Nathan, wanted to take an early train home from work. He wasn’t able to retrieve the words he wanted to describe something. He’d said the wrong turn of phrase to an intern, and he was starting to spiral about. This was just the end result of weeks of an intense season of work. He was burnt out from scheduling advertisements on the largest celebrity gossip website in the world. On top of that he has spent the majority of the last week trafficking a campaign for MeanProd. MeanProd appeared to be a gimmicky robot that claimed to be able to do your office job for you using artificial intelligence. There were a few companies claiming to sell the same, JobBot, Botily, Bot4you, ChatUOT. The MeanProd ads were annoying, somehow they had auto-on sound that had been outlawed since the early 2000s. The tag line sounds like a Slim Jim commercial and an ambulance chaser attorney all at once. “Put the means of production back into your hands, by owning it!” The tagline reeled in his head over and over again until he couldn’t go two thoughts without it intruding. He tried to lay down for 20min in the mother’s room, but then a mother knocked on the door, so he had to go back to his desk. After all the ads were done being scheduled, he packed up his backpack, emailed his boss. He used the cold as an excuse to be absent and headed towards the station.
He liked his train ride out of the city even on the busiest of evening commutes, even when he was starting to get a fever. In the middle of the day, the car was mostly empty, it was uninteresting, but calming. Nathan texted his wife Susan that he was arriving on the 2:34pm train so she could pick him up from the station. on the next stop he saw an old colleague of his, Dan, walk from another car into his. Dan was smiling already and when he noticed Nathan the smile turned into a grin.
“Nathan, the hardest working man I know! How are you?.” Dan said.
Nathan noticed that Dan wasn’t in his usual dress shirt and trousers, he was wearing stylish sweatpants and a baseball cap, casual dress, on a Tuesday. Dan was an actuary and in Nathan’s experience, actuaries didn’t wear sweatpants on the middle of a Tuesday on a commuter train. Nathan quickly looked down at his phone and texted Susan, Dan Fowler is on my train, in sweats! Something is not right.
“Dan Fowler!” Nathan said trying to not cough over the scratch in his throat , “What are you doing on the train at this hour?
“I could ask you the same thing, playing hookie?” Dan replied, but looked around to see if anyone was watching.
“I have a cold. Just heading home early for some rest.”
“Still scheduling ads for SeenScene?” Dan asked. “Do they make you go into the office?”
“Yes, and not usually, it’s a busy time of year, upfronts just ended. Why aren’t you neck deep in risk analysis?”
Dan took this as his queue to sit down.
“You know how it is, I took care of everything this morning, decided to go for a jaunt around the city before heading make home.”
“A jaunt? What kind of jaunt? Who jaunts?”
“It’s just nice to take care of yourself sometimes you know?” Dan reclined and put his feet on the seat across from him.
Nathan did not know. He had been on a ten-year run of a constant stress cycle, trying to get promoted, layoffs, a marriage, a kid, and then another kid. There was always something to account for more than all of his time. The effect was that felt like he was always late or half-assing something. Having a cold was one of the few reprieves he could take advantage of. Nathan sneezed.
“Sorry, I don’t usually get sick. Susan is picking me up at the station.”
“See man, this is why you need to take more time for you, the routine will make you ill. I take as much time as I need now.”
“Dan, did you win the lottery or something? You’re talking like you don’t have to work at all. What is it? Did you buy a sports car, are you having an affair?”
“No no, no. Nothing like that.” Dan pointed up. Above Nathan’s head was a poster, he knew the ad instantly and hated it. MeanProd, a Means to the end of Personal Productivity. “I bought a MeanProd. Man, about a month ago it changed my life.”
“They work? No way, seemed like it would just schedule meetings for you and that’s it.”
“I’ve been in the office twice this week for no more than two hours. Boss doesn’t care, just said if my work is done that’s what’s important.”
They pulled into the station and Dan exited before Nathan could even gather his jacket and pull out his phone to text Susan. Dan seemed relaxed, at ease, and Nathan resented him for it. Those robots were more expensive than a down payment on a house.
At home, Nathan had time to fester about Dan Fowler and his newly found happiness. Nathan was so pissed he drank two hot toddy’s and went to sleep. But in the middle of the night, he woke to a false dawn with a cough and a sore throat. He was properly sick now.
Susan went to work and Nathan dropped the kids at school, so he returned to an empty house. He made himself another hot toddy and went back to bed. While scrolling through his phone, he was served an ad for MeanProd. It showed a robot heading off to the office, briefcase in hand, while the “working” couple stayed home. Of course there was no physical robot, just a computer program that ran in place of a person. MeanProd’s ad had a jingle, a story arc. The couple easily scooped the kids from school together, cleaned the house, went on a lunch date, and then the robot came back home. The final screen read, “MeanProd, own the means of your production and your happiness”
He clicked on the ad, before he knew it, he had spent every last penny in his checking account and agreed to a finance plan he would tell Susan about only at the most necessary of moments. He wanted to be free, he wanted to flaneur with Dan, maybe flirt with some women, exercise at a gym. Be at his kids’ recitals.
