at the machines, grateful for the security and peace of mind. I was thankful for the laws of the government. We trusted them. They never lied to us.
To ensure equality in life and death, our rulers decreed that every image was available to all. All deaths were to be screened. The victims were to be remembered and the guilty to be found and condemned. We accepted this logic because it was perfect and just.
Occasionally I would hear friends and colleagues discussing the latest video, but my life was too busy with work and a struggling marriage to spend too much time clicking on random deaths of strangers.
When my father died peacefully in his sleep I entered a brief period of numbness. His death was expected due to a long illness and the process had dragged on and faded into the background of my life. I remember when the e-mail from the hospital came through; I acknowledged receipt and arranged the funeral.
I watched it on live-cam and as the casket entered the cremation chamber I reflected on his life and my own mortality.
Later that day a friend contacted me with the news that my father’s death was online and kindly provided the video link. I clicked on it and looked into a small hospital room and my father lying on a bed. I hadn’t seen him for a long time and he looked much weaker than I imagined. For a full minute his breathing was fractured and weak. After a while the breathing stopped and was replaced by the life support’s high-pitched beep. There had been no dramatic movements and no sounds of anguish from my father. A tired-looking nurse eventually walked in, but her efforts appeared half-hearted. Once it was clear that nothing else was going to happen the video abruptly ended.
I felt some sadness, but my grief was overshadowed by irritation with the video’s low rating. One star was not sufficient for the dignified moments of the man who had raised and supported me. The screen scrolled down to reveal three comments of “dull”, “lame”, and “the nurse was kinda hot”.
My eyes hovered over the rating. Should I rate it higher or ignore this issue? I hesitated. It would be disrespectful to my father’s memory to do nothing. I clicked and felt some measure of satisfaction at my decision. I am sure it’s what my father would have wanted.
Friends and colleagues heard about the video and pledged sympathy and support. They would ensure the rating would get higher and the comments more suitable. I found some solace in their actions and instructed my computer’s auto-assistant to thank them.
Every few minutes I would check back. After repeated viewings my feelings began to change. The death had been uneventful and lacking any drama. The length of two minutes seemed too long and it needed an edit. I trimmed it and put in beginning and end titles with subtle fade-ins and fade-outs to enhance the viewing pleasure. Lastly, I added some sombre background music. I almost digitally altered the features of the nurse to express sorrow or shock, but decided against it. The video benefited from being more natural.
Friends and colleagues said how much better it was and they offered to assist its ratings. Eventually, after a few more minutes the viewing figures and the comments dried up. People moved on to something more violent and fresh and I didn’t check back again.
About five months later the death of my wife’s boss attracted a flurry of videos. On an expressway in the city’s east side a multitude of differing camera angles captured his auto smashing into the back of a truck.
Back at home my wife and I sat down to watch a variety of the better-quality videos. The first scene depicted the moment of collision. Next, we saw him struggling with his seatbelt for quite some time. We speculated as to whether he panicked or it was jammed. Then the truck caught fire and as the car was embedded into its rear the flames quickly spread.
Eventually he broke free, but by this time it was too late. Now a mass of flames he ran wildly from the wreckage. The volume was quite low, but we could just hear his screams of agony. Some onlookers had stopped their autos and were using i-mages to record the scene. One young man finally put his device away and had the presence of mind to grab a fire extinguisher, but a full minute passed before he could work out how to use it. In that time, my wife’s boss had run into the outside lane and was knocked down by a red truck. My wife remarked that this was her boss’s favourite colour.
The onboard camera at the front of the truck caught the speed and severity of the impact. A burning mass of flesh was catapulted into the air, encountered gravity, and then landed on a lower-level expressway. There it was run over repeatedly by a variety of other vehicles before the lines of traffic slowly realised what was happening and came to a halt.
People got out of their autos and crowded around the charred and crushed body. Everyone had an i-mage and as they filmed away I could just hear as they exchanged comments regard their devices and picture quality. The mood was relaxed and affable.
After some time, an ambulance arrived and what was left of the body was taken away. The video ended. There was no doubt that this would be an Internet hit for many minutes.
I felt nothing for the man. I had only met him once at an office party and just remembered his sweaty hand as we shook and that he smelt faintly of h-burgers. I knew my wife disliked him, but it was not in her nature to gloat over such unpleasant scenes. When the video ended, her face was expressionless and she commented that perhaps her new manager would give her the promotion she was looking for.
We spent the rest of the evening looking at other videos of his death and my wife made a point of voting five on all of them. (I voted one, as only my father’s videos got a five.) Her continual high scoring irked me. She hadn’t made such a great effort to vote for my father and I’d had to constantly remind her.
