Continued and Concluded - Applebaum, F., Kline, M. Thurow, Z., "Three Paths to Collapse: a methodological review and examination of sampled digital information stores and other materials recovered from the SecureMax Data Centre site," The Pacific-Northwest Consortium Review of Digital Archeology (Winter 2097), vol. 4, pp. 187 - 221.
Since the mid-2060s as small-scale scholarly work reemerged, one of the preoccupations all researchers have in traversing populated areas is maintaining a degree of concealment. Avoidance is the ideal, from a pure methodological point of view, but this tactic is not strictly speaking universally practical or sustainable given logistical concerns. At some point, even the best-equipped and well-planned foray may find itself unexpectedly in circumstances outside any attempts to control conditions. At these points of contact, a secondary imperative of subterfuge invariably arises. Flexibility, sensitivity to local norms and conditions, mirroring and empathy then ascend as the immediate priorities.
Time lines, chain of command and standard practice are subsumed in the short-term to the more important roles. Minimizing suspicion, feigning narrows interests, remaining circumspect and keeping interactions manageable while in contact with others, even those within the expedition can be critically important. The situation we experienced in Bridgetown, a small self-sufficient community literally overlooking the Columbia River on what had been known as the Fort Hood Bridge, demonstrates clearly that research success often hinges upon being adaptable and sensitive to local conditions.
Most significant is the ability to read and mimic to some degree to the attitudes and world-view of those one encounters - no matter how isolated, backward, superstitious or seemingly strange. Customs, rituals and patterns of life mean everything to communities that have regained their foothold in culture and commerce - no matter how rudimentary. While circulating and interacting in these environments, researchers must do their utmost to be deferential, respectful and gracious in the face of local sensitivities. Listening carefully and responding judiciously can mean the difference between a research project's ultimate success or abrupt discontinuation.
"We are gatherers of sorts, hunters even, but not of food or supplies. We gather data, derive information, then develop knowledge," said Francis. It was the morning after their arrival, and as the guardsman had forewarned them, they had awoken to the sounds of breakfast being prepared in the long house kitchen and a group of half-dozen older members of the community welcoming them kindly and asking them general questions after their health and travels. Finally, they sat down before massive stacks of pancakes. The oldest man among the locales, in a long coat and knowing grin, noted that they'd taken the precaution of checking their supplies and mount packs for anything dangerous. They were, he hoped understandably, curious about the equipment they carried and why modest pilgrims might need such apparatus. Zach had nodded to Francis, who seemed to have take on the role of interlocutor.
"We meant no dishonesty, sir. And we are certainly grateful to your community, but as you can appreciate there are a great many places in this world where the simplest explanations are safest."
"My name is Seth, child, not sir. And if you've been a bit short with us on your reasonings, comings and goings, rest assured you are not the first, so we take no particular offense. But we are very curious, as you are clearly all do not have the make-up of bandits or scavengers or militia. I think we'd venture to say you seem quite a bit like us."
"My name is Francis, Seth. And again, we want to thank all of you for your kindness. We have had an difficult journey. But yes, I would say that we live largely much as you do from what I have seen," Francis replied. Zach had stopped eating and had his arms folded before him on the table. Morris was either feigning disinterest in the conversation or was so completely immersed in his second real meal in weeks that the subject of discussion did not even register.
"So where are you from, Francis," asked an elderly woman, sitting to the side of their table. "It is a pleasure to meet you, by the way. My name is Jesse," She had long curly grey hair, tied back, and wore a simple grey frock. "And what is it that you are looking for, if I may ask?"
"We live in the mountains, hidden away in a valley, far to the north of here. I cannot say exactly where, that is a secret and is the way of our community." Here she pushed her plate away and leaned back in her chair. "What we are searching for, Jesse, is a reason why things are this way. We are trying to understand what happened to us, to the world. We want to know why things fell apart."
All the elders seemed to react differently to this explanation. Jesse sighed. Seth grinned. Others exchanged glances or shifted in their seats. One older gentleman even rolled his eyes.
