Apt to Adapting to Apps

''"In a world where the hums of power lines, the whirring of machinery, and the constant clicking of a million fingers beating buttons incessantly, where is the silence?"''

Chapter 1

Step One of the Engineering Process: Identify Problem

Even in the dead of night of the smallest of suburbs, it was never uncommon to see most windows lit up. If a pedestrian were to un-stick his or her face from their latest gadget for the smallest of moments, they might catch a glimpse of the activity within. Extremely common sights like siblings trying to claw a smartphone from each other's grips to less common sights like a couple sitting down together to eat their dinner at an actual dining table would flash before their eyes as they trekked along. Some might even stop their walking and watch the mute scene play out; fewer still might impatiently click at a button on the phone in an attempt to raise the volume on what they instinctively assume is a streaming video on a wall tablet. But this wouldn't last long for those that stopped, as their phone would soon begin buzzing in their hands, reminding them that their friends are waiting for them to respond. And you must remember, my friends, that those people that pulled away from their electronics are a very rare few and you should not expect as much from the average night-time traveller.

A young boy, no older than five years of age, sits on a chair near a window inside one small suburban house, gazing out at the empty street. Still unable to use most gadgets, his world so far revolves only around watching others and listening to conversations he can only partially understand. He often hears phrases like "haven't got the money" and "we don't have time to look at things we can't afford" coming from his parents and oldest siblings; he knows now that both phrases are fancy words to keep him from stopping at the toy and electronic departments like most children. No, that life of other children was not his.

The child looks over his shoulder as his teenage brother comes into the room and falls heavily onto the sagging sitting room sofa. He watches his older brother bend over, and with a creaking of sofa springs, he retrieves the ancient laptop kept inside the coffee table's drawer along with the dusty old television's remote.

"Mum says you have to go to bed, Cody," the older brother says, speaking to but not looking at the young boy by the window. He punches in the security code on the remote and turns the television on, then immediately begins clicking through the stations to find the least static-y one available. Obviously they were getting what they paid for, as they had stretched their budget to afford the cheapest bundle available; though the company had still promised crystal-clear images and the fastest loading available, the choppy, lagging reality television show on the screen says otherwise.

The older brother looks over at Cody after a moment of silence to see the child staring at the television, mesmerised, as the television was treated as a precious treat in their house, one that was only turned on while the older kids did homework that might require watching something and at rare moments to check the news; if they left it on all day like most families, it would sap the power from the house and leave them in the dark while their dad tried to fiddle with switches in the electrical box and hope for a miraculous, quick recovery of electricity.

"Cody? Did you hear me?"

Cody nods blankly, still staring at the screen.

"No you didn't," the older brother huffs, flicking off the sound with the mute button. Cody's brow furrows in confusion as he looks around for the reason the magical device shut off.

"Wha – Hey! Freddy, put it back!"

"Don't call me that. Go to bed." Fred holds the power button on the laptop down and waits an entire thirty seconds for it to completely load and for the internet to open. He watches Cody walk toward the stairs, his little brother's face screwed up in a way that will surely cause their parents to have a stern talk to Fred about using technology against his brother later. ''It's not like any of us here aren't used to it being used against us'', he thinks darkly while un-muting the television and taking his Social Studies homework assignment out of his pocket and unfolding it; he was lucky his teacher was nice enough to print out copies for him while most other kids downloaded the worksheets. As he is about to read the questions, an announcement on the television catches his attention; dark pictures of a dangerous-looking electrical plant and complicated computers flash across the screen.

''"In a world where the hums of power lines, the whirring of machinery, and the constant clicking of a million fingers beating buttons incessantly, where is silence?"''

He leans toward the television as an image of students raising their hands above their heads in class to do the mandatory finger aerobics that help reduce joint pain is shown; those exercises had slowly and steadily replaced gym class over the years.

''"Do you ever feel as if any peace in the world is drowned out by the music blaring from your friend's smartphone? As if you alone are unable to keep up with this world where up-and-coming ideas are on the shelves the next morning and the stress of it all is getting to you?"''

"Yes," Fred automatically responded to the voice coming from the television.

''"You, like many, are in need of the peace, the calm, the'' serenity," – Fred found himself nodding along energetically – ''"of Apple's newest pair of headphones!"''

"W-what?" stuttered Fred. A sleek pair of shiny over-ear headphones appeared; realisation sunk in as the commercial continued in a suave, persuasive voice:

''"Designed with comfort in mind, the iFlush Duo-Do delivers both crisp musical sound and a unique setting,"'' – images of a small round button on the headphones being pressed are shown – ''"called 'iSolation'. Turned to maximum settings and the only sounds you will be hearing are the ones in your head!"''

