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The Ghost of Digital Christmas



A parable for Christmas Present, an extract from the live-streamed timeline of a Member of the English Parliament who won his seat in the 2024 first National Election. It was captured on his government provided wearable. By Paul Waller, researcher, Brunel University London

It still gives me a buzz. Every morning at eight when all our wearables remind us that “Your day will be recorded for quality control and training purposes”. That was my own amendment to the legislation making it compulsory to wear them, in response to the privacy lobby.

I like to think of my career as a MEngP as a series of incremental steps towards greatness: a new achievement announced every week or two. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but it will be good. My great grandad Jim made it to PM that way.

I’m flying to London today to rollock HMRC. One of my constituents, Humphrey, has his bank account emptied daily by the new Digital Tax system. Apparently they haven’t coded the bit yet that deals with his circumstances, so it defaults him to Evader status. His wife left him last week and the kids are now in care.

Breakfast first. The screen on the fridge says an update is available.

“Minor bug fixes and improvements. Fix to bug in auto re-order function.”

I open the fridge. No milk; something odd labelled in Cyrillic.

No time to sort that. My new self-driving car will take me to the airport. It greets me cheerily.

“Hello Honourable Member (I set it to respectful mode), I’ve a nice surprise for you! As a CX Exploration Partner you get to test some exciting steering apps today.”

Then it gabbles quickly about alpha, no manufacturer liability, or something. I think of the fridge and call for a cab. I ask for a human driver. Not cheap, but it will go on expenses.

Made it to the plane, just. Boarding gate had a problem with the dotty image thing on my phone as there was a lot of small print around it. Been in the air for a long time though — prepared loads of brilliant tweets (I know I’m old fashioned). I look out of the window. A lot of water below instead of Windsor.

I ask the robot flight attendant what’s up. I think it smiles at me.

“I apologise for the disruption to your journey, Sir. Our beta version navigation module experienced an error over Crewe. We expect to land in the North Atlantic in 14 minutes and 53 seconds. The temperature at your destination is minus fifteen degrees.

"I am required to remind you that in accordance with our booking terms and conditions the airline’s maximum compensation in the event of your death is £5,000. As a valued customer, your feedback will be important to us for the next software development sprint. Have a nice day.”

This is alarming. £5,000 is absurdly low for the loss of someone of my importance. I try to find the small print on my phone app. Takes me about quarter of an hour, but the robot was right. I start composing my customer feedback.

Odd. Still flying. But not in a plane. I appear to have grown wings on my shoulders. Also wearing a silvery gown thing. Someone waves at me. In the same garb, wings too, but he has a dangly rope tied round his neck as well. It’s Humphrey my constituent.

“Hi there,” he says. “Isn’t it great up here? We’re all Agiles now!”

At least, that’s what I think he said.

Image from Bert Kaufmann, CC BY 2.0 through flickr


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