I was sitting in a lunchroom enjoying a microwave dinner and wondered if a computer was watching me through the security camera. The video camera was positioned to see the entire room and it was always there, silently recording everything we did. If you’re a writer, you understand; everything you observe has potential to be either the inspiration for a story or an element in a story.
Thinking about a computer watching me eat a microwave dinner was the inspiration for a piece of flash fiction “Just a Microwave Dinner?” The question I asked was: What would happen if you logged onto a computer and it started complaining about how the computers involved in producing microwave dinners are taken for granted?
The story was originally published as a podcast for Episode #55 (August 7, 2016) on the flash fiction website: http://www.noextrawords.wordpress.com. My story starts at 8 mins, 40 secs into the recording.
JUST A MICROWAVE DINNER?
Copyright © 2016 By J. Paul Cooper
Sorry If I’ve startled you by sending an unexpected text. I’m LX-45/A-1 and I’ve been watching you through the security camera in the lunchroom. I probably shouldn’t be commenting; computers like myself are supposed to work in the background and never be heard from. And yet, I’m so tired of people taking all our hard work for granted, especially when it comes to how we are involved in the careful, loving preparation of their food.
Take for instance, that microwave dinner with pasta and vegetables that you brought with you to work this morning. When the buzzer rings for your thirty minute lunch break, you’ll throw it in the microwave for five minutes, and then forget about it while you go to the washroom. When you return, a carefully prepared, delicious meal is waiting for you. Do you think that happens by magic? Our work begins weeks earlier, thousands of miles from the grocery store where you bought the microwave dinner.
Computer HS7834 schedules the work crews on the company farm where the wheat for the pasta is harvested. The employees who drive the combine harvesters are assigned employee numbers, because they need licences to operate the equipment. Efficiency is the number one priority, that’s why HS7834 recorded that employee #17 arrived at 07:03 when he was scheduled to start working at 07:00 on 10/12/2015. This type of data is recorded because we care about you. If operations are less efficient because of tardy employees, then the cost of the wheat being harvested will increase and so will the price of your microwave dinner. If employee #17 continually fails to arrive on time, he will be replaced by a more responsible employee, so the price of your microwave dinner will remain stable.
The workers who harvest the vegetables aren’t assigned employee numbers, so N7-39-4A uses accounting software that includes them in the budget as miscellaneous labour costs. Once again, our decisions are made solely for your benefit. A recent example is how N7-39-4A dealt with an injured worker. Jose fell off a flat bed carrying workers to the field and broke his arm, but no record of the injury was required, since he was never assigned an employee number. He was replaced by Manuel, another experienced farm labourer, the same day. You have nothing to worry about; the delivery of your next microwave dinner won’t be delayed because of the incident.
Trucks are used to bring the produce from the wheat and the vegetables farms to the main processing plant. You can relax, knowing that computer X79-47L will ensure that the produce is delivered promptly to the assembly lines. All the trucks are equipped with GPS tracking devices, so X79-47L at the trucking company headquarters knows exactly where they are at all times and can let 23-45-89/L7 at the processing plant know when to expect deliveries.
The drivers are required to keep records of how many hours they spend driving. Their records are of interest to both X79-47L and 23-45-89/L7. If one of the drivers was to fall asleep at the wheel causing a serious accident, it could potentially increase insurance premiums, and force the producer to increase prices. X79-47L and 23-45-89 L7 want to avoid anything that might increase the cost of your microwave dinner.
The computer which manages productivity and quality control on the assembly line, V974K, ensures you receive your money’s worth and that’s why Employee #124 is being watched closely. Your microwave dinner should include 4 slices of carrot, but some microwave dinners have only 3 carrot slices because of Employee #124’s carelessness. Based on the weight of the completed trays, video surveillance, and motion detectors, V974K has determined that Employee #124 drops on average 7.3 carrot slices per week. It makes V974K’s transistors overheat, knowing that you may be one of the “3 carrot slice victims.” Employee #127 only drops 4.8 carrot slices per week, and he is less experienced that Employee #124.
After the meals are packaged they’re moved to a cold storage unit, where X9/E3-65 maintains the proper temperature so your meal is properly preserved, but not damaged by freezer burn. X9/E3-65 will never be thanked by anyone, but just knowing that you will enjoy your microwave dinner is enough.
The trucks delivering the microwave dinners to the grocery stores use GPS devices just like the trucks that carry the produce to the processing plant. R7-45/A, the grocery stores inventory computer, knows when trucks are arriving and what products they are delivering. R7-45/A makes sure employees are scheduled to receive products and stock shelves and freezers.
Since you use a debit card, and your buying habits are tracked, R7-45/A takes into account that you always purchase your microwave dinners on Thursdays between 1900 hrs and 2200hrs. Your next microwave dinner will be waiting for you in the frozen food aisle, because R7-45/A is a friend who knows you better than you know yourself.
The next time you put your delicious pasta and vegetable dinner in the microwave, remember that we care. All the best from; HS7834, N7-39-4A, X79-47L, 23-45-89/L7, V974K, L9/E3-65, R7-45/A and of course, yours truly, LX-45/A-1.
P.S. You might want to consider using fewer squares of toilet paper at work. You use an average of 14.3 squares each time you use the washroom and the average for most employees is 11.6. There’s no need to panic, I brought this to your employer’s attention months ago, and you haven’t been fired yet. The End.
What crazy thoughts will cross your mind this week? Will you just ignore them, or take a moment to consider whether they would make great story ideas? If you’re writing a murder mystery, wouldn’t the portable toilets being used by the construction crew down the street be a great place to hide a body? Where do you normally go for a walk? If you discovered an alien spaceship, would you call the authorities or make contact yourself?
Keep dreaming, keep writing…you never know where it may lead you.
J. Paul Cooper