"I see," said Jesse, looking downward and smoothing out the creases in her dress with wrinkled hands. Seth stood up from the breakfast table and now even Morris put down his fork and looked to Francis with an expression of doubt.
"Well, I will only speak for myself here but tour search and arrival make perfect sense to me,," said Seth. "We've mulled this very thing over a great deal. As you can plainly see, many of us are old enough to recall the worst times. After things fell apart, as you say. We have come to some agreement I would venture to say." The other elders seemed to quietly assent to this and settled in to hear how one of their older members would set out their story.
"Our fall from grace. I don't expect we need any 'computer' - and yes ever we know the word - to recount how things unraveled. We heard it from the survivors themselves, and our memories have surely been more reliable than their machines. The real problems was plain to all with eyes to see, everyone who managed to escape the cities described the same sickness in their own particular words."
"Do you mean an actual disease?" asked Francis, who now sat forward and could see Zachary had also grown more attentive. She had read many accounts and some limited scholarship on the resurgence and spread of diseases after the collapse, given malnutrition and lack of access to vaccines.
"No, child. That isn't to say illness was not widespread, for it surely was. Whole towns were wiped out in that first winter by flu, many cities became plainly unlivable. But when I say sickness, I suppose I mean that is how the problems spread."
"A computer virus, then?" She was now thinking of Morris, who had a puzzled look and was likely about to ask that very question. He had fixated on contemporary accounts of malware, worms, viruses spreading throughout sophisticated systems. While she always took these descriptions skeptically, as indicative of a kind of moral panic, he seemed more convinced there was a root problem there to illuminate given proper evidence.
"We seem to be talking past each other here," Jesse offered. "I believe you're asking about the cause of the collapse, my dear. What Seth has been speaking, all of us, is the reason that things fell apart afterwards."
"People had lost spirit," said Seth. "That's what people said. That we had wilted before the intensity and constant chatter of our machines. Most people were hollowed out, had drifted from themselves, submerged constantly in a sea of what they called information, stuff that had little bearing on anyone's real life. Grown men and women, even children, went about their whole waking life in a kind of dream, awash in this immaterial matter that had little or no bearing on their actual existence."
"I know that sounds crazy, Francis," said Jesse. "I can see from each of your expressions that you might think us ourselves a bit mad. But you have to understand how different that other world was. We live very, very differently now. Why the very way that we speak, converse with one another, organize our affairs. It was all completely different before, almost automated. We have all rekindled that spirit, that Seth spoke of, but back then customs and ways of being just corroded away. People forget their communal sense, what long ago used to be called a civic pride. A caring, creative sort had very little chance in a world that had become wholly competitive, terribly insular and where nothing was really held in common."
"And going back to the machines and devices that drove that, once these technologies really took hold on everyone, old and young, there was no turning back. We stopped even trying to understand one another, people sought seclusion over sharing, distraction over discussion, entertainment over edification. Rich and poor, smart and senseless, people lives revolved more and more about fantasy, abstraction and trivia than any shared experience or genuine emotion. Society just began to drift."
"And this is what created the chaos in your view?" Zachary asked, no longer able to stay silent, needing to challenge. He looked calm, but Francis heard in his tone a subtle annoyance. This sort of vague ethical assessment had always made him squirm, which is one of the reasons she never discussed her own feelings about such matters with him.
"Whatever force brought about the collapse itself, that's something well beyond us, son," said Seth. "But we know what we lived and what we heard from those before us. But does the spark even matter? When you live in a world where the bereaved turn to machines, not their Creator for comfort. Where a child's dreams and ambitions extend to their next purchase? A time when whatever is new or profitable seems far more right than what is true and known? That kind of living eats away at people, at families, at communities - no matter what their previous creeds were or their politics."
"They allowed their machines to dictate terms to them, let their devices filter what friends they'd keep, never thought twice about systems cutting off the limits of their curiosity. Telling the creator from the cog, governor from gear, author from automaton is that kind of state gets very hard indeed. So does thinking, or criticizing, or questioning. Real problems don't get solved by folks like that, dear. They surely don't."
