Chapter Six: Product Launch
The Rebuild Washington Forum launched with greater than expected activity primarily due to a group of fanatical cryptocurrency enthusiasts known as Bitcoin Maximalists. However, as expected activity was low, this was by no means a large volume and they contributed little other than to say that cryptocurrencies were a good idea and tended to derail any conversation occurring on the Forum about rebuilding the Capitol into a discussion of cryptocurrency. At only three million users at the end of its first month, the entire budget to rebuild the Capitol conditionally controlled by its Digital Citizens stood at slightly above $3 billion. Apart from signing onto the site, often under the mistaken idea they would personally receive $1,000, very few of the Forum’s Digital Citizens submitted any ideas. While the money apportioned was significant for the time, it was by no means enough to rebuild a national Capitol.
The PIST team refused to despair over this and kept working. A police shooting during a routine traffic stop sparked national protests and led PIST to develop a voluntary directory where a police officer could initiate a video call to a suspect’s smartphone from the safety of their own vehicle based on the license plate number. This removed almost any possible occurrence of an unnecessary violent encounter as it allowed officers and suspects to remain physically separate. It was widely adopted in several troubled areas and led to a marked decrease in negative interactions between police and civilians. The PIST team adopted as their official motto “We Move Information to Move Atoms.” The press decried that this App would not solve the problem of violence existing in the first place and demanded it be scrapped. Those who read the headlines and did not understand it was voluntary, or that information was encrypted end to end and accessible only to police and each access event was logged, declared it an invasion of privacy.
After three months, the Forum had failed to gather the hoped for cohesion and was widely derided in the mainstream media as an example of what happened when a technician was put in charge of something for use by everyday people. This was usually followed by a panel of experts -this was, of course, before experts were tracked by the Forum and could be rated based on the success of their predictions. Thus, most of these experts were not in fact experts at all in today’s terms- having a casual discussion about candidates for the next Presidential election, and which one of them would bomb Russia the most. At the end of three months, the leading idea on the Forum was that the Capitol should be rebuilt exactly as it had been, at a price in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
When asked for comment, Melvin Sninkle only said, “I remember how frustrated I used to get as a young man when this would happen. Any network has to spend a significant amount of time initializing before producing a coherent signal. Sometimes a significant adversarial stimulus is needed. Thereafter, takeoff is usually rapid. After all, edges don’t weight themselves.”
Hope came from an entirely unexpected source.
There were two online building-based video games at the time popular with children. One involved using various cubes to build numerous structures and the other of which involved architecting family homes in a more finely rendered environment. Both games had attracted widespread use and game-streamers had become a common form of entertainment and garnered millions of subscribers, outstripping viewership of many conventionally popular sporting events or news programs for that matter.
Onto this stage, arrived Bethany Braxton Bingham -Trip B to her viewers who called themselves the Buh-Bumblebees- a twenty-three year old Mormon missionary who had been studying to be an engineer before garnering an audience of sixteen million followers on social media while still in high school. Her home-builds were wildly popular and had inspired thousands of real-life replications. In her one-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City -she was notoriously frugal and later historians would find numerous examples of this, including a possibly illegally gathered collection of restaurant condiment packets- she commanded an empire of teenage girls and young mothers that spanned the globe. Her every utterance was attended closely by paint manufacturers and furniture makers, for when she spoke on the subject of what made an attractive home, or what made a good investment for a remodel, she was counted as an authority second only to God. She was of a class of individuals then known as Influencers, who commanded the attention of millions in a particular arena.
And one day, for no particular reason, she decided to rebuild the White House. She didn’t even think to submit it to the Forum. That was done by one of her viewers, who on her own fan channel encouraged other viewers to vote for the idea on the Forum, or else delegate their votes to her. When Trip B gave this a “shout out” -this is the equivalent of a Forum acknowledgement- over two million of her viewers did just that. It was the first idea posted to overtake rebuilding the Capitol exactly as it had been.
A newly turned eighteen year old player of the cube game -which was more popular with boys, and was often considered an enemy game by the Buh-Bumblebees- known to his audience as Pen1s1@pper69 decided that the new Capitol lacked a certain essential masculine energy and decided to create his own build. “For the lulz” -as society degenerated it had become too frightening to be sincere and risk genuine emotional injury, so young people often retreated into nihilism. This phrase was used to mean both “in the name of humor” and something like “as I stand in the ruins of my nation and laugh knowing that I can do nothing to stop it.”- he rebuilt the Capitol to resemble several dozen phalluses engaging in sexual relations with one another. He announced that he would be his own Forum delegate and asked his viewers to give him their votes. And in this way another three million users signed onto the Forum.
The Pen1s1@pper69 coalition briefly overtook the Buh-Bumblebees and hit the front page of the Forum, which was also the moment that every news media outlet in the country finally decided the Forum was newsworthy.
A group of concerned parents and religious conservatives grew enraged at the idea of two children building the nation’s Capitol and launched a campaign on various social media sites, urging the more mature members of society to reign in their young people. Yet more users found their way to the Forum as still other adults, who did not quite support the work of Pen1s1@pper69 but who were generally opposed to anything desired by conservative Christians or concerned parents, decided they could not allow the nation’s Capitol to be designed without their input. In this manner, the mere specter of what had been called the “Cockital Building” caused a staggering, and ironic, 69 million additional users to engage with the Forum over the period of a single month.
For that month, near chaos reigned. Polities were established and disbanded as quickly as it took for Forum users to understand how to switch their votes. A hundred thousand factions formed with different versions of the same ideas. It was hard to achieve any kind of agreement. While the comments system accounted for the number of Digital Citizens represented by each poster, and pushed these comments to prominence, it was not adequately proportionate and often when only two or three true decision makers were communicating they would still see their threads get overwhelmed by users who only represented a few dozen people. Any suggestions raised by the users at previous moderation paradigms were met with condemnations of censorship. Who was the government to impose upon them a dictatorial silence? In fact, given that this was the government, any attempt to do so would be breathtakingly illegal.
Melvin Sninkle considered this on his Presidential Podcast, whose listener base was steadily growing. He was not the top podcast in the world, but now a few million people had decided to keep themselves in the loop on what he said each day and the number was growing.
“I think a lot about juries,” he said one Monday. And for seventeen hours that day he spoke about nothing else.