SOI On Aisle 3

Warning Contains a couple of PG13-level “naughty words.”

“Hi Toby. It’s all yours. Five in the last shift. I’ll swear it’s getting worse.”

“Hey Joe. Had three last time. Must be something in the air!”

Both men chuckled. The shift handover was complete and Toby was now the resident Consumer Psycho-hygiene Operation Chief.

Toby’s ears prick up at the sound of the SupaSava company jingle playing softly over the room’s loudspeaker system and he starts singing quietly using lyrics of his own making: “Shop with us, buy more than you need./You’ve got no choice, so feed our greed.” Toby is careful to ensure that no-one else can hear: he wouldn’t like to be branded as disloyal, after all.

Across the same loudspeaker system comes the announcement: “SOI on Aisle 3. Repeat: SOI, Aisle 3.”

Joe was right. It was happening more often now. He hadn’t even changed into his work suit yet and already he was ‘up.’

SOI. Sensory Overload Incident.

One second, Jane D. Shopper would be shopping normally and productively, a happy SupaSava shopper like any other; the next she would be on the floor, a drooling, catatonic mess balled into the foetal position.

A loyal SupaSava customer, Jane’s journey through her local “Friendly SupaSava store” takes her through row upon row of narrow, high-stacked aisles where every visible pixel is employed in an attempt to batter down the defences of Jane’s mind. Every cereal carton, every milk container, every box of “kitty krakkers” is a jiggling, flashing, shrieking advertisement promoting its contents at full chrominance, luminance and volume. Circumambient muzak blares, announcements screech. Jane unavoidably passes direct-beam sound cheerily exhorting her to “Buy one new and improved Loaf-O-Meat, get one free! Only for you, Mrs Jane D. Shopper! Buy! Now! This is an offer that simply won’t, won’t, won’t be repeated.” As her gaze lingers on a product of potential interest, some more-or-less reasonable facsimile of it’s scent directly assails her nose. As she stops to inspect a tube of “Whit-O Toothpaste” her body is bathed in a pheromone miasma. Jane walks through an environment where brightly animated haptic floor tiles vibrate and ceiling tiles puff air onto her head, each tremor or puff timed to correspond to—and psychologically reinforce—some key event in the nearest promotional movie segment.

As a human animal, Jane’s marvellous senses have been fine tuned over millennia for a life of hunting and gathering but humans no longer occupy the apex of the food chain on the teeming savannahs of Africa, or farm the fertile floodlands of the Nile. Humans now roam vast glass and concrete SupaSava complexes and grow only an occasional desk-bound neglect-tolerant plant pot. Unable to cope, Jane’s faculties—revolted and rebelling—simply shut down, unable to withstand the onslaught directed at them from the aggressively toxic environment engineered by SupaSava to (in the ringing, inspiring words of SupaSava’s founder) “Ship a unit and make a buck in any way possible.”

The loudspeaker in the room repeats: “SOI on Aisle 3. Repeat: SOI, Aisle 3.” It follows up with a brusque: “Come on Toby!”

“Keep your hair on,” he mutters sotto voce, “I’ve no intention of suffering an SOI myself. Especially not for any of the poor bastards out there.”

Sighing, Toby quickly removes his street clothes and carefully starts to don the safety gear necessary for a trip to the shop floor.

Toby’s gear resembles a fireman’s protective HazMat suit; it was all that, and more. It consisted of the suit itself: heavily padded, to provide resistance to the buffeting of air-puff ‘fingers’; cushioned shoes and padded gloves, to reduce the affects of the haptic floor and containers; a special helmet containing a set of blinkers and noise-cancelling headphones along with a tinted, glare-resistant visor with special LED filtering designed to nullify the flashing packaging, movies and other visual dross; and a self-contained air supply to protect Toby from scents and pheromones. At the end, Toby is a self-contained little world where every sensation relayed to him is muted, reduced and filtered.

Shoppers and customers are adjudged “fair game”, but—hypocritically—only when so heavily protected does SupaSava judge it safe enough for a member of their workforce to enter the shopping area of the “Friendly SupaSava store.”

Pushing a medical gurney towards the door to retrieve the poor unprotected soul on aisle 3 Toby thinks to himself I’m so glad I work here: I can do all my shopping from the back room where all this shit is still turned off.

Author's Note

Lest you think that all this is pure fiction, take a look at these links:

It won't be long before all these elements combine into one mind-numbing experience, and then…