After three days, the families of Bridgetown gathered to say their goodbyes. Three of the younger guardsmen, with no families to feed or care for, volunteered to accompany the travellers eastward to the Dalles. While this was an offer couched in the most graceful and generous terms, Francis sensed it was not a matter open for negotiation. The town elders were sincerely concerned for their safety, but also very cautious. The town upstream was considered dangerous territory and if anything should go wrong there was clearly some consensus it would be best to have men on hand from the town itself to intercede and protect their interests.
The condition and surroundings of the data warehouse itself remained a mystery, an unknown quantity in their immediate vicinity. The elders were unnerved by the notion that such a place was about to be unsealed, just as they could not be fully sure of their intentions for doing so. That caution was mingled with general curiosity about what be unearthed there. Zachary privately objected to this, cursed ever setting foot in the town, but Francis reiterated how grateful they should be, that they owed the success of the expedition at this point to the townsfolk, that it was quite reasonable to argue their work fell within their territory and that ultimately nothing could now be done to alter their present circumstances. The moment the three of them had accepted help, they had breached their own plans and protocols. The only path open to them now was to adapt and accept the intervention of outsiders.
Zach scoffed at this, went silent of some time, grumbled indistinctly as they packed but finally suppressed any curt words or protest. If there was one element in the party to welcome the new members, as they rode out of town and up the river's bank, it was Morris. After weeks of Francis' inward brooding and Zachary's overbearing guidance, having three new people simply to banter with buoyed his spirits immediately. Under Zachary's watchful eye, it was the guardsmen who did most of the talking. They had the patter of young men out in the world - taunting each other over longstanding differences of inconsequential opinion, reminding each other endlessly of personal foibles, dredging up accidents and missteps that should have long ago been forgotten. Compared to the oppressive silence of the previous weeks, however Morris was delighted simply not be trudging along in a tense, morose haze.
So along the southern rim of the Columbia River, they rode east as the sun rose, crossed the sky and fell again. The guardsmen also spoke of a hundred things they claimed to have heard in their patrols and trading runs, more than a little of which seemed to Francis remotely plausible. Great long ships from China, rigged with sails that acted as solar sources, anchored in San Francisco Bay. Russian colonies sprouting up all around the Northwest Passage, now that it was forever free of ice. A residual government reformed in Washington, administering a few hundred square miles around it and operating out of the bowels of the old Library of Congress. Francis and Zachary had heard none of this news in their dispatches from the other scholarly centres, but made no attempt to interject.
Their journey carried on uneventfully until the sixth day, when they rounded a bend in the broken, overgrown road and were confronted at last with the sight of the ruined town. The great dam and bridge just east of the town's center had corroded and washed out long ago. Like thousands of other other old crossroads and villages across the continent, the Dalles had gone from trading post to frontier town, from backwater to commercial hub, from securitized zone to oblivion. It had been completely emptied after the collapse - too little agricultural land to support habitation, too remote from the coast to enjoy a moderate climate year round, too difficult to defend if thought was given to bandit gangs, raiders or worse. So at some unmarked point in the preceding decades, the shadow of its last population had either died off or decamped.
The three young guardsmen asked them to stop and rest in the shell of an old brick building, while they would scout ahead. Francis thought it might have been a school or fire station, but it was really now a kind of hidden glade with just the facade of the structure's face and one side still standing. It was cool in the shade though, and the horses seemed glad for the rest. Grace, Francis's mount, had remained loyal and unshakeable through nearly a month of travel now. Looking at her closely, as Francis fed her some oats and an apple, it was clear she was getting tired. Perhaps she was thinking of her stable back home, her caretakers and their brushes, and how far they had yet to travel before she could settle down again inside familiar walls.
