Before we get rolling with this week’s Writing-Related Friday post, I wanted to mention: I hit 200 unique visitors yesterday! Woohoo! Way glad to see my site and thoughts resonating with people and seeing people engage and comment and discuss the random things that I want to talk about.
Because of that, I am more than ever motivated to keep editing my book (part 1 has seen a 1st pass and I’m knee deep in part 2) and starting Tomorrow (Saturday, 7/22) for 5 days, both of my eBooks on Amazon will be free. (Check out the ‘Books’ section for links!)
The Writing Prompt was: All names on Earth are limited to one person, and only become available when the person dies. Your name is Mark193856, and you want to change your name…
It started with the rise of the internet. As the world became smaller and more connected, nefarious crimes changed from person-to-person theft, violence, and so on, to digital counterparts. For each hate crime in person, there was now a forum online. For each drive by shooting, there was now worldwide character assassination online. Morality never really changed, but people always do. What is right and wrong is debatable near the gray line, but the people that step across always are motivated by something.
Typically that motivation is driven by a type of greed. A monetary need, a physical need, a social need, even a mental need. It can be as simple as desiring a song or movie without the ability (or desire) to pay for it legally. It can be as complex as desiring sexual fulfillment and resorting to illicit methods to convince others to assist your needs. It could even be a breakdown of some chemical balance causing you to need some release or some type of wish fulfillment to find a ‘balance’, leading to everything from webcam exposition to hostile hacking simply ‘because I can’.
Alternate identities led to the rise of the duplicitous lifestyle. Being one person in real life and one online was surprisingly easy! Why not be the upstanding citizen in real life and the blackhat hacker of major corporations online? How about a gentlemen in real life, holding doors and helping old ladies cross the street, while online mocking everyone who is not in the top 1% of physical perfection? How about being the model of financial control (at least outwardly) to everyone you know, while online gambling away every spare penny you can convince your credit card company to give you?
Some companies tried to help avoid this from becoming worse. As online anonymity brought about (in many if not most) the worst qualities in spades, a disturbing trend resulted: nearly every community online was clogged with toxic personas of people who were (probably) not as awful in real life. Playing an online video game would expose your ears to obscenities that would make some hardened criminals cringe, but in real life, these same people make sure to put money in the offering plate as it passes. So, some companies decided to marry the idea of real life with the persona online, to try to curb the toxic erosion of playerbases, forum communities, and really anything online.
But to call it completely philanthropic would be a poor understanding of the situation. Companies exist to make money and these online alter egos were poisoning the well. So certain sites started requiring a ‘real name’ tied to an account, and occasionally even a ‘real name’ as the account name itself. The desired effect was realized relatively quickly, even if some bumps in the road occurred. People on those sites, those communities, those places, all started to temper their behaviors and act more human online.
So more companies started to join in, until it was to the point, some years later, where only underground or non-monetary communities were able to continue on without a ‘real name’ associated. This was not ignored by the governments of the world, who observed a marked drop in overall online toxicity and aberrant behavior. Obviously there were still people being people, crimes still committed, horrible things still happened. But these things all started to happen at around the approximate rate that they did in real life, when compared with the approximate equivalent type of crime.
The Real Name Real Person (RNRP) act was passed in 2086, wherein the collective bodies elected to govern the internet and online activities (excepting the ‘darknet’ and associated places) agreed that all online interactions would be associated with a single account, which was associated with a single name. This name was your identity online and quickly became one that was trickling into the real life identity people already had. As part of signing a birth certificate, the ID’s of the parents were entered, and the child would henceforth have an RNRP account associated with them, accessible after the age of 5.
The internet and online communities for commerce, leisure, entertainment, and social interaction, all became havens of information associated with your individual account. Every action was now associated with you, as every browser required a login, and everyone wanted desperately to protect the image they portrayed online. This led to unparalleled levels of integrity in some areas, and problematic ones in others.
Obviously some groups still tried to subvert these mandates, clever people with coding experience, modified operating systems and homegrown browsers, hacked routers and network servers, all to try to allow some form of anonymity to return. This wasn’t entirely because of nefarious desire either. This was because people did like being able to have a secondary lifestyle with a somewhat pruned viewership. Time and time again these attempts were thwarted, ignored, or ultimately failed. These types of hacks were seen as felonies and prisoners lost the right to their RNRP depending on the severity of their crime.
It wasn’t long after that, in 2123, that the world again came to an agreement on a landmark and controversial decision. Instead of just an RNRP account, everyone on the planet needed a unique RNRP. And in the most controversial subsection probably ever passed: the RNRP became the real life name of every person on earth, as of 6 PM GMT, on Monday, July 19th 2123.
