“Scientists Inject Information Into Monkeys’ Brains” Carl Zimmer, December 7, 2017
“Now, imagine that you had a device implanted in your brain that could shortcut the pathway and “inject” information straight into your premotor cortex. That may sound like an outtake from “The Matrix.” But now two neuroscientists at the University of Rochester say they have managed to introduce information directly into the premotor cortex of monkeys.”
“What would you do with eight more hours in your day?” sings an over-exuberant voice from the projection on the wall. A female with a few too many Enhancements. A couple of minor Enhancements may go unnoticed, but this actress has overdone it. A long strand of straight blue hair hangs directly down the middle of her face, hiding her nose, while the rest of her hair is done up in two tight knots on the sides of her head, one purple and one pink. Her skin has a sick yellowish hue, her eyelashes are two inches long, and her lips are blown up and painted bright red. I flip the channel again.
Sleep-No-More, the newest innovation in Time-Saving, is broadcast on every channel. Talk show hosts speak with the scientists behind the new serum, celebrities promote the drug, and paid actors explain where you can buy the expensive little bottles. At the end of each advertisement, an endless list of negative side effects scrolls down the screen so fast I can’t catch a single one. The field of Time-Saving employs more than a quarter of New Americans today, and the newest inventions are sometimes sold for thousands of dollars. But, don’t worry if that’s out of the budget for you, you can always pay in 24 easy installments of $79.99, and just think of all the time you’ll save!
I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been able to try a single one of them. See, I have this knot in the front of my brain, an aneurysm, that prevents me from saving any time. If I tried one of the new drugs, it could kick off a really bad seizure and possibly kill me. I’ve had a few bad seizures without even using the injections, and they’re not something I would willingly want to inflict upon myself. The time I’d lose isn’t worth the time I’d save.
There are a few other people like me, but New America doesn’t cater to people like us. They call us Abnorms. We abnormals still have to sleep 6-8 hours a night, eat well, exercise, and all the other things deemed time wasters in order to keep up our health. For us, they’re essential and don’t leave a lot of time for recreation and entertainment, which is apparently the main object of saving time. School is an outdated institution, so we have to self-educate. Everyone else saves the four years required to attend college by injecting the knowledge and skills for their field directly into their brains. Then, they take a test and are assigned a job if they pass. Of course, we Abnorms are not in danger of the side effects: nausea and diarrhea after the injection, slight personality changes later. I’ve heard some conspiracists claim that this is all a ploy for government control. I just feel like I’m missing out.
Despite my anger at the injustice of it all, I feel as if there’s a certain merit in learning things slowly. At least, that’s what I told myself when I spent a month reading and studying all of Shakespeare’s plays while my sister, Sienna, who had never shown any interest in literature before, came home with a Shakespeare vial, waved it in my face, and then inserted it into her needle syringe and injected it directly into her brain.
She spent the rest of the week sauntering around asking, “Which play are you on now, Eva? Oh, Othello? That’s a great one. What did you think about the aspect of racial prejudice? Pretty forward thinking for his time, huh?” or “Oh, Romeo and Juliet was my favorite! Wasn’t it just so tragic? I would love to have a love story like that one!”
Yeah, sure you would, Sienna.
I flip the channel again.
We don’t have the money for Sienna to buy just any Time-Saver, but she saved her paychecks from her part-time job as a lab assistant and then bought the Shakespeare injection just to rub it in my face. I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring her. The Shakespeare one was expensive, so she wasn’t able to afford her skincare Enhancements vial that month, and the little pimples that appeared on her forehead were justice enough. Despite the ease of the Time-Savers, I can’t help but think that the Bard would have wanted us to savor his 37 pieces of immortal fiction rather than being done with it in one stab of a needle and moving on to quickly inhale something else. The appreciation for art is gone, and everything is taken for granted. Oscar, the head of my book club, is constantly telling me that I should be happy I can’t inject, that the savoring of literature is far more satisfying. I try to agree, but the overload of media coverage makes it a challenge.
