When I was in high school nearsightedness came on slowly and some days it would be worse than others, like when I was tired and came home and I’d reach for the door and it’d be blurry. The exhaustion compounded my frustration and it made me mad to lose focus. It was beyond my control. I went on like it was temporary but by my senior year I had to start sitting toward the front of the classroom to read the board and I went for an eye exam.
Putting on my first pair of glasses I saw the detail in my doctor’s face. Seeing her skin, the pores of her skin, shocked me. I rode my skateboard home from Rainbow Optics and I could see the little stones in the aggregate concrete, and the leaves in the trees! Wow, I could see individual leaves. The sharpness of the texture. I had forgotten it, my nearsightedness had come so slowly.
I didn’t want to weaken my eyes, I thought to keep my eyes strong by only wearing glasses when I needed to, which, at the time, was when I was in school and when I went to see the movies.
It was driving, needing to read the streets signs at a distance, that brought glasses into my daily life for good, and now I only take them off to read and to sleep.
Soft Hack is for work. I’m a medical professional and so many of the people I see I forget, and the lens displays their name when I need it. Other information too, I set the stream to display at low volumes. Other softies were seeing more than me and I thought maybe I might get into that, but again, it was like keeping my eyes strong. Only this time, it’s my memory—what I consider my innate intelligence.
After my first year wearing Soft—that’s how most people refer to this brand of augmented reality; and you really don’t know who with glasses has Soft Hack glasses at first, but then you get close enough and you know, you can see them—I upgraded the firmware. The expense was covered by work, and I more or less had to. Not peer pressure so much as to stay competitive with my peer group. People without prescriptions will often take their AR glasses off after work. I have them on all the time. The cues are more and more helpful and I know this because one time the frequency got jammed and when I expected a helper, nothing arrived. I powered my glasses off and turned them on. It worked.
I worried that my glasses might have been hacked, and that was on my mind all day until I finally went to sleep. In the morning I attributed my fear to fatigue. I drank a cup of coffee and finished packing for my trip.
“You’re going to America,” my friend and colleague said. “You got that patch?”
We were informed of the software by an email that went out to the team who would travel to the United States together. As Swedes we all enjoyed our paid vacations but some decided to do service, a short two-week trip to visit a hospital in a region of the world experiencing crisis.
The United States is a weird animal and going on a service mission was kind of exciting. We landed at Chicago’s O’Hare. I’m from Stockholm and I thought I’d seen all a big city could be, but that city, lakeside, a huge inland sea in the middle of the country, was just mind-boggling. It wasn’t the size. It was the people. We’ve accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees, as had the rest of Europe, we had to. But this was different, in America, the people all looked like refugees. The suffering of those people—it was beyond depressing, it disturbed me.
“What’s wrong?” my colleague asked.
“What’s wrong with these people?”
“They’re Americans. Are you seeing them in hard light?”
“What the fuck!?”
“Don’t get mad.”
The refugee population lived in make-shift camps throughout the parks and streets. And you couldn’t help but feel that they were somehow different from you. That they were of another order of being. They had come from the surrounding farmlands of Illinois and the neighboring states. What once had supplied a center of industry, the granaries and abattoirs that shipped product out from the Great Lakes and upon the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic and on the Illinois Waterway down to the Mississippi and into the Gulf, and by rail throughout the nation. That bread basket was now empty, the water table depleted, the weather destabilized. It will take six thousand years for rain to replenish the Ogallala Aquifer, once one of the world’s largest. It was once!
In the hotel I lay back and read my email. My colleague forwarded back to me the old email we all received in Stockholm and I installed the software. In the morning when I went outside: the city, the people, they looked better. I could see them, my brothers and sisters.