Within a few minutes the experts had created montages of all the camera angles. Users such as Videath and Camcorpser were well known for their editing skills and I was slightly jealous that my job didn’t allow me the time to show such creativity. Their videos attracted huge viewing figures and the comments of “awesome” and “LOL” ran for many pages on the screen.
The next morning at breakfast my wife and I argued. This was not unusual, but this was the first time to row over videos and the ranking system. I went to work in a bad mood. Or a worse mood I should say.
At the office my concentration was poor and I joined in some of the discussions regard the latest videos. I gave a detailed account of the death of my wife’s superior, but some of the other videos I hadn’t seen and I felt excluded from the conversations. I made a mental note to watch them as it would be nice to be more involved with my peers.
Over the next few weeks I spent even more time on the Internet. My eyes clicked on a vast array of car crashes, exploding airplanes, mass shootings, street murders, and fatal family quarrels. These were relentlessly tedious and I had to spend a large amount of time searching for more exciting events.
A few weeks went by and I found great comfort online. I joined forums and became a respected member of the community with my profound knowledge of the world’s selection of deadliest acts. At work I did feel more tired, but I was talking a lot more with my colleagues. In fact, I found their lack of information on some of the topics worrying. A large amount of my time was spent helping them understand what was going on.
Two months later I was called into the office of my supervisor. He spoke for a while and explained how my performance and physical appearance had deteriorated. Yet it was strange how he never mentioned my improved relationships with colleagues. I listened, and when he announced that my contract was terminated I left the building quietly.
When I got home I reflected on my silent departure and played out a multitude of alternative scenarios in my mind. I imagined myself screaming abuse and refuting the accusations, as my supervisor cowered in terror. Another saw me saying something witty and profound as I departed the office to rapturous applause from my co-workers. A recurring theme witnessed me physically dragging my boss out of his office where, amongst the astonished staff, I pulverised his face into a bloody pulp.
This musing eventually passed and was replaced by a sense of comfort. Now I would be able to focus on enjoying the Internet to its full and delightful capacity; and the creation of high-quality videos that would be seen and appreciated around the world. The next weeks were some of the happiest in my life as my artistic side was allowed to express itself. My work gained attention and as my reputation increased life finally had a purpose.
My wife, with a characteristic lack of understanding, failed to see the positives in such a situation. Our arguments increased in frequency and vitriol. The outbursts from each emotional altercation would become lodged in the mind, where they would gnaw away at the nerves and became stuck in an endless loop. Later the finer points were analysed for any weakness that could be used in the next day’s battle. The quality of my video work suffered slightly, but I found solace opposite the computer screen. Its silence and absolute obedience provided happiness in the black days of a dying relationship.
Eventually my wife left. A few days later an auto-mover arrived and with the help of her sour-faced sister most of our home’s belongings were removed to a new life elsewhere. I clutched my computer; afraid they might try to take it, and watched them leave. I felt I should have said something eloquent and moving, but nothing sprang to mind.
Amidst the emptiness of my home I expanded my portfolio of artistic endeavours and became more refined in output and vision. Yet, dissatisfaction crept in as I had reached a plateau in a sense. There had to be something more and I aspired to the next level. Weeks went by as I planned a new video for my audience.
On a high rooftop, under a beautiful blue sky, I look around as the first helicopter finally locates my position.
It had taken its time despite the message in my latest video. The cameraman makes eye contact and his rehearsed media smile and gestures indicate that I should jump now. But no, this was not to be some selfish event for a limited audience. I lingered for others to arrive. The cameraman scowls but viewing figures and angles are important to me as well.
The sound of rotor blades heralds more machines and I sense the time is approaching.
My tiny auto-cam flutters around me like a demented butterfly. So many images will be relayed to recording equipment and in turn to a timed release for an adoring public. The music has been chosen, the sequence unalterable, the mood of my making. My imminent fall can be captured with the clarity and totality it deserves.
I peer over the edge. Far below sits a rented truck rigged with cameras and the technology to capture my chosen time as I smash into its metallic frame.
I imagine my impending demise and see a twisted body lying amidst the wreckage, blood pouring from horrendous wounds, the vivid colours magnified by close-up cameras. No need for auto-palettes to enhance the bruises or splashes of scarlet. Will the impact produce a brief death rattle or a prolonged affair of fractured breathing and suffering? Or will there just be a lifeless corpse and my face staring into a camera and finally on into a billion homes and the admiration of citizens everywhere?
For too long the Internet has been the domain of the random and the purposeless. A new trend has begun.
I smile and wave to the spectators and step over the edge.
My death will be legendary.
It will be talked about for minutes.
Antony Peyton is a journalist with experience in China, Japan and the UK.