Delayed Read Memory
by Jourdan Cameron
“We had a fantastic pick today, Alice.”
Ellison had strutted into the antique shop with his deep-clefted chin held high, his chest puffed out beneath the nondescript white box he carried into the store. The crate that filled his arms strained his bulging biceps- they were big, not strong. Time hadn’t been particularly kind to Ellison; his decision to open an antique shop with his wife might’ve been, subconsciously, his rebellion against the inexorable decay of old age. How else would a childless couple secure for themselves a legacy except by shielding relics against the march of time? The antiques would be their children, scattered to loving homes across the city. Perhaps they would inspire artists to create, and would thus beget children of their own- perhaps.
The burgundy-colored wood moaned anxiously beneath the weight of a fat old man carrying a crate full of old objects that he’d recovered from a house at the far edge of the city. Cautiously, he set the crate down on the large round table that sat in the middle of the room; the big black table was the newest thing in the shop, made of some synthetic material that Ellison didn’t care to pronounce.
“You’ll never believe what we found!” The old man was gushing.
Alice’s eyes lit up with anticipation; she shared with her husband neither his sense of enthusiasm nor his desire to see old things find new homes. She was just happy to find pretty things from bygone days.
“A doll collection?”
Ellison shook his head; he hadn’t found dolls.
“A record player?”
“My haul wasn’t that good, Alice,” he half-gasped, a bit exasperated and rather exhausted.
Ellison’s chest stopped heaving; he’d caught his breath and locked eyes with his wife. Her tan skin had grow a bit grayer, it seems, with time, and her once raven-black hair was now streaked with with what could’ve been white dove feathers. Her dark eyes, though- those didn’t change.
“Alice,” he began, “I found a reader.”
Alice bustled from behind the counter at the far end of the store to peer into the large white box that her husband had set down on the table. It had been cautiously crammed with objects from a forgotten house. Most folks wouldn’t recognize the assorted yellowed plastic cylinders as having come from a kitchen, or the occasional dark cube with long white wires trailing behind as being a thing that once produced sound; they’d simply purchase them as decorations, sitting them in the odd quiet corners of their houses.
Alice leaned forward to get a better look inside the box, reached in, and shifted a few strange items around. The object she sought soon came into sight, and she snatched it up from the belly of the box. The thing was roughly the size and shape of a small paperback novel, though it had a glass front and silvery metal back; its edges were rounded, and Alice couldn’t help but carry the thing reverentially, like a holy victory. The screen was momentarily marred by a fingerprint that she hurriedly wiped away with the edge of her blouse. For a moment, she stared into the reflection of eyes, enraptured.
“My grandmother would tell me about these; growing up, she’d read so many books on her own reader. I can’t remember what she called hers, I think it was a “Tony” or something like that.”
The old man grinned. “Are you going to turn it on?”
“Not yet,” sighed Alice. “I’m pretty sure the battery’s long dead.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.” Ellison walked around the table and put his hand on the top of the reader. The glassy front of the device was suddenly aglow.
Alice seemed pained to wrench her tearful gaze away from the illumination to give her husband a grateful glance.
“Thank you, Ellison. How did you do this?”
“You know Jasmine, the engineer?”
“Well, let’s just say that she updated the system,” he beamed boyishly. “There’s no need to plug it into an old-fashioned power source.” He was basking in his wife’s pride.
Her eyes were pulled back to the glowing screen; she walked back to the far end of the store, staring, and set it down atop the counter.
“You know, my grandmother used to tell me all about the books she used to read on her Tony, and-“ Alice was breathless. “One of them’s here.”
A grid of glowing images filled the screen, and Alice awkwardly tried navigated through them- they were the covers of books that had been forgotten to time.
“This one,” she gushed, “is Dead in Two Weeks and Waiting, it’s a comedy! This was my grandmother’s favorite.” Her husband grinned and nodded, thoroughly pleased.
She pointed at the book cover on the screen, forgetting the age of the technology, and jabbed at the air above the tablet with an outstretched finger. She looked up, quickly, as if embarrassed with herself, and touched the screen. A strange shape that she recognized as an old fashioned lock appeared, beneath it the words “Searching for Server”.
“Ellison, what do you suppose this means?”
He peered over his wife’s shoulder at the screen and shrugged.
After a moment, the lock disappeared, and was replaced by a few words.
“Connection to DRM Server Failure”.
Alice didn’t read any books that day. The reader still sits in the shop, a curiosity. Nothing more.
I decided to write this story after hearing about an absurd DRM plot. DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is used to describe any system used to restrict access to files. For instance, if you purchase a song from an online store- let’s call it “Tony’s Store”- you might not be allowed to listen to the song on the device of your choosing. You might be forced to use a device from Tony. The device might also require a connection to Tony’s servers in order to guarantee that you’re really the person who purchased the song. This is done in an attempt to prevent piracy and collect data about users. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly effective- often, DRM winds up getting in the way of legitimate users and gets stripped away by pirates, who wind up unbothered by it in the long run.
Speaking of the long run, I think it’s idiotic to chain media to DRM that might not work in five years. It’s like burning one’s own books ahead of time- what’s the point of purchasing something that might vanish in a few years? Ray Bradbury wasn’t a very big fan of ebooks– perhaps this is why? I’ve decided to stay away from DRM, since it often ends up hurting end users and, in the event that the DRM can’t verify with the servers, my work could wind up lost. That’s the last thing I want. DRM is incompatible with the future.