This isn’t a eulogy or a fond farewell. To me, it’s a type of Christmas Carol, without the usual ghosts, since my friend didn’t believe in ghosts. If they ever appeared, I’m sure he would have gone to his computer, wondering if he’d ordered Apparitions Past, Present and Future.
I call it a Christmas Carol, because maybe I had a visitation of sorts. I felt a presence, a reverberating voice. Whether it was my friend or not is hard to say. Perhaps he’s learned to believe in ghosts, figuring at least they’re here and not floating around on clouds. My friend was never a big fan of clouds. He hated anything that wasn’t purchasable.
My friend’s dead now, but during his life, he invested heavily in the credit card industry. Whether it was for essentials, entertainment — even sex — that card came out faster than a twitchy gunslinger. One time, he’d ordered a flight simulation game, shooting down Russian T-50s. When he died, all we found was a computer, a cellphone, and an array of old gaming consoles.
Someone once said we’re a “bought and paid for society.” Everything we do involves some sort of direct or indirect payment. If we want to talk, we pay for our smartphones. If we want romance, we join dating sites. If we want to be entertained, we pay for Netflix.
Digital has transformed our lives — not just in how we live, but how we pay to live. There was a commercial not long ago showing a couple sitting on the couch, running their credit card through an app on their phone. Every time they wanted more shows, a voice told them to run their card through again.
It was meant to be funny, but it wasn’t. Whoever wrote that commercial wasn’t just laughing at us — they were laughing at themselves. Nobody is free from direct or indirect payment. It governs our lives.
In one form or another, we’re always on the “app.” It’s a bit like being on the “pipe,” the junkie term for addiction. Being “connected” has become a cellular need.
Last year, we spent billions on entertaining ourselves. Netflix alone saw such a rise in online orders, they’re spending $5 billion on new shows. They haven’t made near that amount yet, but it’s a good investment. Everyone knows Netflix will reap huge rewards in the coming years. Our taste for buying entertainment, ordering online is only getting better — or worse.
When I first published my novel, we only used two formats: hardcover and ebook. The hardcover was strictly for reviews. “Your sales will come from ebooks,” my agent said, explaining that while printed formats still dominated the North American market (70% vs. 30% ebooks), it was the complete reverse in Europe. “We’ll be the same in a few years,” he said.
I don’t doubt we will. Already, my ebook sales have surpassed printed copies. We’re coming out with a paperback this spring, but there’s every likelihood ebook sales will continue to dominate in the years to come.
Which leaves me wondering what the future holds in terms of our legacy.
It used to be, when someone passed away, you’d find boxes of books, letters, cards, photos — even awards. In some respects, you could follow the course of their tastes and interests, their successes and their proudest moments.
Now all we have are computer files and photo libraries.
As we order more online, will we end up like my friend, leaving nothing behind but an old laptop, a phone and some gaming consoles?
It’s a strange irony in one way. We post pictures on the Internet, we show our families, our homes, our friends. These represent our movement through life, our accomplishments (in some cases the food we eat, which is weird).
Is this really the sum total of who we are? Will our children (I don’t have any, but still) be able to go through our computer files and say, “This is what my father and mother did.” Will they be proud or simply stating facts?
I went through our family history, finding one ancestor who wrote an encyclopedia in Latin, oversaw the writing of the Bishop’s Bible, got stabbed by Cardinal Wolsey and served as Father Confessor to Ann Boleyn. I also have the prayer book of another ancestor who crowned Queen Victoria.
Whenever I read books by John Rutherford (“Paris” is amazing) or James Michener (Chesapeake, amazing, too). or the story of Sam Phillips, the man who discovered Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, I feel absolutely tiny in this world.
I look at my own accomplishments. Compared to my ancestors, they’re negligible. Compared to the people I read about, they’re a speck.
I can live with this to a certain extent (at least I have one book out and another to be published soon), but I still see ghosts. I still feel that reverberation, that distant voice, and I wonder if it’s my friend, telling me not to make the same mistakes.
But are these mistakes inevitable? Are they the result of a “bought and paid for” society? Are we all on the “app,” destined to leave nothing but photo files of things we’ve consumed and parties we’ve attended?
Will we be future ghosts, floating around like Phillip Marley, with chains attached to credit cards, laptops, smartphones and wide screen televisions?
It’s something to think about. I wish my friend had thought about it sooner.
Robert Cormack is a novelist, blogger and freelance copywriter. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for details (you can buy from them, too).