But now, on top of everything else, people won’t even have to sleep. Don’t people want to sleep? How much more time do they need to go clubbing, eat brunch, shop, and attend movie premieres? This was getting out of hand.
Not, however, according to Sienna.
“Stop changing the channel, Eva!” She reaches over and yanks the remote from my hand, “Oooh, imagine not having to sleep! The clubs would be open all night long, and we’d gain another eight hours a day! All that time!”
I roll my eyes, “Hey, Sienna, you should be on one of these commercials.”
Missing my sarcasm, Sienna’s eyes stay glued to the screen. “I would be good, wouldn’t I? I’m saving up to study acting.” By study, she means saving up to buy it. I watch as Sienna absentmindedly picks at some acne on her forehead. Since she had to skip her skincare vial last month, it takes a couple months to get back on track. I smirk to myself. I started studying Jane Austen this month, and she hasn’t been the least bit interested in purchasing the knowledge to rub it in my face again.
“What’s the point?” Sienna and my mom both ask me. There’s no need for teachers any more; I should at least study a skill that can get me a job when I leave the house. They ignore my protests of wanting to study the great literary minds so that I can be a great writer myself. They want me to study something so that I can pass a test, get a job, and at least pretend to fit into society. Mom wants Sienna to be a nurse. It’s good money, but Sienna’s only interested in a job that puts her in the spotlight.
“Nobody even reads anymore!” Sienna whines and my mom nods in agreement.
“Well, maybe someday my book will be another vial to borrow from the library.”
In actuality, this thought makes me shiver. I’ve been writing a novel for years, and to think that all of my hard work could be absorbed by somebody in precisely 0.5 seconds is horrific.
Due to the ease of completely swallowing the contents of a book in a moment, Sienna has actually “read” more books than me. They don’t even have physical books at the library anymore, so I have to rake through the Cloud to find an old eCopy. These mainly consist of the classics; modern stories only come in vial form, but from what Oscar tells me, they’re not worth reading anyway. He says they’re all shallow, void of any real worth. I believe him because my sister’s injected loads, and they haven’t seemed to have made any lasting intellectual impression on her.
As Sienna stares in rapture at the screen, my mind drifts to my book club. We meet once a week. There’s about ten other people, like me, who believe in taking in literature the way the authors meant it to be read. Tasting it, savoring it, digesting it. A slow, but gratifying process. I have a couple copies of physical books. I keep them hidden in a box under my bed. I’m terrified of damaging them or losing them. They were gifts from the book club members old enough to have inherited books from family members. They’re beautiful, leather-bound with gold-rimmed pages and thin ribboned bookmarks. Sometimes I just sit on my bed with one open on my lap and inhale the scent of the pages. I always lock my door, so Sienna doesn’t barge in and taint the experience.
The book club shares our personal writing with each other too. In a world of Siennas, this group is the one thing that gives me any hope. Knowledge is easier than ever to obtain, and there’s a surplus of available vials, but the whole planet seems to be utterly deficient in that field. Aside from the essential knowledge required to hold a job, they would rather purchase Enhancement and Recreational vials. They don’t even realize how lucky they are to have the choice. Go figure.
“So, Eva, tell us what you’re studying now.” Oscar is like 80 something years old, and his parents were both college literature professors right before all of the schools started to shut down, and they even named him after the famous author Oscar Wilde. He’s never used a Time-Saver in his life, and he doesn’t even have a brain aneurysm like me. He would make a great professor, if we still had them, but he settles with leading literary discussions at the café on the corner of 8th street to a small group of social outcasts who refuse to buy in to saving time.
“Jane Austen.” I smile holding up the eCopy of Emma on my tablet. “I’m not very far yet, but I find the protagonist completely different from Austen’s others. She’s arrogant and in everyone’s business; honestly, she reminds me of my sister!”
