The man walked into the coffee shop and went to the counter with his phone in hand. He presented it and the cashier scanned the mobile app from its screen. This was a free drink that he’d earned over the course of a month’s worth of coffee purchases. Seconds later, the barista handed him the large black drip dark roast.
A seat by the window was open, between two college students studying, and he took up the stool. A long drought and deep sigh later, he set his phone in front of him on the table. He hunched his shoulders forward and gripped the coffee cup with both hands.
The screen winked on as a push notification came in. He smiled wanely and began.
“Look, I… I know we have had a lot of good times together.” Fumbling for words, he faltered. The screen went dark.
His neighbors shot him annoyed looks. Is this guy really on a speakerphone breakup call with his SO in the middle of a coffee shop?
“The directions, articles, discounts, and boredom-fighting have been nice. They really have. It’s just that I haven’t felt myself lately.”
His screen winked again and the entire device vibrated with the secondary reminder.
“That’s expected to some extent in any partnership, I know. Though this is something different. I’ve felt more anxious, especially without you.”
He took a sip of coffee and continued. “My memory seems shoddy now. And I have even less free time although your makers would purport otherwise in your ads.” Now those beside him were much more confused.
A discount on a baked good flashed across the screen, alongside a prompt to leave a review to receive an even deeper discount next visit.
“I feel less well, even with your activity tracking and incentives. My eye does this spasming each night now, for instance.”
The student on his left scooted down a few seats, but the other had stopped his note-taking to listen out of the corner of his ear.
“With each additional connection you help make online, a real-world friendship stales. The great call to a super-computer in each pocket in terms of knowledge and efficiency and social good was one I listened to. But it has only boiled down to better behavior tracking and ad placement. The ideological was supplanted by the profitable. The exciting by the entertaining. The democratic by the technocratic.”
A beep for an AMBER Alert placed itself at the end of the notifications queue, quickly followed by an email from a service he had trailed the day before. A split second later, a call from an unknown number in Oklahoma took over the device. It let out a haptic and audible protestation.
“I know, I know. There’s always something I’m missing. I just prefer it when I don’t get told I’m missing it.”
He long pressed the wake button, slid the power to off, and flipped the phone over on the table. The man enjoyed his coffee in silence as the student on the right stoked his own phone, which buzzed emphatically in a pants pocket.
I was inspired to write this short story after my friend Andrew tweeted the idea.