Francis sighed deep and drank some water from her own canteen. Zachary was sitting with his back against the kudzu-covered side wall of the building. He was making field notes, possibly a working on a rough map of their route into the town. He'd filled half a thick journal since they'd left their mountain compound outside the ruins of North Bend: sketching landmarks, noting the placement of signs and towers against his map, commenting on where passage was simple or hard-going, jotting down where ever clear rivers or streams might appear. Across from him, Morris was couched and watching carefully down the tree-lined, eroded avenue where the three boys from Bridgetown had made for the centre of town. Starlings and finches chirped and wheeled in and out of a wall of ivy across the street, cicadas hummed and buzzed in the afternoon heat.
Finally, the sound of whinnying and low conversation. The three guardsmen came up on horseback in the shadow of the ruined wall. The town was well and truly empty, they reported. Much of it flooded, some of it plainly washed away by years of the Columbia's spring waters. Zachary breathed in sharply through his nose, stood and stored his journal in a saddlebag, and climbed quickly into his saddle. Without a word, he rode out past them, towards the old industrial quarter on the shore of the river. A place whose description by now he'd read in his recovered books a hundred times. A site he no longer needed a map or guide to find.
As mentioned previously, it was only prudent that our team anticipate considerable difficulty in gaining access to the SecureMax data facility and in particular to its interior stores and work spaces. This misgiving was bourne out upon our arrival. As other researchers have noted (Bjorn, 2071; William, 2076) the telecommunications and data processing sectors in most of the developed world had become deeply securitized by 2020. Chaotic markets, global economic stagnation, erosion of middle-class consumption and widespread security breaches on all fronts had placed many multinationals that had been previous competitive in a perilous situation.
The global online services provider which had retrofitted the facility at the Dalles was no exception. According to the above-noted historians of economy, faced with a depleted consumer base and massive collapse in revenue given rampant devaluation in the second decade of the millennium, the firm's principal income stream shifted within the space of a few years from marketing and advertising to ongoing government contracting. For other technology-intensive firms, like weaponry, aeronautics and satellite communications, this had always been the case. In the decades preceding the collapse, within the North American economy especially, there were few major industries left independent of federal government initiatives and operations.
Even this last outcrop of capital began to dry up, however. When, it became clear that even national authorities were facing shortfalls of exponential scale (Corvalle, 2077) and that entire state and federal departments began to be dissolved, companies began to follow suit. In many areas, unemployment rose to alarming rates as governments at all levels began to sell off assets. According to contemporary business reporting, the company that owned the SecureMax site, now through a secondary holding company for sensitive governmental work, also cashed out. Its proprietary data and informational assets was moved off-shore at a keystroke. In that instant, the facility's surroundings, structure and hardware became another node in a thousand-point constellation of sites that federal authorities ran across the continent.
They sat on horseback in a row outside the main gates, in silence. This was adjacent to the bent frame of a collapsed security hut. The towering gate was still chain-locked shut but leaning sharply outward, its concrete foundations and steel supports having given way to the marshy swamp and mossy mounds that surrounded the structure of the SecureMax data facility. The acre inside the fence perimeter, once the parking lot, was now a thick bog of chest-high river grass. The croak of frogs, the hum of dragonflies, the rustle of wind through the reeds all called out from across the expanse.
Even from this distance, it was obvious whatever structural hardening had been designed into the facility had proved porous to the river and elements. Reinforced rebar and super-hardened concrete were worn down by the cycles of freeze, thaw and flood. Systems of floodgates and catch basins were clogged with overgrowth and grit until they pooled up and overran, creating the very lakes and streams they were installed to prevent. Security masts with floodlights, motion sensors, high-resolution infra-red security cameras stood inert, listing and ribboned with ivy and hanging moss, rustling in the river's breeze like the rotting sails of derelict ships. The chain link had been pulled up and apart in places by tree roots, the razor wire now a lattice for spiders' webs and birds' nests.
