The Technologist

I am a technologist. I create technology. I don't make televisions, and I won't fix your VCR. I don't care about your toaster oven, your refrigerator, your washing machine, your stereo, or your nice German car. I don't care about your toys. I create technology.

Technology is not about little devices. It's not about getting you to work faster, or keeping you entertained on nights that you don't go out. Technology is about reality.

See, the universe is a game, and like any game it has rules. The rules define what can be done, and what can not. Technology changes those rules, takes the impossible, and makes it possible. When you change the rules of the game, you don't just get a better mousetrap. You get a whole new game.

I want to tell you a story, a love story of sorts, kind of a love triangle. It's been over a year since I've slept with a woman. I want to tell you why. I want to tell you about the last time I had sex.

I met her in a bar, Stroika's, on 53rd. It's a nice place, not that fascinating. I used to go there a lot. I'd meet a lot of people there. A lot of women.

One day, last January, I went there. I had a scotch or two, and was getting a little tipsy, maybe even drunk. I was sitting alone, couldn't find anyone that I knew, when a small young woman walked in.

She was different than the usual girl for Stroika's. The place is always full of executive-type women, or secretaries pretending to be executive type women. This girl was small for one thing. If she was five feet tall, I'd be amazed. She had long, red hair that would brush up against her very round butt. That's the first thing I noticed-- her butt was round and pretty, and her dress was cut so you could see the shape of it right through. When she sat that butt down alone at a table, it didn't take long for my butt to find its way next to hers.

I gave her my card. That was my usual strategy. My card stores more information than all of the old paper in the New York Public Library System. She gave it a glance, and it did its thing. First colors, reds and greens and blues ripple across it in a psychedelic parade. Then it turns into a mirror, a little distorted so it can get your whole face. You stare at it for a bit, maybe winking or smiling, then the image freezes. It shrinks you down to lose the distortion, and then it starts to play. It makes you stick your tongue out at yourself, or stick a finger up your nose. When it gets sick of your picture, it lets your face melt, and turns holographic. And there I am, smiling up at you in 3-D. Eventually it fades to white cardboard with classic black lettering that says, "Oscar Overwalker, Freelance." Yours truly!

My card was my first project freelance, and frankly, it had made my life too easy. I never met a client or a woman who wasn't impressed by it. This girl in Stroika's, though, she was pretty cool. She just turned to me, with a thin smile, and said "nanotech". I said "uh huh". She grinned openly, and said, "I'm biotech." We were off to a famous start.

There aren't too many of us, really, people who take technology as their religion. Every slob's got his television, and most of 'em worship it, in a way. But few of 'em know what it means, what it symbolizes, the change, the insanity, the lovely mutability. There aren't too many of us who live technology, who wake up every morning and think about what magicks, white, or black, or multicolored, could be wrought upon the world. Shiree was like me, one of us. Shiree was her name, and she was a technologist.

You might be thinking we talked about nanocircuits, or restriction endonucleases. And we did, a little. But mostly we talked about art, about the beauty of endless changes. We laughed at the irony of science, that pretends to make the universe comprehensible while it complicates it exponentially. It pretends to disprove magic yet it unleashes demons and mixes potions.

We talked and talked and talked about technology. We loved it and breathed it and grew giddy over it. Shiree was the only woman I ever met who understood. She told me what she was doing.

Virus. She was into viruses. She created viruses, new ones, strange ones that do funny things. Her funding was from NIH and DOD. Her lab was working on genetic diseases, using viruses to get right into each and every messed up cell and fix 'em right up. They were supposed to be doing really mundane stuff, using viruses as vectors for genes encoding natural proteins sick people can't make. But Shiree was beyond that. Fixing sick babies is just boring.

The mark of the true technologist is the understanding that it is the aesthetic consequences, not the practical utility, that defines the power of one's creations. And Shiree had it. She had a kind of flair, in the way she talked, and the way she dressed. She wore long, blue fingernails, and a black gown with thin ripples of almost day-glo color. She played with form and behavior. She infected rats with something, and their babies came out with fins. She had wanted wings, but that was really hard. She had made pigs turn green with a strange microbe that induced skin cells to produce chlorophyll. She developed a virus that infected dogs, and they became... different. They got really smart, she said, but somehow they stopped acting like dogs. It was hard to put your finger on, she said, but it was unnerving. We talked for a long time about slipping the RNA meat of that virus into a more durable vector than the one she was using, viable in lab conditions only. What would people do if a doggy-cold went around, and all of a sudden their precious pooches became somehow, strangely, different? What would they do?

Shiree was doing everything. She played with everything. She was into creating creatures that never existed, germ-line modifications, new beasts to spice up our cities. She worked with rhinoviruses, herpesviruses, retroviruses, everything. Except bacteriophages. Bacteriophages, she said, bored her to tears. The viruses she liked, she said, are the ones that modify mammals. We left it at that.

We talked for a long time, and I just stared into her eyes, blue and green and changing and strangely speckled. She looked so much like a child, and she was so vibrant, alive. Her cheekbones and her eyebrows just danced around as she spoke, like her smile was some kind of trampoline.

By the time I took her home, I was in love. We had the kind of sex that leaves your head tingling and your body soft. My brain buzzed until I lost myself in a sweet, black sleep, with Shiree purring beside me.

When I woke up, she was gone. All that was left of her was a tangle of sheets. I had hoped to take her out to breakfast, or something, but oh well. She'd call. Or maybe she'd left me her card or something, and I'd call her. I dragged myself out of bed, and hunkered off to take the ole mornin' pee. While I stood over the head and looked down, my eyes barely open, I noticed it.

Blue. My penis had turned a bright, clear turquoise over the night, like I wore the Caribbean Sea hidden beneath my zipper. I laughed.

I still laugh when I see it. I think of Shiree. I haven't slept with anybody since. It's probably contagious, but it's been over a year now. I don't think it's harmful...

[copyright Steve Waldman /]