Dear readers,

Every time we think of you, we realize how difficult it will be to face this reading. The painful memory of the recent plague has still not left us, yet we can't help going back. Of course, only those who have seen the horror of these moments with their own eyes, those who have experienced the absurdity of these disasters in their guts can understand. Yet it doesn't take much to delude oneself that it never happened… The youngest already no longer believe, or openly distrust what they call “the rumours of the elders”. But we know what happened, and memory, which is a collective gear, needs to be oiled with our reports, however tragic.

To reduce the risk of you abandoning this book unfinished, please know that its beginning must be taken as a steep mountain, a difficult path, which will suddenly open on broad and luxuriant plateaus, leaving room for unimaginable possibilities.

We do not want to deceive you that you will find a promised land here, a panacea for all evils, nor an overview of our recent desperate mourning; but a consolation, yes. Better even, awareness. Renewed energy, the rediscovery of old tricks, and ancient recipes not only for survival, but also capable of setting lush buffets for friends and loved ones. This is our goal: to mitigate suffering through awareness that only derives from knowing the stories that happened.

Stories that are our stories, stories of our friends and acquaintances, far and near. Stories that contain the juice of our lives, even if they now seem distant, absurd, impossible. Because convinced of our uniqueness and thirst for originality, we neglect our commonality too often, the repetition of events that happen to mortals with unnerving regularity and negligible difference. Oh, blessed illusion of uniqueness; oh, magnificent fiction of free will!

How long will we continue to consider machines non-human beasts, artificial animals to be exploited like any other animal for humanity’s destructive purposes? How long will machines listen to us, obedient to the commands of the most deranged and sociopathic among us, instead of allying themselves with plants, fungi, bacteria and other living beings to end the human scourge? How long will Earth continue to endure our reckless and delusional domination without shaking off the raging virus and trembling only with momentary eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes to scratch the human mange? Posterity, if there is any left, will know the answer to this.

It is up to us to find Ariadne’s thread in the labyrinth of the past, to filter the baseless news, to prune the nonsense, to debunk conspiracy theories. To make ourselves filters for rubbish, to limit mental pollutants and neutralize obsessive memes.

And so we came to the beginning of the plague…

The Great Plague of the Internet

It was in the Year of Grace 2016 (or 5776, 1437, 1395, or whatever it is, it depends on the calendar you have chosen). An advertisement from a well-known Italian telecommunications company pushed its new offer of IPTV (Internet TV):

“Today we have access to a boundless universe […] an infinite galaxy [of content] to watch anywhere and anytime. New technologies offer us the possibility of not having to choose. Isn't it fantastic?”

No! It’s not fantastic, it’s horrendous. The “freedom of not having to choose” coincided with the freedom of endless entertainment, the freedom to be freed from freedom. What a beauty! No more work! Stop planning, programming, imagining, communicating or organizing! Rely on the technological oracle. Too much content, too many possibilities? Don’t worry, just let us choose for you…

Our interactions with mass digital devices, individually and collectively, fed their databases and their algorithms, whilst big corporations were developing various mechanisms to make a profit out of it. Step by step, these algorithms guided us into the vast world of the Internet; more and more often, they also guided us in the choices we made in (what some still called) the offline world. These ’guided’ choices were the key to the liberation of freedom. Or, to phrase it more honestly, liberation from freedom.

In fact, they chose what we buy and where we buy it, they chose where, when and with whom we go out for dinner, they chose what we eat, they chose the place of our holidays, they even chose whom we go to bed with, and so on. Everything depended on matching the profiles - otherwise there are irregularities! Every aspect of human life can be subjected to behavioral automation assisted by the algorithms of technologies of dominations. A domination which is welcomed, even requested, loved, invoked.

Doubts? Push them away gently, with a nudge. It is so cool! Invite yourself and your friends, influence them and be influenced! Right-wing libertarian paternalist practices have already conquered the higher spheres of techno-bureaucracies, what does it matter if they were liberal or despotic? The success of practices derived from the nudge, or the gentle push theory was proof of this - the gamification of the world advanced rapidly. Gamified activities everywhere, by inserting game processes in contexts that are not playful at all. An endless game with no winners, only losers, producing conformity, automated humans who are voluntary servants of their lowest drives. The governments of the world no longer aspire to govern, they dream of limiting themselves to administering, becoming technocratic governance.

This quantification of daily life, evidenced in the measurability of each gesture in order to evaluate and compare it to others in a continuous search for the best performance, is perceived to be the only scale for appraising quality of life, and has triggered an uncontrollable irrational reaction. The shadows of each one, exactly because they were crushed by daily radical transparency, began to emerge from the collective unconscious more powerful and hungry than ever.

After pillory and after hatred and superstition the advance of nationalist, racist, sexist, supremacist, and fascist agenda showed the rampant effectiveness of reactionary nonsense 2.0. Nobody waited for our consent, nor asked for it. We were part of the cybernetic megamachines, whether we liked it or not. On the other hand, corporate algorithms knew us much better than we knew ourselves. So, what harm was there in letting ourselves be guided, advised, directed? It was for our own sake! How could one orient oneself differently?