They walked the edge of the fence and found a stretch at the eastern edge that was easily pulled to the ground and fastened down to allow the horses easy entry. After further exploration, they picked their way slowly around the wettest part of the bog, to a dry elevated knoll at one end of the main building. They tied off the horses and broke into pairs to circle the structure, looking for someway inside. The main doors at the front of the building were now two feet underwater and a deep thicket of cats' tails swayed before them. Zachary inspected the entrance more closely. They reconvened at the building's end, and reported reinforced steel doorways and thick plate glass at every possible entry. In the end, with grappling hooks and rope, Zachary, Morris and two of the guardsman climbed the eastern wall to the roof. They gathered around a rusting ventilation array, its giant fan seized behind a thick wire mesh. Then they began to pull it apart.
"Can we talk Zachary?"
Francis was sitting at the edge of the rooftop, tying back her hair to keep it out of her eyes. She was watching the guardsmen bring the horses down to the a clearing by the water's edge for a drink. The sun was setting and the heat of the day was finally receding, driven back by a cool wind out of the north. Zachary had been helping Morris unpack the equipment they had pulled up by rope: photovoltaic, spools of cabling, his crank apparatus, his electromechanical processor.
"Yes Francis, please," Zach gestured to the outer ledge of the rooftop. "That is a very good idea, before we move inside. I suppose I should confess right now, seeing the state of things here and the condition of the place that we may have come here in vain." He sat down, closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose, waiting for her to respond.
"I am sure that's not true, Zach. Whatever is or is not recoverable, I think we have still seen a good deal worth recounting. It just may not come ultimately in the form that we set out with in mind. Still, something's been bothering me since we began this project, as you well know. It began to unnerve me before we had even begun planning and it is a concern that has not left. At first, I thought I had it narrowed down to heading into a city. The idea of it, the urban environment itself. Just a pure fear of that proximity. Anyway, that was what I thought. But being in Bridgetown, being here, I now know that's not it."
"Francis, I know what you've been through. What you've witnessed. Your anxiety is not unreasonable."
"That is not the problem, Zach. I've given it a great deal of thought, and I've decided that experiential caution would better describe my feeling than any dread memory. And I don't think that it was solely the act of coming here that was the source of my unease."
"My real worry is that you were not being completely frank with us - with the Council, or Morris and me - about why we are here. That there is something very particular about this site and you know what it is."
"And this is why you would not speak to me for much of our journey, Francis?" Zach's hands now were on his knees, his head downcast. "Based on a vague suspicion? That seems less than fair. We've known each other our whole lives."
Francis bit her lip, flushed with the fact she was herself concealing more than trifling facts of her own about their history. But Zach was clearly avoiding looking at her.
"Alright, I am sorry to have put it to you that way. I am well-aware that you template for our research here has been largely overturned and that having an outside presence with us here was surely the last thing you ever planned for. But Morris seems very confident and I am eager ..."
"Stop, Fran. Please. You don't need to explain yourself away. You an an objective, intense observer, that is why you are here. It is why you were the only one I would trust with what I still hope we find." Zach slid down the roof sill where he sat to where his pack was lying, opened it and removed the worn journal that had pointed the way to the site where they stood. The binding was cracked with wear, cover bleached a light greyish-brown from age, its pages yellowed and slightly curled. He flipped through its pages. His eyes shone with fondness, but his mouth grimaced.
"It was nothing that I knew about the site that I concealed Fran, you have to know that. I was completely honest and objective about what this place was and how this source describes it. I would never deceive anyone involved on that aspect. From this account, everything seems to have developed accurately and we are exactly where we should be. Inside, according to the technician's log and reflections here, we'll find five subterranean floors of solid state storage. Yottabytes of data, possibly covering decades prior to the collapse. Assuming we can access any of it, that it is in any condition to be retrieved."
"That is a fair summary, this is all as you have previously described. I have no basis to doubt that, except now you look the one who is unnerved."
"As I explained before we ever left, this is the extent of what I can glean from this notebook or ascertain from the work of others. It is what I believe to be probable and that is as far as I ever wanted to speculate openly, especially with the council membership. It was already a very risky enterprise - as you so eloquently set out for them - but the book seems completely credible and now we have arrived at the site itself."
