Light in the Shadows

Pleasant smiles, no small number of flirtatious glances, and high energy banter hallmarked Howard’s mornings. Howard worked in London’s iconic Time building. His cheerful demeanor and endless capacity to spin a good yarn made him the best-liked person in the building. His job required that he spend a great deal of time talking to people about their social media habits. Some three thousand people worked in the Time building, and many eagerly volunteered for focus groups or brief interviews as it meant time off work or, better again, some of the excellent swag Howard’s company gave out to volunteers.

No one loved work, but Howard found his particular position fun and stimulating. He collaborated with interviewers and researchers to learn about social media use. He learned what people wished social media could do. Howard took responses from participants and developed new ideas. He was good at it too. Howard turned some of the wilder ideas into apps. He didn’t do the actual development—he barely understood how these things worked—but he came up with the concepts, and they typically proved very popular.

He had flicked through several apps on the tube on the way over. The ultra-filter app intuitively transformed the most mundane photos into priceless works of art. He created some pop art. He turned his friend Maud into a figure from a Klimt painting. At last, he turned his attention to the app that really captured his imagination: Radar.

Radar wasn’t entirely an original idea. All the app did was enable anyone within a three-mile radius to message you with text, pictures, or video completely anonymously. No contacts shared. No identity verification. Just direct messaging to strangers in the vicinity. Users could put a photo and a username on their profile, but Radar didn’t require it. His username was Nelson, for no real reason except that he wanted to be truly anonymous and he had first used the app the day Nelson Mandela passed away. Howard played with Radar during late stages of development. Perhaps five hundred people used Radar so far, and it was already leading to some predictably bizarre communications.

Howard settled into his cubicle and reviewed some of the more peculiar messages he received. It was mesmerizing. A lovely picture of a pot of flowers on a kitchen table, a wide array of dick pics, and most confounding, a picture of a discarded mattress stacked neatly beside some bins.

Radar was addictive. In its short life, the app developed a culture of sharing obscure thoughts with random strangers. Some were nice. Some were outright eccentric. Some were just dick pics.

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Denis Burke

Denis is a writer, editor, and actor in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Originally from Ireland, Denis works part-time with an international research center and spends the rest of his time between theater and creative writing. He has written two plays, two novels, a collection of short stories, and a mockumentary.

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