And MeanProd worked almost instantly. MeanProd was given access to his email, his Slack account, his text messages, his schedule. Once it had understood a task that needed to be done, for example a performance report due on the next Tuesday, it did it and then notified Nathan when it was done. He could review the work, ask for revisions, and then MeanProd would send it off to his client as if he had done the work. MeanProd did things Nathan had been putting off for months in a matter of hours. MeanProd was him, but faster and smarter. He decided he would tell his boss he was still sick and would work from home for the rest of the week. Instead, he decided to go into the city and have a day to himself. He lied down in the grass at Sheep’s Meadow, looked at the dioramas at the Natural History Museum, he took himself to a steakhouse for lunch and drank a whole bottle of red wine alone. The things he loved but hadn’t had a chance to do alone or with anyone in such a long time. At 5pm he took the train home and met Susan just as if he’d been at work all day. For the next few days, he explored a bit more, by the end of the week, Nathan was planting longing kisses on Susan when he hopped in the car at the station.
Life started to settle into a routine. Nathan would go into the city most days as usual, stop by the office for meetings, adjust the settings of his MeanProd on the MeanProd on-line portal. He was able to deliver the kind of productivity he could only dream of before his MeanProd, and his manager was taking notice of his performance. He received a special quarterly bonus and then another one.
Then MeanProd began peddling an upgraded version of the robot. You could buy a whole new “executive Bot” or upgrade the regular “Worker’s Bot” to have half of the new features of the “executive Bot”. Nathan didn’t have the extra cash for the upgrades, he was still paying off the initial balance. Dan called him to tell him about the upgrade to the “executive Bot”
“It’s more than I could’ve dreamed! It will create deep fakes for you and run remote meetings. I almost never have to attend any regular update meeting at all.” Dan sounded like an infomercial for the lesser worker’s robots of other companies. “I told my wife I had a work trip and just went to the Bahamas instead!”
Nathan tried to separate his jealousy of Dan’s setup with the realities of his own. Until he realized the MeanProd was making mistakes. It happened on a week he was paying less attention than usual because his MeanProd had been working flawlessly for months.
Nathan, is there a reason why you’ve scheduled 14 1:1s with me this week?
His boss Slacked him one morning. MeanProd replied,
I would like to discuss current updates on the status of my projects for all of my campaigns and receive any feedback on the direction we’re headed in.
But why 14 meetings?
I think this is the appropriate amount that we’ll need to assess the full picture in order to establish a strategy moving forward.
It was then that Nathan intercepted the messaging.
Hey, sorry I was replying to Rachel in Product at the same-time and got my wires-crossed. He wrote.
He deleted the extra 13 meetings and showed up in person for the 1:1.
When he contacted MeanProd about the glitch, they replied simply with,
Consider upgrading your “Worker’s Bot” to Work Bot II, now with update and 24/7 support.
Forums on-line showed that owners were seeing a decline in the productivity and authenticity of the original MeanProd.
My MeanProd took a sick day, but then responded to e-mails the whole time. It’s complete nonsense unless you pay for the upgrade! One post read.
He paid more attention to augmenting the regular MeanProd’s work. He only had a year and half before it was paid off, but Susan was noticing his waning attention. More effort at work, meant that his calm and easy-goingness were in short supply while he was home.
One day as he was rushing to get home, his manager scheduled a meeting without warning. Nathan hadn’t seen Bryan in weeks actually and he was beginning to suspect that Bryan was using a MeanProd as well. He sat nervously in the conference room as he waited for Bryan to walk into it, but instead at the meeting start time exactly, the video conferencing unit turned on, and it was Bryan with a background that looked suspiciously like his office in the office.
“Nathan, I’m giving you a promotion, you’ll now be a director! It comes with a good raise and a totally different function!”
Nathan tried to ask some questions, but Bryan kept reiterating the same information.
“I look forward to training you starting Monday.” Bryan said and then the video turned off.
Nathan was a bit stunned, he knew the MeanProd wouldn’t perform most of the tasks of the new job, his only choice was to buy the “executive Bot” or do the job himself. The idea of doing it himself seemed impossible. He couldn’t manage all the people Bryan wanted him to and have time for his now accustomed sanity. He charges it again. A year’s salary, but worth it he figures.
In the divorce, Susan got the “executive Bot” as a recompense for his deception and her half of the house. Nathan could see on social media that she had been promoted and was enjoying her weekends out with the kids or a new boyfriend who looked a lot like Dan or is Dan, he can’t tell.
He put the old MeanProd to work at a low-paying data-entry job, but it starts to deteriorate even more. It’s not enough to cover his alimony and the payments on the “executive bot” that Susan now owns. Shamefully, Nathan drags himself to the office every-day, where no one shows up. He can sense it, but there’s no rules against it, everyone else has a MeanProd doing the work for them. From time to time he hires a new grad who will show up for a few weeks, but then start communicating through MeanProdese. Nathan can’t measure up to the “executive Bots” they work around the clock. The only evidence of his humanity is in his email signoff. A MeanProd bot would never.