learning You know that feeling you get when something is hyped as “the ultimate solution”? If you’re like me your reaction is probably along the lines of, “That’s too good to be true. Therefore, it probably isn’t true.” Back in the day, household radio sets were going to be the big breakthrough for learning. There would be educational programs for the whole family, language learning from native speakers, etc. That didn’t happen. Oh radios were a big hit, but people didn’t buy them to learn from them.

All the recent buzz around virtual and augmented reality, machine learning, wearable technology, and the like made me realize that this stuff would sound like science fiction to someone from back then. And some places are even talking about the possibility of implants and downloading knowledge to people, rather than needing them to learn. So this post is a fictional exploration into “what if.” What if these sorts of things do eventually roll out to the general public but, like the radio, don’t live up to the hype? Or what if they’re misused? And so the story begins…

The door to the Learning Downloads (LD) department slid open to reveal a worried looking woman waiting inside.

“Ms. Neilson, I presume?” I held out my hand.

“Yes. And I take it you’re the journalist we’ve been expecting, Mr. Hewett?” she replied, accepting the brief handshake and waving me into the office. The door auto-closed behind us with a click.

“Yeah, that’s me. But you can call me Martin.”

“Martin. I’ll have to remember that.” The thought tracker on her left wrist lit up briefly as it logged the new information. “I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here for this. I tried to talk IT into letting you project in but the firewall is the firewall, no exceptions for non-personnel.”

“It’s fine, I don’t mind. To be honest, I was surprised that the company wanted to bring someone in to cover this story at all,” I admitted.

“Company policy 3-7b states that this event type can only be covered in a generic sense. No company name or personally identifiable information is to be used in-” she began reciting as her recall app retrieved the related information.

“Please skip. I read and signed the confidentiality waiver already.”

Ms. Neilson stopped abruptly and blinked a few times before her shoulders relaxed, though only a little bit. “Ah, alright. Are you ready to see them?”

“No time like the present,” I replied as I pulled out a pen and notepad, hoping I sounded cheerful. But if the vaguely-worded debriefing they’d secure-sent me was any indication I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see. This wasn’t the caliber of story any journalist in their right mind passed up, but what did “victims of contaminated LDs” even mean?

Ms. Neilson raised an eyebrow at my notepad. “Analog?”

“Yeah, I like the old school reporter vibe. Besides, it saves space in my memory bank. Even if I have to purge it later I’ll have everything written down,” I explained.

She nodded once and then herded me back out of the office and into the main hallway. An elevator ride and several security checkpoints later, we arrived at our destination, a windowed hallway that smelled of the metal shavings that hinted at recent refurbishment.

“These were overnight stay rooms for employees working back-to-back closings and openings. We’ve temporarily converted them into… observation rooms,” she explained as she glanced into the first of several windows. “We have IT and the company medical team working on a solution.” She stepped away from the pane and gestured for me to take a look.

That didn’t sound good.

I peered through the glass and saw a middle-aged man sitting on the edge of a bed in what looked like a small, basic hotel room. He appeared to be staring straight at me, eyes wide and bloodshot, repeating the same thing over and over and over.

“Do you know what he’s saying?” I asked.

“Error, information not found,” Ms. Neilson breathed softly. “He’s stuck in a loop. Won’t eat, won’t- maybe you should see the others?”

Ms. Neilson stayed put, trembling slightly, as I looked into the handful of other rooms. Another man kept flipping the light switch in his room on and off. A young woman was pacing so adamantly that the carpet was showing visible wear. There were one or two more, but none of them was as terrifying as that first poor soul, staring but seeing nothing, repeating words that had long since lost any meaning. I’d seen more than enough.

“So, this is all from the same corrupted LD?” I asked, finally returning to my guide.

She nodded slightly. “It was taken down immediately after we realized what was happening. But, this is why you’re here, Martin. No one can know that it happened here, or who it happened to, but people need to know that it’s a possibility now. It could happen to anyone. Did you get all that? Your analog notepad is blank.”

I looked down and saw that she was right. Maybe it was for the best. After the story ran I could let the next file purge erase the experience from my memory bank. Why learn it the hard way, when I could just access the story later?

If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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