Mrs. Olsen's Three-Year Letter. A cyberpunk writing exercise?
Here is a writing exercise I did using a prompt from one of my wife's dreams. I used a "Three-year letter to my future self" format both because the concept of the "story" is silly and because I think three-year letters can tend to be silly.
It's not really a story, just some prose for practice, so don't look for a plot. It's a bit science-fiction and cyberpunk, but not much.
Download the PDF or read below.
Mrs. Olsen’s Three-Year Letter
by Jim Leonardo
To: rajp@weirds From: jeno@weirds Subject: Mrs. Olsen’s Three-Year Letter Attachment: Dr.Olsens_3_yr_letter.tex Raj, Per our discussion, I attached my “Three Year Letter” to this email. I really don’t see the point of these things. Maybe it helps a grad student or post-doc focus their efforts, but it is silly and a waste of time at this stage of my career. I’m a grandmother for heaven’s sake! I could be retired and yet Human Resources — or whatever we call it these days — wants me to share my long-term career goals? This is so they can come up with excuses to keep raises below the cost of living again, isn’t it? Regards, Jen Jennifer Olsen, PhD, FAIChE, FACCRS, CMB Senior Research Fellow, Digital Confections Department of Cyberchemistry Warfield Executive Institute for Research in Digital Society
Dear Future Me,
I hope I find myself well. As I probably recall, I wrote this letter to me under some protest. I didn’t think it was helpful then and I’m sure I don’t think it’s helpful now.
How much has the world changed? Do I even still have a job? Did I retire yet? Get laid off? Did the corporate singularity finally happen? Did bots and AI take over, forcing all of us working shlubs onto the unemployment line? Or am I still trying to change the world one electronic brownie at a time? Is digital confection something we even care about anymore or are we all to poor to afford even a slice of analog bread?
Enough questions. This letter to me is the brainchild of a self-help book writer who thought it would help me work out my career goals. I will get down to business so I don’t bore today me or future me too much. Or is it today me and past me? I don’t know. I weave electrons into experiences, I don’t work in theoretical temporal physics or chronological composition.
We are baking bytes today. The core research and proofs of concept are done. I suppose that means I should have secured 2-3 more grants by future now to continue funding my research. I used those grants to fund the research — engineering is the better word but that doesn’t attract grants — to reduce the number of parameters needed for successful synthesis. Requiring the resources of a small data center to produce a single unit obviously isn’t economical. Ironically, I probably still find that asking for big dollar amounts gets attention from the grant making foundations, so long as I am still willing to give up a big chunk of the patent rights. Is that even a grant then? I don’t know. Even if I only get one percent of future proceeds, it would be a big deal if it took off. Is cyberbaking really a multi-billion dollar industry? I guess the answer is that with ads, you can monetize anything. Get ready for logos on your pixelated pastries. But is it really the next wave of social media and connected society?
I hope so. Cat videos are hysterical and heartwarming, but they don’t help us share time with other people. If we reduce the number of parameters, then we can roll out electric éclairs to more and more people. To put a fine point on it, my goal is to fit the process of making a cyber-pie inside of a Raspberry Pi microcomputer. When I am writing this letter, that amount of computational power can’t even create an electronic sprinkle to put on a computational cupcake. Until we shrink, MEGA and the like are not going to pick this technology up. It just isn’t economical.
An aside: watch out how much I publish in public journals and even how much I tell potential investors/patrons. The last thing I would want is for MEGA, Numbers, or Bates Inc. to start their own research groups on this. I used to think that big money investors would be smart enough to not talk, but their egos get ahead of their brains far too often. Almost all are high functioning alcoholics too. They go to a dinner party — usually on a corporate account — get a couple of Negronis in them, and next thing you know, they’re bragging to their frenemies about all the teams “they” have working on this and that. Maybe once we get digital confections worked out, I can move onto the cyber-alcohol research? No, I should leave that for one of the young up-and-comers. It is time to retire once I am done with logic driven ladyfingers.
I am focusing on the number of parameters needed for creation in this letter because that’s what I can control. I should not neglect the research Reddy is (was?) doing in quantum frosting. Does that still look like it’s years away or has there been a breakthrough? If Reddy is right, the principles she is espousing could cut the hardware needed for the virtual dairy by half. Quantum frosting won’t help simplify the digital Maillard reaction. Crack that nut and the world is my oyster, although I always was more of a lutefisk fan.
Three years into the future, I am sure that I remembered to build up my relationships with others within the Institute. The most important relationships are with my immediate team. I could retire if I wanted to and maybe I will want to by the time I read this letter. I need to be sure I have a successor who can pick up my work if I retire or other things happen.
Have I been able to get more support on the Institute’s board? Those relationships matter just as much as the relationships with people I see every day. Is the board still confused about how digital confections would benefit society? Is obesity still a thing three years from now? Even if the latest weight loss drugs, diet fads, and exercise gimmicks all work out, digital confections still give us that connection in a world of growing isolation. Video calls are too stiff, they always feel like business meetings. Internet games are too much about the individual, even if played in large groups with live chat. Shared meals, especially when we get to dessert, have been what has always brought humans together as a community.
Three years ago, the Internet was only the uncomfortable part of the shared meal. I know the part I’m talking about, right? It’s that part where Uncle Joe shoots off his mouth about his latest fringe theory and makes everyone uncomfortable with his racist “jokes” and then complains about everyone being too liberal when Cousin Jessica calls him out on it. Then Uncle Joe calls Cousin Jessica names. Then Uncle Jeff, Cousin Jessica’s dad, gets up to take a swing at Uncle Joe, Grandma Jane and Aunt Jeanne only barely jumping up in time to stop him. Along the way, the Internet missed the meal. The meal was the thing that brought us together and built our family up instead of tearing us down. To help reform our communities using the Internet, we therefore need a way to share meals there. If we cannot gather in grandma’s living room for a slice of apple pie, we can at least gather around a chocolate cake in cyberspace.
Ultimately, that’s what I’m striving to put in my new kind of chocolate cake: community, family, friendship. I’m sure I’ll make Gil Bates and Zach Muhlenberg plenty of money along the way.