putting out feelers
(originally posted 4/21/2018)
This story is set in 2018 but I’d like you to approach it as if it’s the 2018 we imagined in 2002 and not the 2018 we currently reside in. Helping in this effort will be the fact that the technology described does not currently exist but you sure as hell would have had no problem believing it would have existed in 2018 back in 2002. Such are our predispositions when we view the future.
To get you in the 2002 frame of mind, the top song is How You Remind Me by Nickelback and the top TV show is CSI: Crime Scene Investigation … which might not be helpful given that I believe that is still the top TV show (no wonder that the soon-to-be-described technology doesn’t exist yet). Number two was Friends so go with that one.
Nickelback. Friends. 2018 as imagined in 2002.
It got its start in sports science, the applications being obvious, but it soon spread to all areas of patient pain management. The ability to interrupt the messages sent by the A-delta fibres through the delta horn in the spinal cord before they reach the somatosensory cortex in the brain didn’t allow doctors to eliminate pain altogether but it did allow the patient the dictate at what rate they felt the pain. Instead of a getting all the signals immediately, they could delay whatever percentage of the electrical signals they chose to be received at a later time. At first this delay was over a matter of minutes but shortly thereafter they could decide to feel whatever injury they suffered over the course of weeks or even months. It allowed professional football players to spring up after the most vicious hit and not miss a snap, knowing that over the course of the season these hits would add up to a slow drip of 24/7 discomfort. In extreme cases, where a limb was torn off, a patient could decide to feel pain from a missing limb up to six months after the accident. It went from an excruciating few hours to an almost nostalgic ache.
Later in 2018, this 2018, not our 2018, they made a similar breakthrough in the limbic system. Along with the frontal cortex the limbic system handles emotional pain. The passing of loved ones, the traumatic ending of romantic relationships or leaving friends behind in a cross-country move, people could decide to feel the pain of these events all at once or over time. The debate on the ethics of this technology dovetailed nicely with Joel’s desire to start a foundation.
He worked at the hospital as an orderly and while he was unfamiliar with what a foundation actually was he’d been pretty set on starting one since the old one, called the Miller Foundation, had closed shop last year (again, his 2017, not yours).
People who decided to postpone the pain of emotional situations became known as ‘carriers’ as they carried around a lot of emotional hurt that was slowly moving through them every day. People who made the decision to feel everything fully in real time were referred to as ‘feelers’. Obviously in this 2018 people sucked at coming up with original monikers. Feelers were always wary of carriers as they felt they entered every situation with baggage. Carriers believed that feelers wouldn’t feel so high and mighty if they had any idea of what the carriers were carrying.
Scientists and psychologists argued the virtues and pitfalls of this new wrinkle in mental health and all the while Joel would stand out front of the old Miller Foundation building and picture a crane removing the Miller and replacing it with whatever side he chose to take in the debate. He was a feeler but only because he’d never really had anything bad happen to him. He had thought about having an emotional regulator installed but he figured he’d wait until he got a taste of just how bad things could hurt before he committed.
One day as he stood outside the abandoned Miller Foundation building he happened to speak with a real estate agent who was showing the space to a prospective client. After the agent was done walking around and pointing out the wonderful aspects of the space to the potential buyer Joel was able to corner her and ask how much it went for.
It was much more than he’d anticipated.
When the realtor asked what his interest was in the building he happily stated that he wanted to start a foundation of his own and that she would only have to remove the Miller and leave the Foundation.
The real estate agent, let’s call her Jan, cut right to the chase and inquired whether Joel knew what a foundation was.
His definition wasn’t exactly spot on so she filled in a few gaps he had in the definition. For instance, Joel was unaware that foundations gave away money as opposed to collecting it. This news clearly rattled him. Jan, a feeler despite having lived through some very trying moments, saw his face fall but figured it was better that he found out now as opposed to waste any more time, hers or his, on a pipe dream.
Later on at work Joel approached his boss and asked whether his insurance covered emotional regulation. It did not. His second disappointment of the day.
He didn’t like the feeling of disappointment. Not one bit.
But at least he now knew which side of the debate he was on.
He then went home to watch Old Friends, the Friends reboot with the Nickelback theme song.