It was your favourite time of the day. Nightfall, the time when everything and everyone was still. Peering through the window, you could see your neighbour’s holographic Canada Day display. Mesmerized by the lights, your mind wandered, and the day’s events played back in your head.
It had not been quite as bad as you expected. Not that it had been perfect, but the predicted violent confrontations had not materialized. There was just this bizarre feeling of disconnection, of being alone, even though most of your friends, family, plus ten thousand strangers had been there. But because everyone could customize their experience, there had not been a unifying “look and feel” to the celebration. This was the first year official Canada Day festivities had moved to the metaverses. Anyone with a network connection could join the celebrations and participate with customized settings. You could pick an individual soundtrack, a preferred language, the virtual weather, and participation style, whether through an embodied avatar or through a bird’s eye view as an observer. You had chosen a personalized avatar, of course. A smiling pumpkin head with green boots.
In Splinter, your preferred metaverse, you had to respect certain norms to participate in the community. Behaviour, speech, and content creation were monitored and analyzed. It seemed appalling to think that humans handled content regulation in the past. Humans! Content regulation was now handled by powerful AI that processed information in no time, and without human bias…at least on the surface. AI’s understanding of context and human behaviour had improved throughout the years. But once in a while, something slipped. That had been the case today. Digital graffiti and hate symbols had been layered onto the Governor General’s speech to the crowd. And deepfake copies of the speech had circulated far and wide in the metaverses—a 3D version of him that close-talked at bystanders, ranting maniacally about the end of freedom. In some ways, you missed the simplicity of misinformation on the two-dimensional Internet.
When you were growing up, and throughout early adulthood, Canada Day celebrations took place in person on Parliament Hill, or a local park. Not that it mattered all that much to you, since you had always opted to escape the chaos of the city and go on a canoe trip instead. Recently, there had been grassroots efforts to remake Canada Day. Organizers pointed out that a communal experience no longer required everyone to be in the same place. But you had to wonder whether it was really a shared experience when everyone was customizing it.
Your friend from work, Lorenz, had invited you to an after-party at his house in his metaverse. He bought it in 2023, when digital real estate was still burgeoning, and he paid nothing compared to what it was worth now. Akira, the biggest name in digital fashion, had just bought a piece of land further down the street from him.
Lorenz sparked up a conversation with you, trying to convince you to make the leap to digital real estate. “This place is now worth more than $3 million!”
A contextual misinformation alert appeared that read “Actual value: $2.25 million.” Lorenz frowned—or rather, his avatar did. You actually had no clue what Lorenz looked like in real life—you only ever met his avatar. And natural language processing was at the base of your relationship, since he only spoke Tagalog. A pop-up alert from your sister’s avatar flashed, wanting to chat with you. You waved goodbye to Lorenz, promising to continue the conversation soon.
Before you could calibrate your emotional availability settings, she immediately started offloading. She and her partner had just had another argument about sending your nephew to summer camp. Here we go again, you thought.
She had said, “Don’t you get it? Nature is not the same as before. It is dan-ger-ous. Forest fires, floods, deadly mosquitoes—who knows what might happen if we leave him in the wilderness for a whole week?”
She did have a point—the storms were more intimidating, the temperature gaps were larger, and the frequency of climate events were high. But maybe it was also that people were less exposed to nature, spending more time in digital spaces instead. Ironically, natural parks were less maintained than before, but were more connected than ever through sensors tracking every mushroom and microclimate.
You paused and smiled, thinking of your own daughter. The days of worrying about summer camp enrolment had now evolved into stressing over post-secondary education. She was really growing up. From the second your surrogate handed her to you, she had been the centre of your world. Now, talks of choosing a post-secondary path had you flustered.
She had spoken to you about wanting to go to a traditional university. You felt uncomfortable with how universities were a symbol of old Canadian elites. Most were shrinking and fading, but a few were still strangely attractive. The cost of those was sky-high, since they had gone upmarket hoping to attract those who valued exclusivity and real-life instruction. Fine if you were rich, but…
Most people chose to get badges certifying their specific skills through corporate programs. It was cheaper and more efficient, even if it did mean giving up any claims on your personal data. But then you had heard that the universities—even the good ones—were equally awful when it came to surveilling and quantifying their students.
The lights across the street flickered and turned off. Guess the festivities were done for your neighbour. You found yourself alone in the darkness. Strangely alone, as you had been throughout the crowded day.