Although each existing RNRP had an associated unique identifier, it was not viewable unless you were on the actual profile page for the person’s RNRP account. This agreement, dubbed ‘One Name Per User’ or ONPU meant that every online RNRP was now 100% unique in the world. If your name (and RNRP) was previously Jeff Johnson, you were now most likely something like JeffJohnson356243. The number meant there were at least 356,243 other JeffJohnson RNRP’s in the world, and you happen to be assigned JeffJohnson356243, due to a variety of non-disclosed private algorithms to calculate this number. The population of around 16.5 Billion meant that this experience was shared by many many people in essentially every place on earth.
Retroactively, each person in known history was assigned an RNRP, approximately associated to what their name would have been, and combined with the timeline of their life and death. This meant that Socrates was still Socrates, but to keep him recognizable from the Socrates’ living today, his RNRP lists that he was Socrates (470BC-399BC). This is how all past and present deaths are handled, to allow popular names to continue existing for continued revenue, while still allowing significance to exist in the past.
In an amendment added to the ‘ONPU’ agreement, in 2125, people were able to trade their RNRP profile name. Nothing else about their profile would change, as their history was still their own, but if JeffJohnson356243 wanted to be JeffJohnson333 instead, this was within the realm of possibility. This opened up a significant new source of revenue to the world, taxed as you might expect, and used more by the elite than anything. Celebrities, politicians, sports stars, and musicians, all wanted either a singular unique name (JeffJohnson) or one with a particular chosen significance (JeffJohnson777). Sales were regulated and transactions kept in an ever growing database.
Names held by people who died were kept in a public auction format, the value of which was assigned based on automated formulas and the number following the name. In case you were wondering, every single name of a person who was murdered was frozen for a period of time equal to the punishment given to the person who murdered them. Hiring a hit man to obtain a name unavailable to you … it wouldn’t work.
This led to the rise in people asking for more unique RNRP names, or at least more simplified ones. The world governments convened for many weeks on this, and made an even more controversial decision, absolutely driven by money and worldwide economic crises. Last names were out. All RNRPs would be immediately converted to the new system, with an algorithm to calculate the new approximate numbering value based on previous value, (so JeffJohnson356243 and JeffJackson356243 would be compared by various factors to determine who was given a higher or lower number), and the result was Jeff356243. (Or Jeff356244, depending.)
My name is Mark193856. I hate my name. I hate that at I am one of 876,987 people with the name ‘Mark’ in the world. I was born into this life, and have never had a last name, let alone a name without a number, but I hate it. I hate that I have nothing unique to call my own. My house looks like 10 others within the city. My car is driven by thousands, if not millions, of others around the country. My favorite food (pepper and pepperoni pizza) may as well just be called pizza443252. I have the requisite amount of pets (one cat), a job where I do the same thing hundreds of others do in the same company, and enjoy shows watched by millions of others.
I hate being so unremarkable, pun notwithstanding. Every time I see the news talking about my (and millions of others) favorite band Neo Nugget, whose lead singer Leonardo could afford to have no number after his name … I hate him. Even though I love him, I hate him. I hate President Marcos2126, who purchased that name as part of a campaign to be re-elected to another term, and I hate the star forward of my favorite soccer team too: Vance1121, named based on his team’s world finish each year.
I keep wishing my name would have some significance for some reason. Some reason that would make me a great amount of money to allow me to become more significant. I’ve kept my eyes on the RNRP auction site, wishing I could afford to even bid on Geralt or Freddy or hell, even Mark123456. That would be more unique and interesting than my current one.
A few years back, a comet was on target to crash into the Indian Ocean, which was expected to have massive ramifications. Events like these almost always lead to a rise in the value of associated comet numbers and RNRP names. This comet had my number, literally, and this was my break. Until it broke apart before it got to Earth, and my name went back into obscurity.
So here I am, on the corner of one street and another, in one of the very few non CC corners left in the city, where I can physically be as anonymous as I feel in life and online. The importance of this corner was that I could see a future where I was no longer anonymous, just outside of reach. Insider trading was not uncommon for names that were purported to become available soon. More importantly, insider trading often could get you information about a name of someone who might not be mentally quite where they once were.
I didn’t want this guy’s name, but he told me about Byron100 and his family. They were wealthy enough, but not so much that they were out of reach with reality. More importantly, Byron100 was a product of the pre-RNRP era, having once held a last name and a non-RNRP online identity. He was quite old by today’s standards, and had withdrawn from the public eye to be with his family in his final years.
I found my way to his doorstep, a few days later, hoping that my insider trading tip was accurate, and that I might be able to convince him to part with a name that would hold no value once he died. His daughter opened the door, introducing herself as Sandra3100, apparently the 3rd of his kids to be born. She wasn’t much older than I am, at least she didn’t appear so, and listened to my story of woe.
“I just want to be something more than I am. To wake up as something more significant. To sleep knowing that in the world, I’m not just one of the nameless cloud, lost in the void of a pointless existence. My RNRP is so beyond my desired station that I may never climb out, but I am hoping that your father would be willing to part with his, knowing that you all do not need the wealth of selling it.”