Fred stopped listening at this point. Even if he had the money, the last thing he would be spending it on is a pair of headphones with a name more fitting of a toilet. Smoothing out the paper, he reads the first question.

''On the show,'' The Tinkerer'', what is the goal of the ten contestants and how much time are they allowed to complete the aforementioned goal?''

Fred stares at the question. Why were they mentioning a television show in homework? Shaking his head to clear it, he starts trying to summon any information about the show he had only ever seen a few times and begins writing.

''On'' The Tinkerer ''the contestants are put in a huge outdoor gymnasium styled to be like a forest. They are given one computer and other electronic-building stuff, a tent, and they have to forage for their food in the wild sections of the place. Their goal is to think of and make prototype models of the world's new gadget in two weeks. The winner is the inventor (known as a Tinkerer) who creates the highest selling idea.''

He ignores the fact that he nearly quoted the show's opening dialogue word-for-word as he reads the next question.

''What famous book series written over a decade ago is rumoured to be the inspiration of the show? How long after the final movie adaptation of the series did'' The Tinkerer ''come out?''

''Easy question that even I know,'' Fred thinks, writing down a response including the phrases "''The Hunger Games''", "exactly one year after ''Mockingjay'' came out", and "in 2016".

Still feeling smug at being able to answer the first two questions so easily (something that was uncommon for him) he moves onto the next question.

''On the show,'' The Tinkerer'', which major company bought the invention of season four's winner, Alexis Turnmont?''

Fred blinks and stares at the paper. How could he be expected to know that? He'd never seen that episode; the show stresses him out too much to watch it more than those two occasions. Dread fills him as the words of his teacher echo in his ears.

The first time he turned in an unfinished homework assignment with the excuse that he had no way of looking up the answer, as the only accurate websites on the internet charged for membership, she had given him alternate questions with a warning that he mustn't get used to the special treatment; that she has a class to run and no time to adjust her entire teaching schedule just to suit one student better. His imagination conjured an image of her annoyed expression and the embarrassing scene played behind his closed eyelids. From her pursed lips to his quiet dry sobs of humiliation at being addressed in front of the class, it was all too vivid.

"Mr. Samuels, please pick your head up from the desk and look at me so I know you're listening."

Biting his lip in an attempt to hide his crying, he lifted his head. Carefully avoiding looking directly at any of his fellow students, he focused on his teacher. She briskly handed a student sitting at the front of the classroom a freshly printed pack of alternate questions over her desk; the students all passed it down the extremely narrow row of the packed classroom until it reached Fred's desk in the direct centre; this passing action was common, as most rooms were so full, students who weren't on the ends of the bundle of desks often had to climb over chairs to get to and from their seats.

Fred quietly nodded a thank-you to his smirking classmate, Demi-Rae Bendlesnitch, who had been the last to hand over his paper as he tidily put them away in his backpack. When he looked up again, he was relieved to see that the majority of people in the classroom had already returned their attention to the games or text messages on their smartphones they were using under their desks; even his teacher's head was suspiciously tilted down towards her lap.

The teacher looked up and an unmistakable ''beep'' from under her desk sounded as she locked her phone. "That's sorted? All right."

As she turned her swivel chair again to the projected image on the blackboard, Fred snaps back to the present and turns his eyes again to see his unfinished worksheet in front of him.

"I don't know this," Fred mumbles to himself. "Nobody knows this. This is stupid."

Fully knowing that deeming homework stupid was hardly productive, he turns to the laptop. As he types into an outdated, but brightly coloured search engine's search box, wishing that the answer will come easily, he hears the laptop make sounds similar to someone who just ran a marathon. Wikipedia is the first result; he clicks on it, crossing his fingers in the hopes that what he is looking for isn't part of what the site dubbed "Premium Articles".

His heart flutters as the page opens and he fleetingly sees the logo of ''The Tinkerer'' plastered to the upper right-hand corner of the screen, but immediately falls with a crash as the page reloads itself and brings him to Wikipedia's home page.

''The page you viewed is inaccessible to unregistered users due to the its Premium Content.''

''Please choose another article to view OR become a Premium Member.''

A frustrated sob comes from Fred as his eyes scan the page.

''No kid's school supplies are complete without a Wikipedia subscription! Our special student sale drops the price to only $4,500 for the entire school year on all devices.*''

''
*Base price of $4,500 for one device and an extra $500 for each additional device added.''

Closing the browser and shutting down, Fred carefully closes the family's only laptop before he places it again below the coffee table. He curls up on the sofa and cries from the anxiety of facing his teacher tomorrow; he completely forgets about the other questions on the worksheet as his tears tire him out and sleep overtakes him.

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