1 | Friends

Waking up on the bed under his tab, wholly adrift. The room was dark. The tab was dark. He shifted his hips, a pelvic quiver, and saw the screen alight. Its flare an instant beacon calling him back to duty, his services required.

Chilbert lifted the surface until he was holding it a few inches from his face while wondering, in passing, how much sperm he’d killed off by falling asleep with it on his lap. He wasn’t sure which count was lower, that or his Friends.

Both giving him anxiety.

He tilted the tab a half inch away from himself then back and watched as the stream refreshed. The heartbeat quickening, surge from the adrenal to the cortex. Jolted into alertness. Top Updates algorithmically drawn from 1,131 people, most of whom he knew in name only, having met them some distant day at an event beyond recall.

Chilbert lay there, held in the stream’s indifferent thrall. His need to pee competing with everyone’s outcries. An inchoate mix of signals, heraldic of humanity’s constant need, recurrent diurnal revolution. The best of life he’d missed in the last hour and a half.

He had to pee.

Back maybe a minute later. No 3 minutes, according to the stream, which displayed a fresh wave of updates. Only now upon his return noticing that the tab had been playing music the whole time. Now it was a song he didn’t recognize from a person called Bashir Siddiqi’s station, radionowhere. Whatever it was sounded like Daft Punk put through a de-electronifying filter, out the other side of whatever worm hole they’d originally come. Chilbert was moved by its euphony, though he wouldn’t have been able to say why. He Liked it.

Lying back down he lifted the screen overhead once again, its light contracting his pupils. This time he flipped over to the list he so obsessively followed these days, the 1,131 unchanged since last check. Chilbert began the systematic process of paging through his Friends’ Friends, sending out blind requests, selective attention turned on for any familiar faces, names.
Still the number sat there, mute, taunting him.

He waved his finger over a name and watched the underline appear. As though coaxed by a conjurer. Chilbert as post-millennial P.T. Barnum, standing in front of his lonely tent, trying to seduce passersby into stopping. Tonight there were no takers. Almost as if they knew, could sense with animal acuity, that the cat with nine tails behind the curtains was a hoax.

He sighed.

At this rate he couldn’t hope to achieve more than another hundred, maybe—if he went flat out—another 200 by the end of the week, and that was assuming people actually accepted him. No, this wouldn’t be fast enough. He needed to go into overdrive, somehow find a way to grow at logarithmic scale.

He needed more Friends, now.

Chilbert flipped back to the stream.

You have a message from Rohit Goel.

Opening it immediately.

Mr. Chilbert I hope you don’t mind me cold-chatting you.

Unbidden. He decided to go live, stepping out from behind the invisibility cloak, encouraging the chat to continue. He waited for the next comment.

I’m a student at Cornell, class of ’18, comp engineering. I read about your new company in the alumni news.

So it had been worth sending in his first update ever, an act that had seemed at the time exceedingly, almost absurdly deliberate. Required him to send an actual email. In fact Chilbert was still waiting for his copy of the magazine to arrive, but the forwarding could add at least another week. He was surprised to notice that it mattered to him to see his words in it, carbon on calendered substrate. As if that would make IdentifID real.

Fine, he’d hang around for a few minutes—no more than five, he told himself—to see if anything worthwhile came of the chat. The kid’s last comment still hanging there. Chilbert decided to break the silence, step into the void.

Well hello Rohit. Glad to hear you came across my note.

He waited again, let the words pulse, pushing it back to the kid. See what he’d do. The response almost instantaneous.

What you’re doing sounds really cool, I’d love to hear more. I don’t normally read the magazine but I was waiting at the career services office and I picked it up.

I was hooked by what you wrote! “Capturing your entire life online.” That totally got me. IdentifID sounds like it’s going to be huge!

Not bad. Showing his elder some respect. Still, Chilbert wasn’t about to put him at ease quite yet. Better to continue with formality, keep an asymmetry of power.

So Rohit Goel, what is it you want?

After tapping out this last he screened away to his Friends, looking to see if any new acceptances had come in. As if in the four minutes since he’d last checked a crowd would have amassed in front of the tent, begging Chilbert to open its flaps, clamoring to see the Boy of Bengal.

Nothing.

Okay so apparently the chat with this Rohit character was the most interesting thing he had going at the moment.

He paged back over to the stream where he saw that it hadn’t advanced since he’d been gone. This making him completely, incoherently rageful. That this nobody should message him on his screen and take up his time, the time he had to spend taking IdentifID to the end. Registering heat at his throat and ears and, still worse, a gathering mass of humiliation. Chilbert resisted the impulse, close and fierce, to fuck this. Then, just as he moved to kill the chat,

I was wondering, Mr. Chilbert, whether you might need an intern.

The request hovering, hopeful.

Interesting. A development Chilbert hadn’t seen coming. But then he sometimes missed certain cues. Blood still beating hard at his temples.

He considered. An intern could be a real pain in the ass. Requiring one to come up with things for them to do, which then became another job in itself; and the self-motivated ones were almost worse, excitedly producing documents—I put together some innovative ideas for how to make the project better!—that in turn forced one to feign actual interest.

Still, he weighed the kid’s potential utility. He had to give this Rohit credit for initiative. Approaching Chilbert without a reference took balls. Quoting his own slogan back to him, that had been a nice touch. And, Chilbert glanced to the tab’s top corner, 2:36 a.m. and he was out hunting too. Indicative of the right kind of attitude. Hungry.

What if this kid had too much appetite though? The limbic kicking in, now. IdentifID was his. There would be no shared equity, no options, no IPO. The thing wasn’t even intended to get to launch. He didn’t need anyone interfering with the plan.

Finally fatigue won out, tipping his mental balance sheet over into the positive. Fine. He’d extend a bite but manage the kid closely. At the very least this could be a new source for Chilbert’s methylphenidate supply, which was running low. Finding lately that he needed it to stay sharp. Unlike this would-be intern it had been some years since age 19.

He waited to respond, though, first screening away to check his Friends count and watch a video. Covers of the latest viral star’s Sack or Shaft song.

Back at 2:41. Rohit was still there. Okay, so he’d at least passed this test. Chilbert tapped a reply.

Can you come to Boston this week?

An immediate response.

Absolutely, Mr. Chilbert. I’m there. Where/what time do you want me?

Already better. The kid was learning.

There’s a conference on Thursday and Friday. FutureFounders. I’ll be networking for IdentifID. I trust you can get the details and find me first thing in the morning Thursday.

YES!!! totally! o thk u so much, mr. chilbert. this is awesome!

The kid lapsing, in his excitement, into the universal digital demotic. Although Chilbert had to admit it was kind of cute.

i’m really, really pumped. i can’t thank you enough for the opportunity!

I know I can contribute to IdentifID. I’m going to work really hard. You won’t regret this.

All right, enough babysitting for the night. Chilbert needed to get back on task. One last word, then.

See you there. Ping me in the meantime if you have any questions.

On second thought, don’t. See you in Boston.

Killing the chat.

Focus. Staring intently at the screen he noted, with satisfaction, the newest count. 1,132.

Started up again.


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Image Credits (all via Creative Commons)
Dale Broad: Tudor Costache
Beth Kilgust: cooljnny
Linnea Walentin: Johannes Grødem
Natalie Kim: Xuan Tung Hoang
Deb Jackson-Campbell: Crystal R. Williams
Laura Nelson: The Next Web
Samuel Gagne: suchitra prints
Ivory Coast: hdptcar
Andrew Hobbs: Terence S. Jones
Kyle Morgan Sachs: Rachael Towne

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