Sandra3100 stood in the landing of the large house talking to me, listening patiently, and seeming to be at least partly convinced by my sad state of affairs.
“I don’t have much money to offer, but I certainly can promise to honor the name.”
Sandra3100 nodded, and then said with a quiet voice: “It’s just not going to happen. I hope you can understand, my father will always be Byron100 to me, and the idea of any other name just makes me sick to my stomach.”
I felt my heart sink and my skin turn all hot. I wasn’t angry so much as I was disappointed, but I definitely was frustrated. I really had thought this tip would pan out, unlike the other 27 I had previously investigated. While I stood there, trying to collect myself before I spoke again, to offer thanks and well wishes for Sandra3100 and her family … Byron100 called out of the living room asking for her.
“Sandra3100, where did you go? Our show is about to start.” I didn’t realize he was home, so this caught me off guard a bit. My intention was not to talk to him without his family’s blessing.
Sandra3100 turned around to face the room a moment, responding. “I’ll be there in a second Dad, just declining a door to door salesman.”
“I thought that was illegal! Maybe not illegal, but I thought no one did that anymore, and just sold stuff online now.” Byron100’s voice was a variety of labored sounding expressions of confusion and irritation. “Tell them we aren’t buying.”
Sandra3100 faced me again and shrugged, offering some condolence and a kind smile. I pulled the gun I had brought to keep me safe on the walk over, without thinking, and leveled it at her head. Her smile must have just hit me wrong.
Before she had a chance to scream, I shushed her and was already talking louder. “Byron100, you’ll want to hear me out. What I’m selling is something important.”
We walked the hallway to the living room where he sat in an overstuffed chair, looking about as old as I’d expected but not at the ‘kept alive by machines’ stage of life yet. Sandra3100’s predicament caused Byron100 to leap, as fast as he might, out of his chair and point his cane at me in anger.
“What the hell are you doing? Let my girl go! Put that down now and leave, and I might not call the police!” His face was growing redder by the moment, and I legitimately feared he might have a heart attack. His name still could be frozen depending on how he died, so I needed to be careful.
“Please take a seat Byron100, I don’t wish you or your daughter any harm.” I had my gun still pointed at Sandra3100 but was facing Byron100, keeping her only in my peripheral vision. I know, this probably wasn’t the best idea.
“I only want your name. I don’t want any money, I want to give you money, even if it’s only a modest amount. I don’t want to hurt you or your daughter, I only want what won’t be useful to you after you pass anyway.” I tried to remain calm, and keep my voice level, but this was so beyond my intended plan for the night that it was difficult.
“All I’m asking is that you sell me your name, for everything I have right now, which isn’t much … around $4,000. Then I’ll leave and you and your daughter can get back to your show. I’m not a bad man, not a violent man, not a remarkable man in any way… I just want a chance at more. Please give me that.”
This wasn’t going to plan at all, but still might work out to the same end, if Byron100 saw reason. Hell, maybe I’d be able to flip his name and buy one of the ones on my WishList!
“Will you promise to leave us alone if I sell you my name?” Byron100 sat down slowly as he asked this.
“Absolutely! This is not at all how I wanted this conversation to happen, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for this all.” I let my gun lower a little, to confirm my intentions were not violent.
As Byron100 reached for his computer, I felt the sting of electricity sing through my body. I didn’t have my finger on the trigger or I might have accidentally shot Sandra3100, so instead I just dropped my gun. Once the stinging stopped, I crumpled, vaguely aware that Sandra3100 was holding a taser, probably hidden in some pocket of hers. What she couldn’t have expected, was me hitting the corner of the marble coffee table in the center of the room, at the base of my neck, on my way to the ground. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, and all I could do is listen to the muffled words Sandra3100 said.
“You’re under arrest for attempted theft of an RNRP.” She held out the taser and looked ready to tase me again, until she noticed I wasn’t responding. She yelled for the smart house phone system to connect her to emergency services, needing an ambulance for an emergency situation. She dropped to the ground, feeling the back of my head with her hands, and seeing the dark red dripping from her fingers as she pulled them away.
“In the matter of Sandra3100 v The State of New York, the jury finds you, Sandra3100, guilty on the charge of 2nd degree murder. You will be remanded into custody and will serve a sentence of no less than 30 years in prison, for the unjust murder of Mark193856. Mark193856’s name will remain the custody of the state for the duration of your penalty.”
Judge Harmony76567 paused before continuing. “And for the charge of 3rd degree murder of Byron100, the court finds you not guilty. Byron100’s name will be put to auction. On a personal note, I wish to offer you sympathy for the loss of your father that night, despite the circumstances that led to his abrupt passing. Court dismissed.” Judge Harmony76567 banged the gavel, the case was closed, and Mark193856 went down as the 2,434th murder of the year 2145, still unremarkable.