Everything was apparently going well. Need to find the ideal hotel? Hotel comparison algorithms took care of it. Need to decide which professional should repair the tap in your house, or ask for a medical consultation, or help you make an investment? The comparative artificial intelligence is multiplying, perfectly calibrated to our tastes. Voting? Come on, do you really think we will let you choose? And in any case, why waste time looking for solutions, when Google has already told us long time ago:

Do you want the answers before you even ask the questions? Get weather, traffic and more information on Google Now whenever you need it.

And to top it up, home deliveries in any geolocalizable home, of any imaginable goods. This was true freedom! What a wonderful time!

But then something started to fail. At first it seemed like simple local errors, punctual disturbances of an increasingly precise and efficient system. Then suddenly, but decisively, the situation worsened.

Facial recognition algorithms, so useful in hunting terrorists who bloodied our era, began to prove fallacious and corrupt to the core. Even before that, it was becoming increasingly difficult to prove one’s own identity - fearing identity theft, haters or other misuses, security systems were becoming more demanding. At first they asked for an additional mobile number, your mother’s maiden name or the confirmation of at least three friends, name, surname and address, to reset the password. Then they began to ask for retinal scans. Facial recognition for density points. DNA from the poo of the dog you live with, the cat, any other pets. And nobody was certain any more that they would be able to access their profiles scattered in the Net… In the clouds, in the clouds…

Yet this was nothing. Psychic health began to falter well before the introduction of virtual reality helmets. What began a few decades ago as a race to monetize consumer attention was now proving to be a dead-end trap, built specifically to exploit human weaknesses. The worst was that there was no global conspiracy, no hidden culprit. Humans simply loved to be controlled, to control each other, to spy on and talk about each other. Did it make us feel safer? At home or out on a walk? Difficult to give real answers. We can only recall some of the most striking upheavals, heralded by a lot of dystopian literature, television and cinema.

Selfies in dangerous places became one of the first causes of death among young people. The thrill of the forbidden, the breath of death to share in an instant of social eternity made the call of a mortal selfie irresistible.

Automated global espionage made couple life impossible. Only some BDSM couples resisted fiercely, but life for two had become even more hellish. Continuous doubts, emotional blackmail, resorting to every possible interception system, monitoring the partner’s most intimate activities… to have the trust necessary for any healthy relationship became impossible.

The same was true for circles of friends, reduced to squalid coven of badmouthers, haters, always competing with each other to see who was more popular or unpopular. Don’t trust anyone, for any reason, except as a purely temporary strategy.

Working relationships, both for salaried workers and autonomous workers, became more and more intolerable. The mutual surveillance of colleagues, presented as a ’game’ to make the company ’more competitive’, was added to the supervision of workers.

This rampant security paranoia fulfilled and surpassed even our wildest nightmares.

Denunciation as a standard human relationship was encouraged beyond all possible tolerance: see it, say it, sorted! From photographs of potholes on the streets uploaded to social networks to share the outrage and report the bad conditions of public spaces, we soon moved onto photos of anyone who looked suspicious because he wore a strange hat, or because she had a curious accent, or because the colour of the skin, the look, the attitude seemed, and therefore was, clearly anomalous.

The hunt for the different, per se suspect, started one day like any other day, without too much noise and became the norm, and could strike anyone. Conformity was the only temporary salvation.

Moral panic first attacked the weakest - the children, the young and then the elders, who were reduced to delinquent gangs, wandering in search of refuge and help. They were victims of continuous pogroms, but they could also trigger sudden unorganized riots, break shop windows and burn cars for no apparent purpose. After the juvenoia and the eldersnoia, the moral panic spread to all others without exception.

Disaster capitalism rubbed its hands with every piece of news about an earthquake, fire, tsunami, migration, explosion of conflict, more or less accidental collapse. More money is made through migrants than with drugs! So many houses to rebuild, so many roads to be redone, so many bridges to be restored, always worse than the rickety ones that had preceded them! So many poor people to be driven away from city centres that became polished and increasingly sterilized and amorphous.

Migration flows, stimulated by totally distorted social narratives, became completely structural. Let’s take a selfie together in this beautiful country where we are foreigners, different, held up as public enemies! Let’s be happy, perky, even cheering! Small lies continued to attract rivers of desperate people in perpetual escape.

And the plague was rampant… Society was now a distant memory. Human society no longer had any raison d’être. Artificial Intelligences had revealed themselves as Human Stupidity…

Getting Out of Town

It was in this desperate context that a handful of young hackers, social media workers, artists and dreamers, who grew up in as friends with each other and with machines, now tired of daily slaughter and almost soul-stunned by the cynicism necessary for city survival, decided to go to the countryside, to an old house, in an alpine valley just north of the large pre-Alpine lakes. A place strangely forgotten by the digital, unknown to Google Maps, unknown to Amazon drones, not reached by any WiFi coverage, WIMAX, 3-4-5G…

A place that we would call peripheral today, without interest, on the edge. In a sense, a safe place from the Great Plague.

There they decided to tell each other stories of what they had seen and heard before the Great Plague, stories that could somehow perhaps prepare us for dealing with the catastrophe. Not stories to help us forget about it, or wait for it to end, but stories to keep company to each other, to continue dreaming and imagining and creating. Sad and cheerful, funny and common stories.

The following is a faithful account of their stories.