A Conversation Among Friends

By Andrew R. Duckworth

Photo, photo editing, and short story by Andrew R. Duckworth
     Gabriel looked around at the various social groups: The rich, the famous, the formal and proper, dressed in their best, all of them gathered around different tables according to their social status. Writers, painters, performers of different sorts, all of them well represented at the dinner at the estate of John Hampton, founder of the "Paint Profoundly and Always" social network. The man was receiving an award for the "Greatest Contribution to Society" by the United States Government, an award he had worked ceaselessly for over a ten year time period. While Gabriel admired the man's commitment, he also could not help but cringe at his demeanor, snarling at those dressed in anything less than a Corbin Nancy suit and tie. Hampton clearly couldn't be bothered with folk of less importance, like Gabriel. The younger and less experienced Gabriel wore a Golem suit, two seasons out of style, purchased at the Shared Store. It was all that his social credit would allow him to purchase for the occasion. He had previously considered declining Rory Clifford's invitation, but made a split second decision knowing that it could be an excellent method of forging new and more powerful connections, something one had to have if one hoped to increase social credit.
     "There is a group that I am wanting to introduce you to," mentioned Clifford, attempting to speak over the clinging of glasses, obnoxious and pretentious laughter, and loud speak of the elites gathered at tables.
     "I have the feeling that this whole event is way out of my social circle, Rory," said Gabriel, looking around at all of the perfectly tailored individuals, some of whom had caught eye of the newcomer and were glancing at him as if he were a cockroach inching closer and closer to their dinner table.
     "Of course it is," agreed Clifford, "But we both know that this is a way for you to pull yourself out of poverty, Gabe. I'm looking out for you. The table I'm bringing you to is full of artists. They aren't mean like the history snobs or collectors. Besides, you've dragged me to so many marathon events where I gained practically nothing. At least here you may be able to make connections. And, think on the bright side. At least you're not on the assembly lines building the machines."
     After a moment, Gabriel swallowed hard and agreed. As uncomfortable as it seemed, Gabriel needed to form more connections, particularly among those of higher social status. His social bank account was drying up and competing in marathons offered little social payment; a few likes from running or jogging enthusiasts would not skyrocket his social credit.
     As they approached the table of tuxedos and dresses, Gabriel noticed that the entire table was staring at him. Clifford was neatly attired in a tailored Christopher Marx, his shoes with so much shine that they could blind a person with the reflecting light. Gabriel was a vermin to them, a pest requiring extermination and quickly. The only person without wide eyes made up for it with his jaw dropped nearly to the table, Ulysses Indigo, the sculptor who designed the freshly unveiled 'Ode to the Future' just outside the United States Capitol building.
     "Well, well, well," Indigo collected himself enough to speak, "What do we have here, Rory?"
     "This is a friend of mine," said Clifford and elbowed Gabriel in the side.
     "Hello," spoke Gabriel to the table of eight. "The name is Gabriel McDermott and it's a pleasure to meet you all."
     "You a painter?" Indigo offered his hand from across the table.
     "Not a good one, obviously!" Megan Rose commented next to her husband, Tracy. "Why, just look at those rags! Must be the only suit the poor thing owns. And five seasons out of fashion."
     Tracy nudged his wife and gave her a stern look, muttering under his breath "We both know that cut is only two seasons out of style!"
     "No, actually," Gabriel ignored the unpleasantries and shook Indigo's hand. "I'm a runner."
     A snort came from nearby, someone desperately trying to suppress laughter. A large man at the table, whose belly barely fit between the table and his chair, composed himself, taking a deep breath in and exhaling. The others at the table were amused as their awkward smiles made evident.
     "Okay, pal," said the polished and snarky Indigo with a wink, "I'll play along. You're sweating mighty heavily. You run all the way here in that suit?"
     The table erupted with laughter. Clifford looked down at his shoes, a bit embarrassed. Gabriel knew that he was nervous, but he had not taken notice of the beads of sweat pouring down each side of his head. While two open chairs waited at the table, Gabriel was not confident enough to sit down among the group of well-to-dos.
     "Just got off a plane from Arizona, actually," said Gabriel. "It stays hot there."
     "No air conditioning on the plane?" questioned Megan. "Worse shape than I initially thought."
     "You'll have to excuse my wife," noted Tracy. "She's very... observant."
     "You'll have to excuse me as well," said a skeleton in a suit in a bold voice. "Apparently, I came to the wrong table." J. Gaston had won the award at the ceremony the year before and was not accustomed to engaging with anyone outside of his social class. He grabbed his things and scrambled away from his chair. "How DARE you!" he muttered as he passed by Clifford.
     "Seriously though? You're not joking?" asked Indigo with a smirk. "A runner?"
     "Correct," replied Gabriel, after a gulp.
     "He competed in the 2032 Olympics!" Clifford thought of something that might impress those at the table.
     "Hey, that's... that's something!" responded Indigo and quickly turned to one of the many waiters serving tables nearby. "Bourbon! Now! Fill it all the way to the brim! None of that bottom of the glass nonsense!"
     "Well, that was nearly five years ago!" proclaimed Megan. "Surely you have more recent accomplishments... Oh! If you'll excuse me, I'm getting a call!" Megan Rose pulled out a cellular device the size of her thumb from her Dorian Vincenzo purse and held it to her ear with an enthusiastic "Helloooo!"
     "Has that RODENT made its way out of the dining room, yet?" The voice of J. Gaston echoed from the receiver.
     "He is just now leaving, actually!" Megan shot Gabriel a stern expression before ending the call.
     "Okay, hotshot!" said Indigo, the smirk still planted firmly on his lips. "You've had your fun here. Why don't you run your way in any other general direction and let the creators talk for a while, huh?"
     Gabriel did not have to be told twice. He didn't hesitate to turn and begin walking off, tears welling up, his psyche shattered and nowhere closer to moving up the social ladder.
     "Hey, Rory," spoke Indigo. "Next time you invite a clown to the party, make sure that we're all in agreement that it will be amusing, kay? Sweet Jesus, a runner? Athletes had their shot years ago! How about you find a real job!"

Every time I hear the argument that AI replacing humanity in the work force will abolish social and economic class because we won’t have any need for currency, I chuckle a bit but I die a little bit inside. For this short story, I attempted to show how this is a faulty argument. The main form of currency in the short story is social currency, basically how one lines up on the social ladder as far as gaining popularity. I chose to make the most influential, most powerful people the artists. As everything else is conducted by machine, creators would have the upper hand (for a while, until AI developed enough to create well thought out and unique works of art, literature, etc). It is most often that I hear the argument that Machines can’t make art or that art can’t be meaningfully formed by machines from artists (although this cannot be a stance held with any form of certainty as such a claim requires an adequate knowledge of future AI development which a person cannot possibly have. The chances of AI developing the point of total autonomy and ability to produce its own form of artwork are much greater than not, unless something drastic happened to humanity that would prevent further development or unless we stepped away from the technology for the sake of technology bandwagon). I have no idea if people who are on the top tier of social class behave this way. Thankfully, I am not in a place to know if they behave this way or do not behave this way. But I have chosen to hyperbolize the arrogance that I hear so often in arguments that machines replacing humanity in the workforce would be some great human accomplishment. I’ve previously detailed my thoughts on AI’s eventual replacement of humanity in my post “I Wonder What Virtual Graveyards Will Look Like…” For more of my thoughts concerning this topic, I point you to that post. For now, however, I have reached peak anxiety and I’m fairly drained. Thank you for reading!

This writing is the work of its author, Andrew Ryan Duckworth, and can in no way be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any form without request from the author.

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