So he arrives at work on Monday morning, gets a coffee downstairs while his computer starts up, and opens his mailbox. He checked his messages before going to sleep the day before, which he finds a reassuring thing to do. It takes away that vague feeling of unrest, the anxious premonition of being confronted with bad news the following day, when the week is yet to begin. Some message referring to an old discussion that others have replied to already, which otherwise would have haunted him all day long. This morning, as he puts in his username and password and presses Enter, he is free of that creeping fear. He feels carefree, light, during the short break while the server checks his identity and messages load like a mound of sand sliding slowly from a truck, rising up around him like a fairy-tale sand sculpture. It’s a moment of potential, of virtuality.
He immediately spots one message in particular, but in order to extend the pleasure, he first bins the real estate updates (unsolicited, they bought their house at least three years ago, when do these things ever stop?), and answers routine questions sent by his colleagues. As his fingers bounce along, his excitement causes him to make the odd joke, a frivolous counterpoint to their stiffly ironed tone. In the spaces and hard returns he feels their heart beating between the alarm clock and the child.
The message – clearly not intended for him, including an attachment, photograph, video, possibly no more than a link or code – is immediately followed by another from the same sender with the urgent request to remove the previous message, or not to open the attachment and click on the link, at least. ‘Let’s meet for a coffee after work to discuss this,’ he begins his hasty reply. The prospect is thrilling, yet his fingers are unsteady. What’s there to discuss? The very suggestion is unethical. If he did what’s right, he would put an end to this relationship that fell into his lap just now. He wouldn’t want to cross the boundaries of what’s morally justifiable.
No, this isn’t good, you wouldn’t want to get involved in this yourself. Who believes in this stuff anyway? Better think of something else. Would I sell this kind of scenario to you? Surely not, you’re much too sweet. You’d find it attractive, I think, but wouldn’t dare to go through with it when the moment comes. Fear of the consequences. Remorse, perhaps.
You’ve been crying a lot of late. Why are you turning to me for comfort? It’s the first time I notice tears rolling down your temples. You’re not aware of it, of course, like you weren’t conscious of smiling at me that first time. You start when I take your foot into my hands, my ring finger tracing the arch of your toes from large to small and back. Your little finger caressing my chest, the rough edge of the nail scraping the cotton of my shirt when I embrace you. But let me think for a minute. Someone else’s fate in your hands, the feeling of being in control, compassion. It needs to remain legal, of course.
He and his partner are staying at a hotel on the edge of the city. His own city, but near an exit where businessmen and budget travellers stay. Their house is being refurbished, and this is a convenient solution to the stone sawdust for one night. He spotted a familiar face when checking in, a former colleague of his, temporary staff, a trainee, replacement, something like that. They used to get their coffees at the same time, the machine accidentally spewing out two paper cups at the same time, a glitch in the system. He had quite forgotten about you. You slip into the lift with elegant company, he catches a few whispers while your eyes unsuccessfully pull at the doors, as if they were a faltering stage curtain. Your exit delayed long enough for a glance of recognition, he opens his inbox as soon as he’s in his room, just in time to see the hastily written message come in. He’s touched by the typos in it for reasons he can’t quite comprehend.
It’s hardly possible to organise a meeting in the lobby, it would be a weakness in the plan. Nevertheless, anticipating breakfast guarantees a night of agitated anticipation, of imagining his gaze cast downward in solidarity, his attention focused on the person sitting opposite him. I’m a blinkered horse, he thinks, a field of vision free of dim corners. And then there’s the endlessly repeatable moment at the buffet when he offers you his discretion in passing, and you receive his trust, trembling, waiting for your coffee.
Strictly speaking, he’s not involuntarily celibate, of course, but that’s how he feels, and this app can compensate him for it. Subscribers don’t require what’s probable, it’s all about the imaginable.
A clear advantage in comparison to the previous model is that it doesn’t erase the evidence. The ethical move is no longer irreversible. This model provides morally clean power: not contrived, not abused, pass ‘GO’ twice. Technically, it could be derived from other apps in our range, a meta app for meta desires. Every set of users of any one of our services potentially generates users of our other services, the algorithm looking for a match among the registered profiles. But what would be the incentive for the first ones to agree to our derivatives trade? A financial advantage and rock solid legal guarantees, would that do? They might find it exciting, too, for all we know.
The carefully drawn-up clauses of the contract might temper the excitement of the third user, but he wouldn’t get closer to pure power than this in his average life. He can’t live without the illusion, and it won’t get any more real for him than this. He would prefer for you to just fall in love with him. He would generously suggest for you to remain friends, cloaking himself in the warmth of your desire and the flame of your hope, which he pokes with his guiltless attention when it gets a little too cold in his head. The ultimate app, waiting for years for a match that might never be found.
It’s not very pretty, I know, but it’s my job. I’m only the developer, skimming a layer of satisfaction off other people’s pleasure. You have no idea, I’d rather not tell you what I create, what I sell. You need comfort right now, that’s why you’re meeting me, right? I’m happy to oblige, you know. So rest your head, your cheek on my chest, arms spread like a bird in flight, your index finger pointing at my shoulder. Both your feet resting in my hands.