Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Good Bits

First day on the job and I could have expected this. My supervisor saw the opportunity to retell the tales every other employee knew by heart. 

“History is fascinating,” he moaned in an affected voice, “You’ll never be bored.”

“That’s what they told me before I signed up. So I became a field officer, part of a team responsible for correctly dating the invention of the wheel. I was specifically responsible for 5238 BN [i]  to 5230 in Northern Africa.

“I should have paid more attention to the unsettled personality of my predecessor. I relieved him quickly and he didn’t mind being rushed on his way. Me, I was just excited to get started.”

The old guy spun on his heel like a dancer and looked straight at me, “Nothing happened. Not a thing for eight years. I took to drawing circles in the sand to see if they got the hint. I heard some woman got the prize eventually.”

“But she was eventually stripped of it after it came out she spent three years rolling round rocks down hills. Now we’ll never know.”

He turned around and resumed walking. I kept pace.

Over his shoulder he continued, “I learnt that actually history is dull, most of it at least. For every fight over a grand ideal there are a hundred thousand spats over what’s on the v.t.[ii] That’s why we came up with The Good Bits, history without all the nothing.”

He came to a door with an actual physical data entry device. Flipping through several keycards on a long chain he found the right one and swiped it in the dusty old reader. He didn’t have to explain The Good Bits to me. The Good Bits was just “everything worth knowing” as the slogan went.

“Your job was once to guard The Good Bits. Those were exciting days. All sorts of hackers and wackers would try and get into its files. It was usually people who wanted to insert histories that they thought were important. Sometimes it was people who thought we got something wrong. It was amazing. You’d go to bed and by morning everything worth knowing would be completely different. Monkeys on the moon. No monkeys on Mars. It was hilarious.”

His voice dropped low theatrically, “And dangerous. Not everyone restricted themselves to cyber attacks. Things got physical. There were bombs.”

In a lighter tone he said “So we instituted The Good Bits version two. Your job is a lot different. You just police glitches in the system now. Meanwhile in order to access The Good Bits people have to log on. When they log on we match The Good Bits to their particular affiliations and inclinations. Everyone sees the history the want to see. There are no conflicts.”

“You see it was never about the truth so much. It was much more about the kids. People just didn’t want kids learning things they didn’t think was good for them. The truce is that everybody gets to decide what’s best for their own kids but leaves the other kids alone. So far it’s holding.”

The way he put it I felt very important. I had thought of it as a nothing job, just a way to pay for my body transplant, but now it felt like I was preventing World War two or something. The title wasn’t bad either.

I wired myself in for my first day as Head Librarian.

[i] In an attempt to make history more accessible for young people the notation BN for “Before the Net” was adopted in, about 60 BN. Younger readers may only be familiar with the BV, BG or BO notations introduced for similar reasons more recently.
[ii] V.T. or Virtual television was an anachronism even in my own time. We just called it V.

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