"So what is wrong?"
"It's how the workbook came to us. It was a gift. From a very old survivor in a remote community, out in eastern Canada. He was impossibly old. Over a hundred I've confirmed. He had it brought to us, through a long chain of sworn couriers and carriers. At who know what expense but with no note or explanation. It did include a short list of technical devices that we would require, written out a very long time ago. As if this expedition is something he had been thinking about for ages."
Zach handed Francis a yellowed scrap of paper, rag paper possibly from some time after the collapse judging from its feel and condition, its colouring and roughness. On it were written, just as Zachary had said, a list of items that comprised the very kit that Morris had carefully assembled. Kit that it would only have been logical and prudent for him to bring. In that, she supposed, this seemed a benign afterthought. The journal itself - a detailed record of day-to-day activity kept by a data architect who frequently worked at the Dalles facility - was a far more significant document. For the purposes of briefing the Council. She turned over the paper as she handed it back, then stopped and looked closer. In faded ink, on the other side, written in another hand was a last note: "Theta-0163." She handed it back to Zachary with a sigh.
"Yes. That's the one thing I didn't mention. Because I have no idea what it means, if anything."
The inner workspace of the SecureMax facility was, we must report, heavily compromised. Not by any human hand or conscious aim, but simply by water and time. The layout itself was found to be a combination of highly sophisticated infrastructure and design (a remnant of the original builder) overlaid by a veneer of austere, authoritarian functionality. We cautiously explored its maze of corridors, storage rooms, offices and stairwells looking for even the subtlest hints of its last occupants and their final operations. There was little evidence of human occupation to be found. No manuals, sparse signage, all embellishment and physical pointers of utility had been stripped away. The space itself told us very little, which in all likelihood was the ultimate intent.
Five levels the structure sank below the earth, with the three lowest portions completely flooded by the water of the Columbia. Whatever purpose the Centre had was not evident to any naked, casual eye. Its function lay concealed instead, invisible, within its thousands of silent, identical servers. These stood in glass-faced, open backed black cabinets, rack next to rack, row upon row in hall-sized rooms.
None had been activated in eighty years, but owing to whatever protocols were in place before the site was abandoned, all have been carefully powered down, individually disconnected and then left in their cold, dark vaults. For the rooms above ground and still dry, this meant sealed without moisture or air in an environment close to sterile. A vacuum in space and time.
Morris sat cross-legged on the server room floor, his interface goggles pulled over his eyes, with cabling from the solar collectors from the roof snaking down the row out of the darkness into his battery unit. This was, in turn, connected to his electromechanical processor. Its magnetic power mechanism was clicking and whirring in low cycles. Finally, into the processor was wired one of Morris' portable drives, a board with thick brass typewriter keys and the goggles with which he viewed and waited for a command prompt.
He exhaled slowed. Right now, he was confronted with only a greyish electronic void. An incandescent absence. The darkness was depth-less. The chatter of the processor's magnetic turbine, a tiny current generator powering the chip set and itself drawing less regulated wattage from the photovoltaic cells sitting on the rooftop fifty feet above him. Short breathes, conserve air, he thought.
Finally, a crackle as a crucial surge hit the converter, while four thousand feet overhead a bank of low clouds drifted away and sunlight washed down on the banks of the Columbia. Francis turned away from watching the river's flow and raised her face to the sun's warm rays. In the same moment, a phosphorescent glow suddenly seeped from the edges of Morris' goggles as he sat up straight, spectral in the darkness of storage room Theta. The click of his keyboard starting slow, but growing faster as power also streamed without damage or disruption into the ten terabyte solid state storage unit. On the server's face was locked a small, brushed metal plate, reading 0163. And he began to work.