The group laughs, and Oscar smiles. They’re all older than I am and were surprised when I showed interest in joining their group, but I don’t mind. I learn a lot from them, and it’s the one place I actually feel comfortable.
“Emma is the character about which Jane Austen said, ‘no one but myself will much like.’ However,” Oscar adjusts his glasses, which he wears even though he could have fixed his eyes with an Enhancement injection, “I think Emma will grow on you as you read, and you will find her endearing by the end of it.”
There’s a sudden commotion in the back of the cafe, and I turn to see where everyone’s looking. A sudden hush washes over the room as the barista turns up the volume on the large projection screen on the far wall.
A news anchor is interviewing a doctor in a lab coat. He looks exhausted with dark circles under his eyes, and I wonder if he’s been skipping his nightly rejuvenation vials.
“Why exactly, Dr. Morgan, are the injections fading? Why are new ones no longer working?”
My heart skips a beat, and I stand up, taking a couple steps closer to the screen.
Dr. Morgan rubs his thumb and forefinger in the corners of his eyes, shifting his glasses that should no longer be necessary. “Our bodies have built up an immunity to them. For some, it may take longer than others, but, essentially, our bodies are fighting them off. Our skill sets, our knowledge, our Time-Savers, our Enhancements— it will all begin to fade. Some sooner than others, but everyone will begin to lose what they’ve injected within the next month. The new ones aren’t working. The first group to purchase ‘Sleep-No-More’ realized that while they weren’t able to sleep, they were exhausted. It afflicted them with insomnia, but none of the effects of a good night’s sleep. It worked on the original test subjects, but like I said, our bodies are now rejecting the serums. Soon, you’ll put them in your syringes and nothing will happen. Either that, or you’ll start to experience adverse effects.”
At this, there’s an outcry in the cafe. General panic. Hysteria. All the time they’ve saved, lost. I miss Dr. Morgan’s next words, but I’m sure it’s more of the same. I can imagine Sienna staring in horror at this proclamation. She’s spent most of her money on Enhancements and won’t look anything like herself by the end of the month. She’ll have to start studying, or she’ll lose her job as a lab assistant. Soon surgeons won’t know how to perform surgery anymore, and musicians will lose all knowledge of singing or playing the guitar. Face acne and wrinkles and gray hair will all start to reappear. They wasted the time they saved on entertainment while we studied. I turn to the group around me. We, who could not or would not take the injections, will become more valuable to the world than anything else. From the bright faces of the book club members, I can tell the same realization has dawned on them too.
“Of course,” I hear Dr. Morgan state from across the room as the barista turns up the volume all the way, and it drowns out the angry chatter in the café, “Some of what we’ve learned will remain with us if it’s something we’ve practiced and used often. Muscle memory will save some of us our professions, but much of what we know will be lost. We will have to return to traditional ways.”
“Essentially, we’ll have to start over?” the anchor asks. Like most TV personalities, he’s had his fair share of Enhancements. Despite his professional tone, I can hear the slight tremor in his voice. His real age will start to show soon.
My eyes leave the projection screen and scan the café. Tables and coffee mugs have been knocked over, people are crying, and some are running out the door. Their way of life is over, but I can’t help but smile. Our book club always talked about the possibility of something similar, not with any foundation, just wistful hoping. Some of their writing reflected the world of the past, the world we read about, and we constantly discussed how much better it sounded than our current society. I move back to join the book club’s circle and look up at Oscar, “You could reopen that college where your parents used to teach. You could teach literature to more people than just us. I would enroll. I’d love to be your first official student.”
He smiles down at me, and there are tears glistening in his eyes behind his thick glasses, “Student?” He shook his head and chuckled. “We’ve already passed that point, Eva. You’ll be teaching right along with me.”
Elizabeth Behle lives in Temple Terrace, FL but grew up in St. Louis, MO. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in English in 2015 and with her Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing in 2020. She is currently employed as an assistant professor of English. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her cats, reading, writing, and traveling.