Everything you could possibly want can be gotten online, from books to movies, trinkets to jewels, clothes to food . . . and education. Would you be happy if you never again had to set foot in a brick-and-mortar school, if every classroom in the world was empty, and ALL your classes were online?
At first, it sounds good. Gangbangers, suburban snobs, working class drones gather for a single purpose – to learn. No bullies or bitches, no players or geeks. Cliques disappear. Rivalries go poof. Want to go to math in Spongebob boxers and a top hat? Cool. History wearing nothing but a smile, turquoise nail polish, and a lip ring? Awesome. Got a cold sore, a zit? Do you smell? Did your dye job go bad and your hair fall out? No problemo. You’re invisible. Some might think that’s an advantage. Others would think it sucks. One thing is for sure. In virtual school, everyone is the same.
This also presents a problem. There’s no place to hang out and observe the wildlife. How can you figure out who you are if you have no one to compare yourself to? Do you have a personality? If you never see how someone reacts to you, how do you learn to act? Humans need socialization, and no human needs it more than a kid in that netherworld between childhood and all-grown-up. Friends and their families, classmates, teachers, coaches, shopkeepers, waiters, musicians, police, and that enormous salad-bar of potential love interests – everyone you run into offers a sense of where you stand, who you are, and what you can do.
In The Apocalypse Gene, during global pandemic, what remains of society is totally cyber, yet in the virtual school of The Apocalypse Gene, you’re not quite invisible. Kids create holo-sims that resemble themselves and send them into cyber-Chicago (Cy-Chi) to cyber-schools to learn in cyber-classrooms taught by virtual teachers. They send their holo-sims to cyber-lounges to hang out. The streets outside, where no one sane will go, are overrun by gangs, but in cyber-cities, the streets are as safe and colorful as Saturday morning cartoons.
There’s one rule. You have to design your holo-sim to look like you, but what if certain kids have figured out ways around that? Maybe the adorable holo-dude with the sweet dreads gives your holo the eye, but the real boy is an undernourished nerd with a harelip and runny nose, or that blonde-haired, blue-eyed chickie-sim is, in reality, a dark mustachioed sumo wrestler with a bad case of dandruff. That could add a whole new level of distrust.
True friends are more than a click on Facebook. We all need peeps in the flesh. As it says in Chapter One . . . “Olivya imagined herself in Mikah’s arms. What would it feel like to be close enough to touch, not via holo-sim, but skin to actual skin? She guided her holo close to his. They leaned together, cyber-foreheads touching. It almost seemed real.”
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