Much of the data recovered, after interstitial analysis conducted over a three month period, reveals a condition of barely contained chaos and helplessness in the lead-up to the 2020 collapse. Much of the source material are archived internal organizational communications within a kaleidoscopic array of federal agencies, inter-governmental task forces, commercial proxies and special unnamed advisers. The arrangement and hierarchy of these bodies remains a blind spot, but the overall impression is one of complete dysfunction. In long strands and forwarded dispatches, individual members or groups react (or more rightly fail to react) to a massing concatenation of crises, breaches and violent emergencies. In the year or so preceding the event, we are confronted with primary documentary evidence for the first time that governmental authorities had lost all modicum of real control, could in truth barely mount responses to the events unfolding, were in effect just witnesses after the fact.
We read of scientists shut out of meetings where floods, droughts and disease outbreak had become seasonal catastrophes. We read of security specialists removed forcibly from their own corporate premises after briefing management as to the extent of their own networks' comprises and infiltration. We read the laments of emergency planners expected to sketch out contingencies for entire urban districts without a single dollar in funding. We read of police officers, taxation auditors, financial review specialists and investigative journalists facing intimidation, threat of firing or worse even as they hold clear evidence of malfeasance and corruption, profiteering and conspiracy.
We have, in short, neatly consolidated across a dozen directories and several hundred sub-folders by some disquieted-figure long ago, one of the paths to collapse referred to in this essay's title. Elite indifference, a wilful blindness, by that society's elite to its own pressing problems. This particular archive of communications, however, compiled by whatever whistle blower (as they were then referred to) or network of concerned citizens, comprises only a tenth of our overall recorded sample.
A separate partition within the drive examined is less equivocal –but is even more revealing. It contains no written communication at all –but is rather a massive store of relational data. A map of individuals, the strength and relative frequency of their contact, an algorithmic ranking and qualifying of these exchanges. Family members and friends, business associates and professional colleagues, distant relatives and acquaintances –all these inter-personal ties were traced in staggering granularity down to near-universal coverage. If our extrapolations are correct, something approaching ninety percent of urbanized populations were subject to this ongoing, passive surveillance by 2020.
We cannot ascertain the source of such scrutiny, or how exactly this was accomplished, but its output is clear in the relational files. Daily travel patterns, financial accounts and transactions, communications logs, mobile device traffic, social network usage, tax filings, census records, birth registries. The sheer depth of the profiling and its implications are vertiginous –little wonder that administrative atrophy set it. Given the intense, invasive gaze with which authorities affixed their citizens, how could anything but a secretive, risk-averse and hermetic approach to governance result? The second path to collapse then, on the basis of our review, must be postulated not simply as information overload or paralysis. We would venture to liken this theory more to an informational mania within organizations, where a form of institutional shame might well have set in with decision makers, too shocked perhaps at the nakedness with which they were viewing the lives of millions to be able to react.
Finally, these first two conditions were we suspect but precursors for the third path. As governments froze in their attempts to manage their way from crisis to crisis, as inescapably financial destabilization, resource scarcity, climate change, social upheaval and political extremism became the norm, all the social institutions arrayed around government found themselves equally weak and brittle.
The last folder and sub-set of data that we collected is labeled simply King Report 2019・ Inside are the meticulous outputs and captures of anonymous IRC drops, trace routes, paste-ups, torrents, file transfers as the document is leaked from one unknown point to another. Never with discussion. Never with commentary. Never with thanks or acknowledgement. We do not even know what study examines. We only see as it made its way circuitously and silently・To nodes and pockets all over the world. A last burst of light before dusk, before the night. A report not in the modern sense, but a clarion call. Silent, invisible, unknown but to those with which it was entrusted. We do not know what it said, but it is clear what it meant: prepare.
The first half of this piece was obviously inspired by Miller's A Canticle for Lebowitz, the great non-fiction work The World Without Us and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Perversely, the Stars of the Lid's And Their Refinement of the Decline was also a real motivator. The second half of the premise emerges from James Gleick's The Information, Weiner's Cybernetics: Control and Communication, and Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning was the Command Line. Further thoughts also from Jacob Appelbaum's talks on the 'insecurity of security' and Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocraphya.